Meraki to offer COVID vaccinations in East Waco

Meraki Medical Associates LLP will begin offering COVID-19 vaccinations Friday, Aug. 20, at 1001 Dunbar Street in East Waco. The opening is planned in conjunction with August being National Immunization Awareness Month.

CEO Sophia Strother formed Meraki “to create access and awareness for communities of color in the East Waco,” she said. Meraki is Greek for doing something with soul, creativity, and love. “It’s important to always put something of yourself into what you’re doing, whatever it may be. We are a starting point for the sustained health of our community. We will be known for our compassion and ability to provide services to everyone we encounter with meraki.”

Strother is passionate about helping communities of color fight against COVID. After having over 10 family members directly affected by the virus, she decided she needed to take action. Partnering with Living Word Church of God in Christ, Meraki is set to open its clinic Aug. 20 to provide community-focused health awareness on the importance of vaccine-preventable diseases. It will provide vaccination clinics and educational opportunities statewide that will target underserved communities and special populations. 

Meraki is at 1001 Dunbar St., Waco. This building has housed Living Word Church of God in Christ, Meals on Wheels, and Community Food Pantry for all of 20 years. Meraki believes “every person deserves an opportunity to be given a health experience that inspires them and enhances their quality of life. The team hopes to partner with other faith-based organizations, community organizations and corporations to administer vaccinations to individuals 16 years and older.” Sophia is passionate about helping others through faith, knowledge, and resources. 

Aug. 20 Events at Meraki

11 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – Tour

11:30am – noon – Press Conference

Noon – 2 p.m. – Vaccination Clinic

Strother also owns a logistics company and was recently featured on HGTV’s “40 Year Old Property Virgin.” Connect with Sophia online here.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

A moment in time points toward a need to care & act

By Ferrell Foster

An encounter with a stranger haunts me.

Last month, in the midst of the winter storm, we decided to flee our powerless house for my daughter’s house in another town. It was Tuesday afternoon. We had been without power almost all of the time since 8 a.m. Monday. The temperature had dropped to 2 or 3 degrees outside Tuesday morning.

We motored northward and stopped a little north of town to get gas. Inside the store, I stood in a two-pronged line waiting to check out. 

A woman, shorter than me and probably not as old as me, took her place in the line adjacent to me. She smiled big and had a happy lilt in her voice.

“We haven’t had power in two days,” she said.

“I know. We’ve been without power, too,” I responded.

“It got down to 27 degrees in our house last night,” she said, still with a bit of mirth in her voice.

“Oh, my,” or something like that, was all I could say.

Lines advance. She checks out; I check out. We go our ways.

So why can’t I forget this encounter? For a simple reason.

The woman and I both lived through a powerless night when the temperature outside dropped almost to zero. She lived in a 27-degree icebox of a house. The temperature in our house never dropped below 52.

People with resources encounter some of the same challenges in life that those with less resources face, but we do not deal with these challenges on equal footing. Not only did my house keep my family and me much warmer than this woman’s, but we also had someplace to go.

One of my daughters stood in the line with me. After we left, I commented on the woman’s situation in contrast to ours, and Tabitha noted that the woman still seemed to have on her pajamas with a house coat on top. I hadn’t noticed.

This woman was not dressed for travel. Chances are she headed back to her icebox and had to wait who knows how long for relief. Still, she smiled.

Driving northward, Tabitha read me a news account of the power outages in East Waco. This story included a quote from my friend, Waco Council Member Andrea Barefield. She spoke to the importance of alleviating the infrastructure problems in East Waco.

Our neighbors who are most in need should be our highest priority. People in poorer neighborhoods should have the absolute best when it comes to streets, water, and power because they already have enough challenges. 

Why is it so often the other way around in cities across this country? It doesn’t have to be; Waco can be different. We can give our best to those who have the least.

We stand or sink together as a community from East Waco to North and South and West. We are Waco; we seek our best.

