Easter with Emily

By Tansy Ackermann

I met Emily “Blank” Merton in person the night of Friday, March 11th. (She doesn’t have a middle name: I love to give her a hard time about that.) She arrived on a big yellow school bus, straight from DFW, in the Waco High School parking lot along with 20 other exhausted German teenagers. We took her home, let her get settled in, and we’ve been exploring Waco ever since.

Photo of Tansy & Exchange StudentEmily is my GAPP (German American Partnership Program) exchange partner. The foreign exchange program with our counterparts in Kerpen, Germany, began at Richfield High in the 1985 – 1986 school year.  When Richfield, Jefferson-Moore and Waco High Schools combined to become what is now known as Waco High, the exchange program kept going at the newly combined high school.  Every other year, the German students visit Waco for several weeks, living in the homes of Waco High students while becoming immersed in the Texas culture and attending classes at Waco High. In the summer, the Waco High students reciprocate the visit by traveling to Kerpen to experience life in Germany.

It has been a blast these last few weeks showing Emily around the Heart of Texas, and my home, Waco. We’ve climbed Jacob’s Ladder, walked the river walk and Suspension Bridge, shopped in the Spice Village, laid in the bluebonnets, taken pictures in front of the murals downtown, shopped until we’ve dropped at Central Texas Marketplace and the Richland Mall, but most importantly we’ve eaten some good ole’ Texas home cooking. We’ve done so many fun things together, and I’ve made memories with her that I will cherish for years to come, but my all-time favorite so far was spending Easter with Emily.

wacotownEaster is a time to rejoice in the Lord and His grace, fellowship with friends, and eat a whole bunch of candy with your family. This year my Easter was all that and more because I got to experience it with Emily. We started that Sunday morning with my grandmother’s homemade biscuits and gravy with eggs and bacon. Her biscuits are hard to beat, and before I met Emily I thought it was impossible; but seeing someone take their first bite of their first biscuit ever is a delicacy within itself. Then we went to church, and hearing God’s word is magnificent, especially when worshiping with a friend. After church we visited my friend Lexie Field out at her grandparents’ ranch so that Emily and Lexie’s German exchange partner, Lissi, could ride horses, and celebrate Easter at a classic hamburger/hotdog cookout.

We ate too much and laughed too hard when we were supposed to be quiet while hiding Easter eggs for the little kids to hunt all over the property. We watched the little ones stumble trying to carry baskets full of plastic eggs encasing candy that were almost as big as they were. The grand finale to the perfect Easter day was chasing each other with confetti-filled eggs and cracking them on each other’s heads under the Texas sunset. It took us hours to shake the confetti out of our hair and Sunday dresses, but no love was lost because we had good food, good friends and a good God.

The thing that has touched my heart the most during the time I am spending with Emily is the way she talks about the people of Waco. I loved this city before she came to visit, but now that she’s here I have a different kind of appreciation for my home. When Emily meets someone new, the first thing she says to me after meeting them is, “They were so nice.” And they are. People here don’t talk to you because it’s a “common courtesy”, or the “polite” thing to do. People here will talk to you because they have something to say, and they want you to feel welcome. We’re half a world away from Emily’s home in Sindorf, Germany, but Waco has made her feel at home, and that cannot be said for every town in the country, or even Texas. I can’t wait to visit her in Germany this summer, but I know that nowhere else in the world has a heart the size of Waco’s (though the chocolate in Germany might just make up for it).

Photo of TansyTansy Ackermann is a sophomore at Waco High School, the top of her class and has been on the varsity Mock Trial team for 2 years. She is also an active participant in UIL Cross Examination Debate, and extemporaneous speaking. She enjoys reading and the outdoors, and hopes to attend the University of Texas at Austin and graduate to become a prosecuting attorney.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

“Project Link has Impacted my Life Big Time!”

