Thank you for letting me give you a little something from my heart
By Ashley Bean Thornton
It’s a cliché to say that the giver receives more than the getter when it comes to community work – but despite the best efforts of dozens of English teachers in my life – I can’ think of any better way to start these musings than to acknowledge that universal truth. If you are reading this post you are no doubt at least familiar with Act Locally Waco, hopefully you are one of our dedicated readers! I started Act Locally Waco in 2008 and it has been my main form of “community service” ever since. I hope you are enjoying it! I doubt you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you.
In January I am stepping back from leading Act Locally Waco. Don’t worry – ALW is not going anywhere! I am leaving it capable hands! I’m not going anywhere either. I am excited to be able to focus my energies on the Transformation Waco AfterSchool Academy – a part-time job that has become a passion.
Even though I am looking forward to handing over the reins to ALW, I hope you will indulge me in a little reminiscing and a little philosophizing as I turn the page on one chapter and look forward to the next.
My family moved around quite a bit when I was growing up – I had lived at 18 different addresses by the time I was 18. Although we lived for quite a while in Baytown, Texas, where I graduated high school, I never really felt like I had a hometown. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get involved in any particular community until pretty late in life – in my 40’s. When I did finally start getting involved, that community was Waco. I’ve now lived here far longer than any other place I have lived in my life. It’s not technically my hometown – but it’s the closest I will ever have to one!
Until I started getting involved in Waco, the communities and cities where I lived were just backdrops to my life. I might not have liked everything about a particular place, but it never occurred to me to care enough to try to build or change things to make it better. I was a consumer of community – if I didn’t like something, well, that was someone else’s fault. “They” needed to fix it! The biggest thing I have learned through Act Locally Waco is that there is no “They” — only “We.” If WE want our community to be better in some way, then WE need to get moving. Loving a community comes from taking responsibility for it, from looking at it as a creator, not as a consumer.
When I moved to Waco, now more than twenty years ago, Waco was a different place. You can see some of the differences – think back to the Austin and Elm Avenues of 1996! But for me the biggest difference is less tangible. Then I saw Waco as OK, but maybe boring. Now it hums with energy, creativity, friendship. I think what changed is my perception of my community.
It is my nature to be an observer more than a do-er. Maybe that’s why when I finally decided to get involved in my community, I chose to do something that allowed me a panoramic view. Through Act Locally Waco I’ve had a front row seat to observe artists, entrepreneurs, city council, the police, the Public Health District, the schools, a jillion non-profits – and that’s just part of the list! I’ve observed people giving every kind of gift from picking up trash, to painting a mural, to starting a business, to writing a 40-year comprehensive plan for the city. It has opened my eyes to the glorious complexity of 138,183 people living and working together.
As I shift my focus from Act Locally Waco to AfterSchool I want to remember some of the things I have learned.
Do something – We all need the superheroes who do amazing things – the mayors and elected leaders and superintendents and presidents and executive directors – but in addition to that we need the collective power of everyone doing something: picking up litter one Saturday, tutoring one child, buying art from a local artist, eating at a local restaurant. A couple of thousand of us doing a little something gets more done than any one person could possibly get done on his or her own.
Start small and keep going – Think about the kind of community you want to live in, then do the smallest thing you can think of to move Waco in that direction. The smallest thing we actually do is more powerful than the biggest thing we daydream about, but never start. If you want a walkable community, take walk, then read a book about walking, then go to a meeting about walking, then, then, then. If you want better education, run through some flashcards with your kid, then tutor another kid, then read an article about the school board in the paper, then vote for a school board rep, then join the PTA, then, then, then….
Get to know people who are different from you – Get to know people who are richer and poorer, people with skin a different color from yours, people with different political beliefs, different jobs, a different church or a different kind of faith. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but a healthy network of loose connections that cross boundaries is the secret sauce to being able to get things done as a community.
Say thanks more often than you complain – People are working hard and putting their heart into our community. “They” are not “they” – they are us.
And with that final point in mind, Thank you! Thank you for all you are doing to make our community great! Thank you for reading Act Locally Waco and getting involved! Thank you for writing blog posts and sharing Facebook posts and standing with me under a tent when it was 100 degrees outside signing up subscribers. Thank you for donating. Thank you for coming to book club and going on walks. Thank you for coming to events because you heard us talking about them on KWBU. Thank you for talking to one of our interns. Thank you for BEING one of our interns. Thank you for buying and wearing a T-shirt. Thank you for getting your picture taken in the Big Orange Frame. Thank you for all the gifts you have given me! Thank you for being my community! Looking forward to seeing you in the New Year!
Beginning January 1, 2021, the Interim Executive Director of Act Locally Waco will be Ferrell Foster. Ferrell’s “day job” is being the Content Specialist for Care and Communication at Prosper Waco. He is a graduate of East Texas State University in Commerce, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, where he earned his doctorate focusing on African American perspectives on justice. A native of Dallas, Dr. Foster has spent most of his professional life as an ethics and justice advocate and communications leader, including time as editor of three publications. His email is [email protected].
This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she founded Act Locally Waco in 2008 and now works for Transformation Waco helping to coordinate afterschool programs. She likes to walk and write highly questionable stories about Waco History. She spends an outrageous amount of time at Whataburger.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.