Ferrell Foster is acting executive director of Act Locally Waco and senior content specialist for care and communication with Prosper Waco.

‘Tree of Life’ mural marks East Waco past & future

By Ferrell Foster

Waco celebrated its Black heritage & future, the arts, and the return of banking to East Waco in a Monday evening gathering. The new Tree of Life mural extends along one wall of TFNB’s new East Waco bank. TFNB “Your Bank for Life” is at 715 Elm Ave. The mural reflects the commitment of TFNB, Creative Waco, Waco ISD student artists, and the broader Black community of East Waco.

Vincent Thomas and Cade Kegerreis were lead designers for the mural project, while Kristen Thompson and Tashita Bibles served as artist mentors. A film also captured the work, it Andreas Zaloumis served as film mentor.

An information card at the celebration said:

“The Tree of Life mural represents the unity that is rooted in community, wisdom, and understanding. Individuals grow from their ancestors, passing along knowledge of how they came to be. The many stories are often intertwined when focusing on a specific place, such as historically rich East Waco. This mural is designed to highlight the flourishing community rooted in Elm Street.

“Generations of families in East Waco have grown and thrived through hardships and represent a vibrant culture that has often been overlooked and under appreciated. Co-designers Vincent Thomas and Cade Kegerreis considered this project an opportunity to reflect these rich stories and respect the history of this neighborhood while looking to its future and aspirations.”

Prosper Waco has posted short videos of some of the comments made during the celebration — Andrea Barefield, Linda Lewis, and Fiona Bond.

The mural served as completion of ARTPrenticeship 2020, with the following apprentices participating in the project:

Jonathan Campos

Vanesa Carvajal

Lina Denson

Rafael Flores

Fate King

Zander Lim

Angelina Monroy

Jasmin Nunez

Lillian Olvera

Larissa Rodriguez

Niala Speedwell

Maria Duarte Tavera

Tahlia Tran

Ja’Nasia Whitfield

Ferrell Foster is acting executive director of Act Locally Waco and senior content specialist for care and communication with Prosper Waco.

East Waco Voices: Getting East Waco Back on its Feet – Move East Waco 2019!

By Khristian Howard

If you have been around Waco for a while, you may recall “Move East Waco,” the fitness series that got East Waco up and active two summers ago. We are thrilled to announce that exciting six-week campaign for health education, fitness, and community will be back this summer to continue the impact it began in 2017. Packed with incentives, fun, and most importantly, FREE workout sessions, “Move East Waco 2019” will give you the motivation you need to begin or continue your fitness journey. This year’s series will begin on May 16th at 6:30 p.m. at Oscar DuCongé Park (1504 J.J. Flewellen) and will feature some new and familiar faces to give previews of the workouts and health lectures that will follow in the subsequent six weeks.

Success During Summer ’17 & Hopes for this Year

Move East Waco had its debut in the summer of 2017, and immediately proved to be a hit within the community. Cuevas Peacock, community organizer and co-creator of Move East Waco, shared that in 2017 they saw over 100 people attend the kickoff, and [an] average 15 people at the various workouts. This year, Cuevas and the team hope to double the participation numbers, and to implement some new tracking measures that will provide a more comprehensive report of the program’s impact. Cuevas has garnered support from several East Waco community members, many of whom were key players in the success of Move East Waco ’17. These team members include, Tara Briscoe, Victoria Calhoun, Vivian Vonner, Ashley Royal, Sandra Dorsey-Butler, and Van Davis, to name a few. Some of the main organizations represented are Grassroots Community Development, Live Well Waco, Baylor Health & Wellness, and more. 

To ensure that the goal of doubling participation is met, the team has secured various incentive donations from places like, Gold’s Gym, Refit Waco, Orange Theory, Jamba Juice, Da Shack Farmer’s Market, and more. Additionally, participants can expect a wide variety of workouts and demonstrations ranging from Zumba, line dance, and hip-hop aerobics to cooking demos, healthy food budgeting classes, and stress relief exercises.