By Daniela Lopez and Ashley Renee Whitlock

According to the Project Link website, “Project Link is a new local program that started in Fall 2015 to help Waco-area high school students, currently at La Vega High School and University High School, and their families in charting a more assured and successful post-secondary journey through intense one-on-one college, career, and financial advising… At the high schools, the Project Link team works to create a college-going culture by developing an environment that recognizes the value of higher education, by building awareness of post-secondary resources, and by nurturing student’s individual college and career aspirations.”  If you have questions about Project Link, feel free to contact Natalie James at njames@mclennan.edu or at 254-299-8517. In today’s Act Locally Waco blog post two Project Link participants share the positive impact this new program is having on their college aspirations.

Daniela Lopez - 2My name is Daniela Lopez and I am a senior at University High School. I plan to attend McLennan Community College in the Fall and major in Education. I consider myself one of the many lucky students who were chosen to be in this amazing program called Project Link. I met my wonderful Project Link Liaisons back in August and they’ve helped me so much. Project link has impacted my life big time! Before I was in Project Link I felt lost and confused on what to do when the time came around to start planning for college, all I knew was that I needed to go. I didn’t know who to go to for anything that had to do with college and coming from Hispanic parents who didn’t finish school and worked most of their lives, I was pretty much on my own figuring out what to do and when to do it. Being in this program has changed my life. They guide me and help me get all these things accomplished. If I hadn’t been selected I don’t know where I would be right now.  They inspire me to go chase my dreams and work hard for what I want. They inspire me to be a better me.

picture frameBeing a first generation student, having no one in your family with experience attending college or finishing high school, is very hard. I am the youngest of five children and will be the first kid in my family to graduate and go to college. I thank God I have the opportunity to be in Project Link. My amazing Project Link Liaisons have all the information we need for college.  For example, they are helping me complete scholarship applications, write essays and complete Financial Aid paperwork. They have also helped me figure out what I want to major in and what to do in order to get there. They aren’t just my liaisons or my teachers; we have created this amazing bond in Project Link that has made us like a family. We all care about each other, and we all want to see each other succeed. We all love helping each other out and I’m thankful this program has helped me and my classmates have a closer bond with each other.

I am the President of our Project Lead Team and what we do is help our liaisons brainstorm on how we can make Project Link more successful. Being in Project Link has given me a lot of leadership opportunities. I never thought I would get the opportunity to be the President of this amazing team and help a program be even more successful than it already is. I found out I love helping people, especially kids. I want to make a difference in a student’s life one day and make sure they know of all the opportunities they have to have an amazing future. One day I hope to be a great teacher who can inspire and help kids just like Mrs. Davis and Ms. Botello have helped and inspired me.

Ashley Renee Whitlock - 2My name is Ashley Renee Whitlock and I am a senior at La Vega High School where I have been given the opportunity to participate in a new program called Project Link. Ms. Watson, the Project Link Liaison at La Vega High School, has helped me tremendously during my senior year at La Vega High School. She has helped me with all kinds of tasks I needed to do to pursue my degree. She helped me prepare for multiple testing opportunities; she helped me find scholarships and she is pushing me to give my all in everything I do.

Ms. Watson always goes above and beyond when helping not only me but every other La Vega student who is in need of her assistance, skills and input. She is always striving to help every student get to they want to be, not only for college, but for the future beyond college as well. Her office is always open, and she is always ready to answer any questions that come her way.

follow that dreamMy experience with her and with the Project Link Program has always been positive and uplifting. There has yet to be a day when I have failed to accomplish a certain goal with her help. She has hunted down tons of scholarship opportunities and mountains of college information.  She has even hunted down students to find time to work on FASFA, college requirements, etc. She has helped me by reminding me of important deadlines and keeping me updated on all the scholarships that apply to me and my career.  She has helped me apply to multiple colleges and even helped filling out my FASFA in order to pay for college in the Fall of 2016. Project Link as a whole has helped me to have a better understanding of what is expected of me in college and the future in general.  It has also helped me to gain the knowledge that is needed when applying myself in all the many different ways listed above. Ms. Watson has truly made a huge difference in my life and future career path and has always strived to give me the most useful information available.

The fact that Project Link is actually offered to me beyond high school is very comforting, and I truly look forward to experiencing the program through college. I really do feel that the program is extremely beneficial towards not only me but many other students who are in need of the motivation and assistance it takes in order to gain that acceptance letter from not only colleges but scholarships as well.

