Child Hunger Team Youth Ambassadors learn about Nutrition and Community

By Craig Nash

This summer, the great people at Share our Strength provided the Waco Texas Hunger Initiative Regional Office with two Youth Ambassadors—students who helped us operate and evaluate the Summer Food Service Program. Below is a reflection on the summer from Sydney Brown, one of the students who served alongside Leah Reed. Both Sydney and Leah provided us with a wealth of energy and wisdom as we sought to improve the Summer Meal experience for Waco children.

Plans are already underway for summer 2017, and I am putting together a Child Hunger Team of volunteers from the community to begin mapping out strategies. If you are interested in serving, please email


My name is Sydney Brown. I’m originally from Kansas City, Missouri and currently a Junior Public Health major at Baylor. For as long as I can remember I have been interested in how nutrition directly affects the well being of local communities. This summer I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work as a Youth Ambassador for The Texas Hunger Initiative’s Waco Regional Office, which has been a perfect mix of nutrition work and community interaction. I have had the privilege of being on the front lines of the USDA Summer Meals program and to see how hunger during the summer affects the lives of our young people. From serving meals at sites to playing with children at Summer Meals Celebration events, I have received a well-rounded look at what hunger in Waco looks like for children and what is being done to combat it.  

Having worked as a Youth Ambassador last Spring in THI’s regional office, doing research on establishing meal sites, there were times when I could feel a little disconnected from the issue of hunger. But having the opportunity to actually be at the sites and to interact with the program and its participants has helped to give me a more full picture of the Summer Meals program. I have met so many incredible families that take advantage of the summer meals program, visiting with them and hearing their stories.  

One of my favorite events to participate in this summer was our Summer Meals Celebration event at Brame Park in Bellmead.  I have found that summer meal sites  which have heavy traffic in the beginning of summer sometimes have trouble maintaining that through the duration of the program. One of our goals with the Summer Meals Celebration event was to get kids excited again about  La Vega’s “Meals on the Bus” program.  La Vega ISD has taken one of their school buses and converted it into a Lunch Meals Express, which transports food to areas where kids are highly concentrated and provides an air-conditioned environment for children to enjoy their lunch. 

We collaborated with La Vega ISD and St. Paul Lutheran Church as well as with some of Baylor’s Campus Kitchen Americorps Vistas to provide fun games and activities for the kids. The kids were able to come out and play beanbag toss, mess around with water balloons, and try their best to win the three-legged race before eating lunch on the bus. I loved that through the games and activities this meal stop became more than just a place to get a free lunch, but now a place to come and play with friends. I got to talk to some of the families that were at the park and was told that many of them came to the park every day to enjoy lunch and had now become close friends with one another. I loved knowing that the summer meals program had brought people together as a community, not only in sharing a meal together but also in creating friendships with one another. The summer meals program has been such a joy to be a part of and I am so encouraged by it. This summer has allowed me to get plugged into the Waco community by being a part of an amazing program.

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 for more information.

Entrepreneurs of Waco: Postpartum Doula Services of Waco

(Note: This post is part of a series called “Entrepreneurs of Waco.”  The series is collaboration between the McLennan Small Business Development Center (SBDC), the Professional Writing program at Baylor University, and Act Locally Waco.  The McLennan Small Business Development Center offers technical assistance, business mentoring, training, and resources for all stages of small business. For more information, visit their website:   To see all the posts in this series, click here: Entrepreneurs of Waco.  – ABT)

By Casey Froehlich

Some people spend years trying to discern their vocation, but Tonja Carpenter found herself fulfilling hers before she even knew it had a name. For fifteen years she helped mothers in her neighborhood and church community deal with life after giving birth. Then, after years of doing the work… “I found out that it wasn’t just my idea, it was somebody else’s idea already. That there was such a thing as a ‘postpartum doula’… I had never heard of that before.” She quickly got certified with the largest doula training service she could find, DONA International. From DONA she received training in “postpartum, adjustment, newborn characteristics, care, feeding, and development, and the promotion of parent-infant bonding. ”  Now Tonja has her own business serving families of newborns, “Postpartum Doula Services of Waco.

After graduating from Baylor in 1991 with her with a BBA in Finance, Tonja went on to work in the insurance industry. After getting married she traded that career for one that was even more demanding: full-time mother. Tonja and her husband Vince went on to give birth to five wonderful children who now range in age from thirteen to twenty-one.

The births of her first three children were “peachy” according to Tonja; the fourth was a different matter. Her labor stalled, eventually going on for ten hours (especially long when compared to her third birth that lasted only an hour and a half).  After she gave birth she hemorrhaged which caused issues with her lactation. “I ended up just falling into a deep depression for six months,” she said of her time after birth. Luckily she had the support of her community.