As mentioned above, this summer will mark the second installment of Move East Waco. With the help of health and fitness instructors and local businesses providing services and incentives, the program proved to be a huge success in its first installment. Still, you may be wondering, why do a health and fitness series…and why in East Waco? Cuevas Peacock gave us a glimpse into the motivation behind Move East Waco. He shared some troubling statistics about health in East Waco.

He stated, “Throughout our nation, 12% of residents report being in poor health, in Waco the number rises to 13.2%; however, in East Waco, the number grows even more to 18%.  Nationally, 29% of residents are obese, but in East Waco, the number grows to a staggering 45%.”  Move East Waco is a solution that Cuevas believes will be a significant factor in decreasing these numbers. “It is our belief that by increasing the amount of physical activity among the residents of East Waco we can begin to lower the high obesity rate and improve the community’s overall health.” Ultimately, Cuevas summarized the goals of the program as a way to “[demonstrate] various ways for our community to get up and get moving, along with providing access to vendors that could address various health issues…[along] with the hope to Move East Waco towards adopting a healthier lifestyle.”

We Want to See You There!

This year’s kickoff event will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 16th, at Oscar DuCongé Park Park in East Waco (1504 J.J. Flewellen), next door to G. W. Carver Middle School. There you will be able to learn easy fitness practices that can be practiced at home. Additionally, this kickoff will give you a preview of each instructor who will be heading up classes throughout the rest of the program. Classes will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. from May 21st to June 27th. Do not hesitate to take advantage of free access to health and fitness materials provided by local professionals – and access to great giveaways that can assist you in living a healthier, fuller lifestyle. Join us as we “Move East Waco” closer to maximum wellbeing!


Click here for “Move East Waco 2019 Schedule


Khristian Howard is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Georgia State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has a passion for empowering communities through service, and seeks to connect advocacy to creativity. Currently, she is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Texas Hunger Initiative Waco, where her work focuses on fostering collective impact to improve health and eating habits in East Waco. When she is not working, you may find her sharpening her culinary skills or exploring new poetic and artistic pathways.  

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.

East Waco Voices: Cultivating Produce and Culture, Channeling Multiple Passions into One

By Khristian Howard

Inspiring hope in the black community is a passion for Kay Bell. She takes this passion into her work as a school teacher and friend, but nowhere else does it play out more practically than with her own nonprofits. Founder of Global Revive, president of the Waco Chapter of National Women in Agriculture Association, and recent playwright, Mrs. Bell is known for ambition. Her ability to combine her passions for healthy living and the arts have created a concrete example for the community of what it means to cling to your dream and to bring positive light to those that may be overlooked in the community.

A New Home

Kay Bell’s life in Waco began eleven years ago, when she and husband, Virgil, bought a house on Taylor Street. Next to this house was an overgrown, vacant lot that Kay would soon transform into a neighborhood attraction. After a call to the appraisal district, and a transaction with the lot’s owner, Kay bought the plot of land and prepared it for a garden. “We cleared off the whole spot, and my brother broke it up. We planted squash, zucchini, and tomatoes that first summer,” Kay remembers. Due to the minerals and nutrients that had composted on that lot over the years, Kay’s first crop was surprisingly hefty – in quantity and size. “I literally had people slowing down in front of my house looking at my garden because of the huge zucchini vines, squash vines, and tomato vines…my squash and zucchini bushes grew about that tall,” Kay stated, holding her hand about five and a half feet in the air.

The surplus she had from her crops that summer led Kay to turn her first profit from the garden. After giving away some of the crop to people in need, she responded to an ad in the paper for the Heart of Texas Farmer’s Market and paid ten dollars to be a vendor. “I went out there with a card table, and all of my squash and zucchini, and I sold out in about thirty minutes…I made $75 dollars in thirty minutes off of what I grew. So, from there I was really inspired to grow gardens more,” Kay shared. The speedy profit was not the only reason Kay continued to garden, she also began learning about the health benefits of eating fresh, local produce. “I began to grow food for financial reasons, as well as health reasons. And that made me feel like, I want everybody else to catch hold to this feeling I have that we should all be growing gardens and eating from [them] as much as possible,” she stated.