D and ADaniela Lopez is a senior at University High school.  She is active in the Ready Set Teach Academy of Education and serves in the Educators Credit Union as a teller. Daniela plans to attend McLennan Community College to major in Education. Ashley Renee Whitlock was born and raised in Waco, Texas and is a senior at La Vega High School.  She serves as commanding officer of La Vega High School and is active in NJROTC, CERT, Skills U.S.A., Student Council, Project Link, Orienteering, Academic Team, Yearbook Editor, Photography and Color Guard.  After completing high school this May she will be attending MCC in Fall 2016.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.



A Place for Dialogue: The Multi-faceted Role of Museums in Community

By Trey Crumpton

WARNING:  I use the term dialogue a lot in this article.  So, if you don’t like dialogue, end your pain now and stop reading.

For the next four years, we will tackle a complete renovation of the Harry and Anna Jeanes Discovery Center, part of the Mayborn Museum Complex at Baylor.  It’s hard to believe it has been twelve years since we re-opened in our new digs on University Parks Drive.  This will be tricky, as many parents in Waco know there are standard “go-to” rooms which are “must-sees” during every visit.  We are taking a strategic approach, closing only a few rooms during each renovation phase, and providing other opportunities for engagement to make up for inconvenience.  But, never fear!  The end result will be an awesome upgrade, and we think it will be worth the wait!

Now, here comes dialogue.  When creating engaging exhibits, the separate dialogues of entertainment and education both come into play, and are equally valuable.  The visitor relates to an experience to be entertained, and usually to a lesser extent to be educated.  Our philosophy of exhibitions includes an attempt to show every visitor, from every background, something outside their understanding, outside what they know.  These are experiences that grow all of us, even the staff who work to create them. We want to enrich a child’s and an adult’s life by providing those discovery moments; the spark of the “What if?,” the “Can I build this?,” the “Why can’t I?”  This certainly stretches across toddler play and into thought-provoking exhibitions on complicated subject matter.  We choose to take intellectual activity as a spiritual discipline.

Engagement with culture gives the museum relevance and value within the public sphere, and may provide a calm place for voices of the under-heard and mis-heard.  The Mayborn can use its exhibits, collections, programs, and events to bond together groups of widely varied experience and philosophy.

In order to provide meaningful experiences, there must first be dialogue from community stakeholders.  Recently, our outreach efforts have focused on a wide cross-section of community and scholarly input for the discovery room renovations.  Advisory panels continue to be useful apparatus to build consensus on ideas and direction for specific exhibits.  The range of opinion and reaction within these panels helps us predict what the broader community reaction might be.  We build these bridges, as any intelligent organization does, partly out of a selfish desire to head off unforeseen public relations situations, but primarily out of a professional and heartfelt motivation to fulfill the museum’s mission of service.  Collaboration is a noble goal in itself, and if the greatest product of our conversations is a resilient bond between the museum and our community, we have all succeeded.

sacred journeysThis fall, we have the special opportunity to host the temporary exhibition, Sacred Journeys, which is produced by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the National Geographic Society.  It will focus on the important pilgrimages of five major world religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  These are presented not as apologetics for each religion, but as the experiences—stories (or dialogues)—of five young individuals who make these journeys.  Dialogue with local interested groups has enhanced our understanding of possible concerns, and we hope has provided a safe and honest forum toward mutual respect.  The goal of exhibitions such as Sacred Journeys is to facilitate dialogue over our shared humanity.

We are part of a Christian institution, and people sometimes retain automatic judgements based on that fact—and from widely varying ideologies.  These assumptions may or may not be accurate, and dialogue may be sabotaged in infancy because of them.  Museum ethics dictate that to maintain the public trust, we must present objective fact as far as we can ascertain it, rather than presenting ideologies directed against certain viewpoints.  Generally, if any individual or institution loses credibility in one area, it is difficult to maintain it in others.  This space where museum interpretation cannot tread is open for public “facilitated dialogue,” and conversations are in the works to host an inter-faith discussion this fall.