“The women of my community, they weren’t called ‘postpartum doulas’ then, but they surrounded me and my whole entire family. For weeks and months they would come in and clean my house and call every day, ‘ok how ya doing?’ — bringing meals, talking through, helping with kids…It was a terrible time for my family, but it was great in that my community surrounded me and lifted us up and carried us through.”

Though that time in her life was fraught with pain and fear she still says she wouldn’t trade her experience for the world because “having the postpartum depression with my fourth child has really helped me have a greater perspective on what moms would be dealing with that are suffering with postpartum depression, and I can help them to recognize the early signs of it because I experienced it myself… It adds a great dimension to by business because I cannot just sympathize with the moms and the families but I can truly empathize because I’ve been there.”

And, it isn’t only the mother who’s affected by the birth of the new baby. “Researchers are finding that dads can suffer from postpartum depression as well because they feel just overwhelmed with what’s happening. Because it’s not just the mom, yeah the mom is the one that’s actually pushing the baby out, but she didn’t get that baby on her own… And so her partner, or her husband, or whoever, they have emotions too,” and these emotions need processing too Tonja says.

“It’s very fluid with each family and each day because every family has different needs. So really there is no typical day, it just depends on what is the need at the moment that the family needs to be taken care of….” Daily tasks range from cooking and cleaning to grocery shopping and accompanying mothers to their newborns’ doctor’s appointments. “I guess it starts with ‘how are you doing this morning?’ and then we go from there” she says with a smile.

Tonja charges for her services on a sliding scale. Doula services are typically range from seven-hundred to nine-hundred dollars for six weeks of care consisting of two to three hour shifts depending on the families’ needs. She also does pro-bono work with CareNet for mothers who simply cannot afford her services.

Breastfeeding support is one of Tonja’s specialties. “Not all postpartum doulas are breastfeeding counselors. I just happen to be an accredited breastfeeding counselor with Breastfeeding USA.  I think it enhances my ability as a doula to better serve my clients,” she says. Tonja also helps run the Breastfeeding USA, Waco chapter that meets on Friday mornings at My Little Playplace, 10:30-11:30 am. It’s a free support group/cafe for breastfeeding moms. The breastfeeding counselors of this chapter will also do home visits for moms in the Waco city limits for those who can’t make it to the Friday meeting. “Being a breastfeeding counselor is also a part of the steps I am taking as I work towards my IBCLC credentials,” Tonja explains. “It stands for International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Prayerfully, I will take and pass my board exam in April 2017.”

One memory of a client stands out in her mind: a father unsure of how to hold his newborn infant. “He was a first time dad and he had never been around babies ever, and it was just so precious watching him figure out how to hold the baby.”  She laughs as she demonstrates the father’s technique – more like holding a football than a baby. “So I taught him how to do skin to skin with his baby, and you know he just fell in love—he was already in love with his baby but even more so. He was like, ‘aw this is great’ and he just wanted to hold the baby all the time! … Just seeing him learn how to interact with his baby and make it comfortable, and not be scared to touch his baby and not be uncomfortable with his baby that was beautiful.”

What is truly beautiful is the passion and compassion that Tonja Carpenter has for the families and mothers that she serves. Her wealth of experience, kindness of heart, and willingness to serve makes her the perfect fit for any household seeking aid after childbirth. Tonja’s bubbly personality and readiness to laugh is just what the doula ordered for families struggling with the post-birthing experience.

Tonja CarpenterThe entrepreneur…Tonja Carpenter, PCD (DONA), BC is a graduate of Baylor University with a degree in Finance. After a brief stint in the insurance industry, she married, raised and homeschooled her five children for 15 years while serving, mentoring and supporting young mothers in her church and community. She’s been married for 22 years and is a Certified Breastfeeding Counselor with Breastfeeding USA and a Postpartum Certified Doula with DONA International.

Casey FroelichThe writer…Casey Froehlich is a senior English major at Baylor University with a minor in Creative Writing. She hopes to one day work in publishing as an editor.

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 for more information.

May we celebrate each others’ journeys…

By Ana Chatham

People often ask me how I, being born and raised in Brazil, ended up here in Waco. I usually respond with the briefest summary of my immigration story I can produce. Being a private person who normally dislikes small talk, it is comfortable for me to omit the details and just stick to the easy, pleasant stuff – all the great things that have brought me and kept me in this country: opportunities to grow as a person and as a professional. For the sake of time and efficiency, I usually leave out what I consider to be some of the most important parts of my story: the parts that have to do with faith and loss.

Although I am a person of faith, I don’t usually tell people that it was a deep sense of calling and an unexplainable peace that led me to accept an opportunity about which I knew little, in a country where I only had a few acquaintances, when I was only 18 years old. I don’t normally talk about how my faith was truly what motivated me to come to the USA and strengthened me to stay.