A New Organization

Kay’s knack for gardening and promoting healthy living have led her to lead various organizations that build on these initiatives within the community. One of these organizations is Global Revive, a multifaceted non-profit that seeks to promote gardening, the arts, and economic development. Kay says that she started Global Revive to “revive people back to growing gardens, eating natural, and to tap into their creativity and gifts that have gone dormant… So that’s where the art part of Global Revive comes from.”

Blending creativity and the arts into community work is an important part of Kay’s community involvement.  For example, poetry has been a part of the work.  “I’ve put my creativity into poetry,” Kay stated, “I think poetry is a way to express your opinions [that] you can’t say in church, or you may not be able to say in a big public meeting.” She has been able to use her love of poetry to connect with other people sharing a similar interest. She believes that, “When you have a group of people with the same mind, you can get more accomplished vs. one person by themselves.” The art committee of Global Revive has been responsible for creating a new quarterly open mic night for poets in Waco to bring more poets of color together.

A New Venture

That’s not all this committee has been responsible for. Kay and her team recently wrote, directed, and starred in their first sold out play, Born 2 Win, at Jubilee Theater. When asked about her inspiration for the play, Kay recounted the events that sparked the idea. The title, Born 2 Win, was inspired by a book that one of the Global Revive members wrote. After deciding to use the title to pay homage to the 90-year-old writer and Global Revive member, Kay began planning the content. She shared that her husband had been homeless for seventeen years and had provided stories and details that would make up the play. “He often tells me stories of how he lived as a homeless person, and what they had to go through – freezing in the winter, burning up in the summer, in line to eat. So, the play is about homeless people who want to come out of homelessness and be successful,” Kay told us. The characters in the play combine their talents and efforts to form a cooperative that eventually helps them out of homelessness – depicting more of Kay’s zeal for black-owned businesses.

The main takeaway from the play? Everyone can win. Kay sums up her play’s message by saying, “If you’ve been to the bottom, I mean the bottom. There is something inside of you that you have that you can use [to win]. It may not be speaking, it may not be singing, it may not be passing a test. But there is something in you that makes you a winner, because you were born to win.”  For Kay, presenting these messages to the community with a play that casts actors that look like the community was imperative. She shared, “You look at TV and it’s not a whole lot – even in 2019 – of us [African-Americans]. I just feel there are other people out there who should have a great representation.” She wanted people of color to have a positive representation in media, but also in her own surroundings.

Encouragement for Other Dreamers

When asked what advice she would give others who seek to pursue different passions and make positive change in East Waco, Kay’s message was simple and direct. “Don’t quit!” she laughed, “Don’t give up. Keep persisting. Your dream can happen…There’s somebody else out there who sees the same thing you see. You may not find them then and there, you may not get a big crowd, but keep holding on to that dream that you want. Just don’t give up.” Kay Bell has certainly proven herself to be an inspiration for leaders and entrepreneurs who will not fit into a single box. Her commitment to cultivate gardens and art without compromising one for the other shows that it is possible to connect interests that seem difficult to merge…as long as you work together.


Khristian Howard is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Georgia State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has a passion for empowering communities through service, and seeks to connect advocacy to creativity. Currently, she is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Texas Hunger Initiative Waco, where her work focuses on fostering collective impact to improve health and eating habits in East Waco. When she is not working, you may find her sharpening her culinary skills or exploring new poetic and artistic pathways.  

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.