Candid communication and empathy are required if we are to understand which philosophies we share, and which are different.  From whatever vantage point or set of values we begin, it takes courage to overcome these assumptions and sit down to a productive conversation.  When discussing a museum exhibition on religion, it might be instructive to use Joel Hunter’s term, “elastic orthodoxy.”  Without compromising or diluting faith, one can maintain the ability to work with those who do not believe in the same way.  In museums, as in life, this respect is the basis for strong partnerships, and our greatest partner is our public.

The process of dialogue pushes us to realize that none of us has all the answers—but if we discover together, we can get closer to them!

Trey CrumptonTrey Crumpton is Exhibits Manager for the Mayborn Museum Complex at Baylor University, where he has been on staff for 10 years.  He has lived in Waco since 2001, and has two energetic preschoolers who love to discover.  His beautiful wife Ashley is an early childhood educator, and together they are proponents of all things educational, enriching and fun.  Trey loves family, friends, the outdoors, dark chocolate, good books, pizza, and good film.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

Learning about Anti-Hunger Work in Waco…and all that Jazz

by Craig Nash

The author Donald Miller, (before I turned on him for becoming a shade too respectable,) opens his memoir Blue Like Jazz with this:

I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

I have to confess that before I began my work with the Texas Hunger Initiative, when it came caring about issues of food insecurity I was a little like Miller before his Bagdad Theater experience. It wasn’t that I was openly antagonistic toward efforts to alleviate instances of hunger in our area, or even indifferent to the effects of poverty, of which hunger is one of the most prominent. Rather, when given information and data about hunger, or really any pressing social issue, my eyes would glaze over at the immensity of the challenge and I would move on, thankful that someone else is putting their brains and brawn to work on the challenge.

But I loved Waco enough to want all its citizens to thrive and reach their fullest potential, so I started with the expectation that slowly, by watching others who have been entrenched in this work for many years, my heart would eventually begin to light up with enthusiasm about alleviating food insecurity among our most vulnerable.

As I have watched and listened, a couple of things have captured my attention. For one, I was surprised at the sheer number of people and organizations who are working to address the issue of hunger. Having been in local ministry, I was aware some of the “big players,” the food pantries, large and small; churches and organizations like Packs of Hope who fill backpacks with nutritious food for children to eat over the weekends; Gospel Café; Salvation Army; World Hunger Relief; etc. But I didn’t know that there is a small religious publishing house in town, Seeds of Hope, printing newsletters and worship resources for churches interested in learning more about hunger around the world. I wasn’t aware of how tuned in organizations like the Waco Restaurant Association and even child nutrition departments at schools are to the barriers in the way of every child in our community receiving three healthy meals every day of the week.

In a very real way, there is an army of compassion in our city dedicated to alleviating hunger.

But I’ve learned something else: Like the jazz music that Donald Miller learned to love, there are a lot of dissonant notes being played by everyone working toward ending food insecurity in Waco. Not everyone approaches the issue in the same way. Some groups are on the ground, handing out food as quick as they can get it, while others are being selective and cautious. Some are working within systems to reform processes by which people receive adequate nutrition, while others are working outside the systems, believing them to be irreparably broken. Many people approach the issue from stances of faith, but there are those who do some out of an agnostic viewpoint about God and religion.

This dissonance might unnerve some, but it shouldn’t. The beauty of jazz, and what makes it a uniquely American art form (perhaps the preeminent one,) is that its refusal to resolve and land on a completely “whole” chord means that there is never a time when it feels “complete.” This allows space for infinite movement and requires collaboration among different voices and instruments. This sense of collaboration is one of the defining marks of the hunger fighting army of Waco.

As for those whose hearts flame up with compassion and care for those battling hunger, I’m still watching. And the embers are spreading.

craig Nash.pngCraig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.


Sustainable Waco is Already Here!

by Lucas Land

When you hear the word “sustainable”, what’s the first city you think of? Portland? Austin? Somewhere in California? Why not Waco?

While Austin installs a food forest and San Diego commits to move to 100% renewable energy by 2025, it feels like Waco is always playing catch up to other cities. We may not have a reputation for being “eco-friendly,” but I am constantly surprised by the things already happening in Waco promoting sustainability. Of course, there is still plenty of work to do, but there are ways for you to get connected and get involved.

