Time for students to educate themselves and vote!

By Hannah Byrd

In January of this year, I wandered into my first League of Women Voters meeting. I was pleased with what I found. Wacoans of different generations, political beliefs, and educational backgrounds gathered around a table to discuss how to improve voter participation and education in McLennan County. This is exactly what I had been searching for: an organization that unites citizens in the goal of protecting democracy. I became a student member of the League of Women Voters because I wanted to make positive political change that was non-partisan. In my few months of involvement with the League, I have learned important lessons.

First, more students should get involved with the League. According to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), only 50% of eligible young people (ages 18-29) voted in the 2016 presidential election. This number is discouraging, but there is hope. CIRCLE found that young people who are registered to vote, vote in high numbers. One of the League’s main goals is to register voters to increase voter participation. I volunteered at the League’s registration drive in January. We registered someone who was celebrating his 18th birthday that day. It is exciting to help my peers become active political participants. Young people’s perspectives matter, but only if we express them through our vote. The League knows how important young people are to protecting our democracy. A student membership costs only $5 annually.

Second, I have learned the importance of local elections. At the League’s Candidate Forum in February, I listened to candidates running for local political offices explain their platforms. The candidates who win these offices will make decisions that impact everyone in McLennan County on an individual level. County Commissioners maintain our roads, the District Attorney prosecutes criminal cases, and the County Judge oversees the budget for county government operations. These are just a few examples of local elected officials and their responsibilities. Despite these offices’ important functions, local elections tend to have low voter turnout. A small number of eligible voters shape local policy for everyone. When more people vote in these elections, McLennan County becomes a community that works for everyone.

More voters in McLennan County participated in the recent midterm elections than in the past. To continue these positive changes, the League needs volunteers from a variety of backgrounds. Students can impact the future of their communities and country by becoming a member of the League. We can all help by participating in every election, local, state, and national. Our democracy works best when it reflects the will of the people. This can only happen if we do our part to become educated voters and help our neighbors do the same.

Hannah Byrd is a senior at Baylor University where she studies International Studies and Arabic and Middle East Studies. In addition to her involvement with the League of Women Voters, Hannah serves as president of Pursue Mentoring Organization, a Baylor service organization that seeks to empower at-risk middle school girls in Waco ISD. She likes watching matinees at the Hippodrome, spends too much time at Moody Library, and enjoys hiking in Cameron Park on sunny days.

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.


Summer Showcase (May 5): Great way to start planning for summer fun!

By Larry Carpenter

“‘Cause a little bit of summer is what the whole year is all about’.” These lyrics from pop singer John Mayer’s song, “Wildfire,” ignite a spark of anxiousness as the end of the school year inches closer and the summer months draw near—especially for students who have worked hard in the classroom all school year long reading, writing, testing, and growing their minds and bodies.

As a student, I remember so vividly how the looming summer vacation from school would bring opportunities to be outdoors, attend summer camps, go to the swimming pool, or even just mow the lawn and smell the fresh cut grass. The length of the sunny days would unfold and give rise to something new and challenging everyday. And when the Texas heat grew too hot to be outdoors for long periods of time, it was important to have activities indoors to keep me occupied and engaged.

That is where the Hawthorne Youth Center came into play for me. The HYC was a very small, community-based summer activity center in my old hometown. Owned by a local family, giving back to local kids was priority number one. Just a three-quarter mile bike ride from my front door, the HYC provided creative, athletic, educational, and social activities and events for youth of all ages. It was there that I not only learned the value of being part of a team, but I learned the value of social interaction, developing confidence to start conversations with others I didn’t already know. I enjoyed those summers at the HYC, and I was so very thankful that my school let the group promote their summer camp so that my family had the opportunity to let me go and grow.

It’s not very different for kids today. As we move closer to the close of the 2018 school year, students and their parents will be looking for activities to occupy their time in creative, fun, and educational ways.

In an effort to highlight many of the amazing opportunities available to families in the Waco area this summer, the Waco ISD Department of Student Services and Family Engagement is sponsoring a Summer Showcase on Saturday, May 5, 2018 at the Mayborn Museum from 9:00 a.m. to Noon.

Organizations, clubs, companies, and non-profits, among others will be sharing information about summer camps, student-centered activities, and other summer happenings at the Showcase. Whether you are looking for artistic outlets, growing a garden, developing leadership opportunities or just finding a way to keep cool in the summer heat—the Summer Showcase is the place to explore all your options. Many of the events and offerings are free or low-cost, and the Summer Showcase is a perfect time to find out what’s going on in our community this summer.