I also hesitate to talk about loss. But, as we all know, you can’t go anywhere without leaving somewhere behind. Yes, my immigration journey has added so much to my life – relationships and life experiences, just to name a couple of things. But it has also caused me to mourn the loss of so much relationships and life experiences, just to name a couple of things. The greatness of what I have here doesn’t diminish the greatness of what I left behind, even if the greatness of what is left behind is only perceived by my own eyes and heart.

This February, ten years after I first arrived in the USA, I pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, along with another 500 or so immigrant persons. The whole process of becoming an American citizen made me think deeply about the many immigrants I have met, mostly through my work in various non-profits. Each story is unique, yet similar in the sense that they are often themed with faith, hope, resilience, and loss, much like my own immigration journey.

In a time where the prevailing message about immigrants seems to be around what we come here to gain, take, use, and abuse, it is easy to forget what we had to leave and lose. And it is easy to forget how those choices were motivated by faith – faith in a better future, faith in the American Dream, faith in a higher power, faith in the power of hard work and sacrifice – the same types of faith the motivates non-immigrants to do what has been set in their hearts for the betterment of themselves and their families.

May we be a community that seeks to understand and honor people, local and immigrant, in the wholeness of their stories. May we listen to each other instead of the loud, often hateful, noise from our electronic devices. May we celebrate each other’s journeys and realize that though our journeys may have involved different steps, the underlying themes are often the same.

Ana ChathamAna Chatham is a social worker at a local nonprofit. She is also a member of the Waco Immigration Alliance and of the Latino Mental Health Coalition. When not at work, Ana enjoys spending time with her husband, her friends, and her two dogs, Crosby and Cody. She can be contacted at

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 for more information.

2018 Greatest Hits #9: Faith in Action Initiatives provides medical supplies & equipment for non-profits

(During these last few weeks of December we will be reprising the Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts for 2018 from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts of 2018.  Merry Christmas! — ABT) 

By Matthew Hoffman

Faith In Action Initiatives (FIAI) is the medical missions and humanitarian aid arm of Baylor Scott & White Health. FIAI is a source of medical supplies, equipment and furniture donations to nonprofit charitable organizations. My name is Matthew Hoffman.  I am the FIAI strategy coordinator in Waco who established the center following the merger of Baylor Health Care System and Scott & White Healthcare in 2013.

FIAI offers many programs, but one of its primary initiatives is its Second Life Resource Center at 3000 Herring Avenue in Waco. FIAI receives items from nonprofits, for-profit businesses, and members of the community. Items include wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and basic medical goods. Each week, shipments of medical supplies, equipment and furniture are processed, sorted and shelved by staff and volunteers for donation to local and international non-profit charitable organizations. Donation recipients include medical clinics, medical missions, churches, transitional living facilities, educational institutions, and humanitarian aid organizations. Our Second Life Resource Center serves the Waco, College Station, Temple, Austin and Hill Country regions.

Why does Faith In Action do this? We do this, first and foremost, because we care about people and we want to see people cared for. It is our hope to help elevate access to health care by coming alongside these nonprofit organizations and supplying their resource needs as we are able. When there are so many good nonprofit, charitable organizations within our communities who are bringing loving, compassionate care to others, we want to help resource their needs. By doing this, these nonprofits are better able to reallocate their funds to other projects and expand their own work when they aren’t having to pay for items that we are able to freely give to them. The end result of this is that we hope to help create healthier communities.

My hope is that Faith In Action – Central Texas will become increasingly recognized as a “one-stop shop” for resourcing nonprofit needs in the area. In its first year, FIAI’s Central Texas division was able to give away more than $250,000 worth of goods to local and international humanitarian aid efforts, and is on target to exceed $1 million in total donations.

The initiatives also help reduce waste. If we can give to a homeless shelter or a transitional living facility a perfectly good bed, or a pregnancy help center baby formula and diapers, or a charitable clinic basic goods that serve low income areas, instead of throwing these items away and filling up our landfills, we will give it away to good people every time.

Beyond serving local communities, FIAI also is heavily involved internationally. FIAI sends, on average, a 40-foot shipping container each month full of supplies to medical missions, hospitals or humanitarian aid efforts located worldwide.

If you would like to be part of FIAI by either donating goods or volunteering your time at our Second Life Resource Center, or if you are a nonprofit in need of resources, please contact me by phone at (254) 227-2640, or by email at  

Matthew HoffmanMatthew Hoffman has over 25 years of experience in nonprofit leadership and development with community, health care, and faith-based organizations. He currently serves as the Strategy Coordinator for Baylor Scott & White Health’s Faith In Action Initiatives – Central Division, which he sees as a dream come true to be able to link larger organizations with the needs of the poor both here locally and abroad. He holds a bachelor’s degree in social sciences (emphasis on sociology and international relations) from the University of Houston and a master’s degree in theology (emphasis on community development and ministries to the poor) from Fuller Theological Seminary. He has two children and has been married to an incredible human being and best friend, Anna, for 25 years.  

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 for more information.