East Waco Voices: Feeding the (Healthy!) Body and Soul at Carver Park Baptist Church – Part 2

(Carver Park Baptist Church is helping to lead a healthy food revolution in East Waco through their food related ministries.  They have so much going on that we couldn’t squeeze it into one post. This is Part 2 of the story.  Click here for Part 1.  – ALW)

By Khristian Howard

Carver Park Baptist Church stands as one of the main resources for food in the East Waco community. Their food pantry, open every first and third Friday, serves 120 to 150 people each month. Though doors do not open until 9:30, a line of people from almost every Waco zip code can be seen stretching around the building as early as 8 a.m. Led by Helen Lewis and a team of volunteers from Carver, TSTC, and the community, the food pantry at Carver Park Baptist has proven to be a major resource and lifeline for the residents of East Waco.

In a recent chat with Mrs. Evelyn Moore, one of the leaders of the Carver Park Culinary Arts Ministry, we learned some of the history behind how Carver Park responded to the need for food in the neighborhood and evolved into the fully stocked pantry they run today.

Reflecting on the early days of Carver Park Baptist, Mrs. Moore remembers the events that inspired the opening of their food pantry back in the 80s. “We had a small one [food pantry] that we partnered with TSTC in the 80s. We would carry milk, baby food, and other sustainable things like cereal.” The food pantry effort was a response to the newly adjusted programming at TSTC that allowed women to attend. Mrs. Moore stated, “…young girls that were coming to TSTC were coming with babies and other things trying to improve their lives, and there were many needs not being met because the program was not designed for women.”

In addition to the resources for TSTC students, the church would keep a small selection of shelf stable items for nearby residents who came seeking help.  Usually though, they had to purchase foods to help these individuals to fill in the gaps. Moore stated, “We would have food drives and canned good drives and stuff, but it just was not substantial enough to help all of the people who would come in…so a lot of times they received a check or someone took them grocery shopping.”

 In its beginning, Carver Park’s food pantry was a product of collaboration with a sister church in the area, Lake Shore Baptist Church. In the beginning each church had its own food pantry working to fill food gaps and addressing the needs that affected not only their congregations, but the surrounding communities. Food pantries, however, while a widely popular idea among churches, are generally difficult to keep afloat at a sustainable level. Eventually, the pantry at Lake Shore Baptist closed, and the two churches agreed to have those clients use Carver’s pantry instead.

Eventually, the church gained the capacity to host a full food pantry in partnership with Central Texas Food Bank (CTFB).  The CTFB provides a consistent, low-cost source of food. Partnerships like the one that Carver Park has with CTFB are vital to the sustainability of a pantry. The food that organizations like CTFB provide supports nutritional variety and health.

Helen Lewis keeps a nutritious diet in mind when placing orders with CTFB. She makes a careful selection of fruits, vegetables, and meats, and encourages pantry visitors to try new veggies and fruits before picking up sweets and other shelf stable goods. Her goal is to create a balance of both.  

 While the partnership with CTFB helps keep the pantry is well stocked, Ms. Lewis depends on relationships and collaboration with the community to supply many items as well. One such relationship is with Caritas, who provides in-kind toiletry donations. In addition, the senior group at Carver Park Baptist contributes by having a baking supply drive every February.

Volunteers from the church and TSTC help out on pantry days. Regular pantry users check-in quickly, and volunteers help new clients complete the short intake process that gauges family size and what benefits they can receive.  Once the pantry guests are checked in, volunteers also assist with selecting and carrying food to their cars.

Ms. Lewis and her team have also found a way to reach clients who are unable to physically come to the pantry. The team prepares boxes for clients that are referred to them.  These boxes are delivered to each client’s residence or kept at the ready for neighbors and loved ones to pick up.

Carver Park Baptist is just one example of a church stepping up to meet needs in the East Waco community. Other churches in the area have developed systems to address needs for food assistance, childcare, mentorship, and more. A network is growing of people who have made it their goal to take care of their own in a place where outside services do not always cover the needs. The ladies at Carver Park’s food pantry have shown that a mixture of inside and outside support may just be a reliable model for sustaining a healthy food pantry.