Sustainability can be understood as the state in which a system is able to continue indefinitely without depleting the resources on which the system depends. It is obvious by this definition that the fossil fuels on which so much of our civilization depends never will be sustainable. Taking the path away from fossil fuels will be difficult. The biggest barrier obstructing our progress is the idea that we are separate, from each other and from the earth.

We, however, are not separate. We all depend on the Brazos (and Lake Waco) for our water. With a growing local food economy, we can see how the land around us provides food to eat. The device you are currently using to read this connects you to points across the globe. We are in this together, and we are not alone.

Whats Happening?
When I moved to Waco in 2009 to intern at World Hunger Relief, a local organization working on sustainable agriculture here and around the world, there was only a small farmer’s market at the Extraco Events Center. Because of the hard work of some Wacoans, we now have a year-round, weekly market on the river that has thousands of visitors every year, has encouraged and supported our local food economy, and currently features over 30 vendors.

The local Mars factory leads the business community with a strong commitment to sustainability. The plant that produces most of the world’s Skittles also produces much of its energy needs by harnessing methane gas from the landfill, wastewater plant, and waste from local companies, such as Cargill. The Mars plant also hosts an Earth Day event every year to raise awareness about sustainability.

Civically, Waco shows just as much promise. Just this month Mayor Duncan and the city council approved the creation of the Sustainable Resources Practices Advisory Board. The Friends of Peace/Climate  group hosts monthly documentaries about climate change, propose changes such as the plastic bag ban, and also plans and implements actions to raise awareness. They have done this work for almost a decade.

For my part, I bike to work and my family makes do with one vehicle. I’ve also worked hard to promote sustainable and edible landscaping in urban yards. I started a small landscaping business called Edible Lawns and I’ve taught classes on raising backyard chickens for MCC Continuing Education.

I feel bad not saying more about Baylor’s Campus Kitchen, Bosque River Coalition, The Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research at Baylor, Central Texas Audubon Society, Critical Mass Waco, Deb Tolman, The Dwyer Group, Keep Waco Beautiful, Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners, Red Caboose Winery, Urban Gardening Coalition, and many more. These are just a few examples of what’s already happening in Waco.

What Needs to Happen?
It’s also true that we have a long way to go towards achieving a sustainable city. Plans to rebuild the energy plant at Tradinghouse Lake would be a huge step backwards. Plans for the new plant would continue to supply our energy needs from fossil fuels.  Instead, we need to work to build energy alternatives to fossil fuels in our community. We need incentives for businesses and citizens to move towards renewable energy.

We need to reduce our dependence on cars for our daily transportation needs. It will take a lot more work before anyone considers Waco “bike-friendly.” Better public transportation will also contribute to decreasing our dependence on cars.

Our lives are still saturated with fossil fuels. They are in everything from medicines, to cosmetics, to fabrics, to toothpaste, to shoes and basketballs. Transitioning away from fossil fuels will require producing more of what we need close to home, finding new (and sometimes old) ways to produce the things we need, and sharing more of the things we don’t use all the time like tools and lawnmowers.

How to Get Involved
A few years ago I realized I knew many people across our city who were interested in sustainability, but many of them didn’t know each other. I started Sustainable Waco to network and connect with more of these people (online and in person). I want to invite you to be part of making Waco more sustainable.

You can meet people on the Sustainable Waco Facebook page, and find organizations and events in town on the Sustainable Waco website. Connect your gifts and passions to what’s already happening. If it’s not happening yet, ask for support and partners to get started and make it happen. Tell me what you’re up to and I’ll add it to the list.

Rather than feeling bad about not being Portland or Austin when it comes to sustainability, let’s recognize the gifts and resources in our own backyard. We can build on the work that many are already doing. If we work together, soon Waco will be among the cities that come to mind when people in Texas and around the country hear the word “sustainable”. What are you waiting for? Let’s go!

Lucas LandLucas Land is an eco-theologian, urban farmer, activist, aspiring master naturalist, facilitator, musician, and writer. He is avoiding growing up by constantly learning and trying new things. He also works in Grants Management for Waco ISD. He lives with his wife, three children, flock of chickens, dog, and cat in the Sanger Heights Neighborhood in North Waco.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.