At the Cinco de Mayo themed event, families will enjoy food catered from George’s Restaurant,  get free prizes from the various organizations represented, be entertained by a variety of activities and performances, and most importantly, get information on summer activities for youth of all ages.

The event is open to all of the Waco area community. It is never too early to see what’s happening in the community to help you make the most informed plans for the summer.

As the hard work of another school year comes to an end, it reminds me so fondly of my summers at the Hawthorne Youth Center and what a difference those experiences had in my life.

Waco ISD hopes to share some of those exciting opportunities to the community through the Summer Showcase! So, we hope to see you on May 5 at the Mayborn Museum from 9:00 to Noon!

Happy Summer everyone!

Larry Carpenter is the Director of Fine Arts for Waco ISD. Having been with WISD for 18 of his 24 years in education, he has served WISD as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant director of Advanced Academics and now Director of Fine Arts.


Got drugs? DEA take-back day offers a safe disposal option

By Anna Dunbar

Have you ever participated in a drug take-back program?  If not, what do you do with leftover medicines after you are over that awful head-cold or find some expired pain medicine?  I was shocked to learn that some folks think it is a good idea to flush unwanted or expired medicine or put them in their trash. When flushed, medicines can end up in our waterways and can ultimately travel to Texas’ coastal ecosystems. It is possible that all the chemicals in the flushed medicines are now in our waterways. Why is that? Because wastewater treatment plants, where the flushed stuff goes, do not remove chemicals; the plants remove organic waste.  So, the treated wastewater, which goes back out to the river may not be as safe and clean as we think. And, the wildlife that live in the water are now swimming in water that contains chemicals.

Obviously, flushing unwanted medications is not a good idea when much safer options are available for no cost.

This Saturday, April 28, residents will have an opportunity to clear their homes of expired or unused medications that drug enforcement officials say may pose a public health threat.

On April 28, 6 collection sites in Waco and surrounding cities will provide safe disposal of pills, tablets and capsules. There will also be two drive-by locations for easy disposal. One drive-by is at Fire Station #1 located at 100 Peach Street  in Waco and the second is at Waco-McLennan County Health District at 225 W. Waco Dive.  Both drive-by locations will have a peace officer present in the parking area to receive your items. Community members can drop off any controlled or over-the-counter medications anonymously, with no questions asked. Collection sites cannot accept needles and liquids.

What is accepted: Prescriptions/Over-the-counter medications, veterinary medications, vitamins, minerals and drug samples

What is NOT accepted: Oxygen Tanks, Needles or other sharps, Inhalers or thermometers, Nebulizers or IV bags

NEW Waco Drive-by locations (April 28, 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM)

  • Fire Station 1, 100 Peach Street
  • Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, 225 W Waco Dr.

Waco Drop-off location (Starting Friday morning,  April 27 and continuing through Monday morning , April 30)


Other locations (April 28, 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM)

  • HEWITT POLICE DEPARTMENT , 100 Patriot Court

What if you are not available on April 28?

Your best option is to check the extended hours of the Waco Police Department location. If that does not fit in your schedule, hold on to the medicines until the next drug take-back day, which will probably be in the fall of 2018. Another option would be to give your items to a trusted adult for proper disposal at the April 28 event.

Thank you for choosing to do the right thing!

Anna Dunbar is the Operations Administrator for the City of Waco Public Works. She is responsible for informing Waco residents and businesses about recycling and waste reduction opportunities as well as solid waste services in Waco. Her husband is a Baylor professor and her daughter is a graduate student at Baylor University. She is an active member of Keep Waco Beautiful and The Central Texas Audubon Society.

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.


Tami’s Big Do Over: ‘Tis The Season

(Tami Nutall Jefferson, a married mother and grandmother, is going back to school and she has invited us all along to enjoy the ride.  For more posts in this series, click here: Tami’s Big Do Over.  –  ALW)

By Tami Nutall Jefferson

As some people are rounding the bases of Prom 2018, some of us are gearing up for Graduation 2018. The sleepless nights studying, the exam crams, the tuition payments, the juggling like we’re professional jugglers – it’s ALL about to come to an abrupt end. We’re now being launched in to the ‘real world’ of full-time employment, student loan payments, and a different kind of work-family juggling. For some of us, this road trip has taken almost half a century. Sadly, this season is not mine – but joyfully, it belongs to my guest, Terronga Weaver.

Terronga Makes Her-story

Terronga Weaver is repping Tarleton State University’s graduating class of 2018 with her Bachelor’s degree in Human Resources. Terronga is a Waco native, mother of 4, heir to the Jockey Club 100-year legacy – and, 45 years young. As Terronga readies to graduate on May 12th, I had the opportunity to hear her story about her life and her future. I’ll let you guys in on a little bit of it here.

TNJ > The floor is yours. What do you want to say to the people right now?

TW > It’s like Murphy’s law, the closer I get to finishing, the harder it gets. Different things pop up, and everything that can go wrong, will try to. There will always be challenges.  People will always tell you to quit, BUT just know that you will be DYNAMIC when all this is finished.


TNJ > What was the beginning for Terronga?

TW > This journey started 22 years ago. I had just moved into Estella Maxey projects with 2 kids. Now, I have 4 kids, and 1 grandbaby. I was unemployed but starting college at MCC as part of the self-sufficiency program. I had to remind myself that low-income does not mean low-class. I eventually started working too. And not really knowing what I was doing to myself, I quit MCC with just 1 semester left to graduate and went on to work two [simultaneous] jobs in the nursing and fast-food industries for the next 10 years.


TNJ > Can you give us a little insight into life as a mom during this time?

TW > It was hard as a mom because of the judgment. You’re a bad mom if you work all the time. You’re a “welfare mom” if you’re at home taking care of your kids all day. Meanwhile, dads get no judgement for not being there. I had a hard time finding the balance or confidence in this particular situation.


TNJ > What was your lightbulb moment?

TW > I was working 2 jobs – typically from 8am to 11pm. One day I was late for one of my 6am shifts…and got wrote up! I realized at that moment, that for 10 years, I had been so busy making somebody else’s brand better, but I had lost my own brand at home with kids. My 2 younger kids (14 & 18) know me as the ‘soccer mom’, but my 2 older kids (26 & 27) just know me being at work. I lost their childhood and knowing who they are. I made up my mind that if I have to lose everything to start over, I will.


TNJ > Oooh, what happened next?

TW > I went to talk with MCC and Tarleton to see about finishing my education. That was in 2015 or 2016. Amazingly, they took every credit I had [earned], and I cried. I worked hard and had awesome people to help me out along the way. In December of 2017, I graduated from MCC with my Associate’s in Applied Science, and in a few weeks [from now], from Tarleton with my Bachelor’s in Human Resources. I took 5 classes last semester and 5 this semester, while still working at Home Depot, taking the weekly WIBO class with you at City Center Waco, and helping my mom run the Jockey Club in East Waco…and still being a mom.


TNJ > What pushed you through?

TW > You have to know your why. I, literally, look in the mirror and tell myself “I’m worth it.” Today’s sacrifices will pay off. You have to be your own biggest cheerleader. Take it slow if you have to. Just know that school will always work for you. Someone will always help you. There are thousands of reasons why you shouldn’t, but you only need one reason why you should. Mine was because I’m worth it.


TNJ > Tell me how this feels – graduating – because I can’t imagine right now.

TW > An interviewer told me I have options now. I don’t have to settle. Again, I cried. NOW, I am educated, well-informed, and I know my worth. I can have you design me the house I really want. I don’t have to live in the projects. There’s so much out there for me now. It’s bigger than surreal. I finally broke through my glass ceiling. Now I have to create another one to break through.


TNJ > Now you’re ready to move forward. What does your dream look like in the future?

TW > I’m a community person. The thing that hurts me most is to see our veterans come home with PTSD or be homeless and suffer. My dream would be to create a nice place for them. My bed and breakfast where they can return from tour and decompress and get reintegrated into American culture. My mom was a military nurse, so she can care for them, and I can provide them a safe, low-key place where they can calm their minds and bodies before going back to their “normal” lives and families here.

There’s so much more to Terronga, with her passion for human resources, loving on and engaging with people, managing businesses, I can’t fit it all here. If you want to know more about her, employ her, or help her make the dream possible for local veterans, email her at mstrweaver@gmail.com

Tami Nutall Jefferson is an older, non-traditional student with a professional real estate background. Tami begins her first academic year at Texas A&M University pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Planning and Land Development while commuting between Waco and College Station. Her hope that every Wacoan – from all corners – can engage in and contribute to the growth and success of the city. You can connect with Tami at taminutall@gmail.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tami.nutall1.

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.

Trails & Trials: The Balancing Act

(This post is a part of a regular series “Trails & Trials,” a monthly adventure series inspiring others to experience the physical, mental, and social benefits of cycling, running or swimming in Central Texas. For more posts in this series, click here: Trails and Trials.  – ALW)

By Natasha van der Merwe

The question I get asked all the time is “How do you balance it all?”

Many runners, cyclists, and triathletes with families, like myself, spend a great amount of time figuring out how they will fit all their workouts into their busy lives. Sound familiar? Keeping this balance in the home isn’t easy, but you’re not the first to go through this situation and you certainly won’t be the last.

As many of you know, I’m not only a Professional Triathlete that trains 20-25 hours a week, but I’m also a mom, wife, and business woman too. I have responsibilities to fulfill my obligations to my triathlon sponsors. I have duties to assist Bicycle World marketing programs as the Director of Team Programs. That role alone requires managing 15 Bicycle World Ambassadors and hosting several community workout and informational workshops every month. I also have a lively 20 month old toddler, who I try to spend as much time with as possible, not to mention quality time with my spouse, mom, and friends.

So, how do I do it? While I am definitely no expert in this field, I am always looking for ways to do this balancing act better. I have however managed to find some things that seem to work for myself at this present moment.

My first priority is my toddler, and therefore my days do change.

With that being said, I’ve got SIX key strategies to share with you.


The most important thing I do on a weekly basis, is to create a detailed schedule.  I put my training plan, Bicycle World commitments, meetings, family time, shopping, meal prepping, nap time all on a color-coded dry erase board. Note the ‘dry erase’ portion of the board is an important tool as it’s easily adaptable. Things may get shifted an hour here or there, but once it’s on the board, I make sure to get it done one way or another, in a flexible manner.


Superwoman is a myth. Ask for help to make this all happen. Anytime I overstretch myself, I pay for it later in an almost complete body shut down. I make sure to stay ahead of the game. Right now, my husband and I are fortunate to have my mother and Nadine’s “nana” staying with us to help out with Nadine. We sit down at the beginning of the week and schedule out the week together on the ‘dry erase’ board. My Mom then knows exactly the times when she is required to take care of Nadine while I am training or away for work. When my Mom was not with us, I was extremely fortunate to have amazing friends who have always expressed their willingness to watch Nadine when I needed them.


As mentioned before, this is a 100% family effort. I want to make sure they are as comfortable with the schedule as I am. This means that even though we have talked through the schedule at the beginning of the week, I still check in daily with my husband and mom, to make sure the next day’s plans and obligations are still do-able and not overstretching them in any manner. If any of us do happen to have a change in plan, then we can adapt the plan for the next day. An example would be – instead of going on a group run in the morning, I may take Nadine with me to the gym where she gets to enjoy playing with other children in their play area while I hit the treadmill. Gyms like the local YMCA have fantastic child care programs for all ages. Take advantage of them.


The morning before the house is awake is probably my most important time of the day. After my daily bible reading and prayer time, I pull out my journal and right down 3 goals for the day. In my mind, if I can prioritize these 3 items, and hit these goals, I consider it a successful day. Nothing more, nothing less. This keeps me in check from doing too little or too much and keeps me focused on what is most important.


This is my go-to work tool. At the end of each day, I write my to-do list of all the items I need to do. It’s typically a pretty long list. I highlight the most important items that I need to get done the next day. Most of the time, I only get those items done.  If I’m feeling particularly energized at the end of the day after I put Nadine down for the night, I may knock out one or two more remaining items. At the end of the day, I will rewrite my to do list minus the items I have accomplished that day.


This is most important for me. Having to juggle so many different balls, it is very easy for my mind to get distracted and start thinking about everything else I have to do while working out or just playing with Nadine. So I try to make a commitment to myself to stay in the moment, knowing that whatever I have put aside can be addressed later. I also consider this practice great mental training for my triathlon races. I fully believe that the mind is the strongest muscle in the body and the key to my success. If I can teach myself to stay fully present in life, I can translate that into the race course, which will lead to a better race day performance every time.

At the end of the day, including your family in your goals, and allowing them to be a part of helping you achieve them will go a long way toward keeping both family and training as balanced as possible. When you cross that finish line on race day and have achieved your goal, seeing your family there to congratulate you makes it all worth it!

Natasha van der Merwe is originally from South Africa. She is mom to a 19-month old girl, former professional tennis player and tennis instructor, and a professional triathlete representing Bicycle World and Waco Running Company.  She has multiple top 10 finishes in Ironman and 70.3 events around the world. She is Director of Team Programs for Bicycle World, Texas

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.