Khristian Howard is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Georgia State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has a passion for empowering communities through service, and seeks to connect advocacy to creativity. Currently, she is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Texas Hunger Initiative Waco, where her work focuses on fostering collective impact to improve health and eating habits in East Waco. When she is not working, you may find her sharpening her culinary skills or exploring new poetic and artistic pathways.  

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.

East Waco Voices: Feeding the (Healthy!) Body and Soul at Carver Park Baptist Church – Part 1

(Carver Park Baptist Church is helping to lead a healthy food revolution in East Waco through their food related ministries.  They have so much going on that we couldn’t squeeze it into one post. This is Part 1 of the story.  Stay tuned for Part 2! – ALW)

By Khristian Howard

In the South, food is the social apex of our culture. In a region that is known for its hospitality and deep religious roots, food could not have a more important role. Nowhere else is this more apparent than in the church. At Carver Park Baptist Church, Evelyn Moore has been leading the Culinary Arts Ministry in healthy, innovative directions.

As the name suggests, the Culinary Arts Ministry is more than just a food and fellowship team. Under Mrs. Moore’s direction, this ministry is introducing the church and community to healthier ways to prepare and eat cuisine that they have enjoyed for generations.

Evelyn Moore has been a part of the Waco community for over seventy years and a part of Carver Park Baptist Church for over forty. After leaving Waco as a young adult, she returned with her husband to raise her children here. “When it came time to raise my children, my husband and I talked about it and we felt that Waco was a quiet, reasonably positioned place to raise children in,” she says.

Having been raised in church, Moore was no stranger to serving the community. As a young mother, she and other church members were involved with neighborhood improvements like advocating for paved streets, getting a local landfill closed, and school integration. Moore says, “Community situations have always been a part of what our life was…we were involved with everything political or that had to do with improving the community.”

In the Culinary Arts Ministry, Mrs. Moore and her team approach service with thoughtfulness and creativity. “We make sure that whenever we have a church function, we have a reasonably healthy meal,” she shared. This includes two Sunday breakfasts, a mid-morning snack for the children, bereavement meals, meetings, and other church events.

When asked how she classifies a meal as “reasonably healthy,” Mrs. Moore explained that the meal components consist of two to three vegetables, little to no fried foods, whole grains, and as many fresh greens and fruit as possible. She stated, “Whatever is in season and is reasonably priced is what we offer on the menu every Sunday.” She explained that improving your diet is all about making informed decisions about what ingredients, foods, and processes to substitute, for example baking instead of frying, having 2% rather than whole milk, and substituting agave for sugar.

In the past, due to kitchen limitations, nutrition was sometimes compromised for time and ease of preparation. The church would often send out for fried chicken when there was an event. Moore says this was one of the first things they opted to change, “We wanted to get away from that fried chicken because fried chicken is…fried chicken! It’s saturated in fat, and it’s not always good for us.”

So, how has this nutritional shift been received by the church members? Evelyn says, “People who never ate carrots before, eat our carrots. People who never ate beets before, eat our beets…They’re learning how to prepare things they’ve never made before.” The key is creating familiarity for people who are afraid to branch out. To help create this, the Culinary Arts Ministry implemented a tasting day, “We have even done a heart healthy menu…We wanted to show people on that particular day that you could have tasty food, without it being bland and it can still be healthy.”

The Culinary Arts Ministry makes it a point to educate the rest of the church staff as well. Every third Sunday, they host a class where they discuss foods from the Bible, give hospitality training, and share tips about what to expect when hosting guests.  More specifically, among Carver Park’s senior Bible study group, Moore is sharing more detailed information about health, nutrition, and exercise. “They’re lifestyle changes, not a diet. Our whole objective is to make us better, and to help others be made better by what we learn and do.”

For the community at large, Carver Park Baptist hosts an annual event titled, Feed My Sheep. Here, community members can join them for a healthy dinner and can receive food basket donations. Aside from this, people can come in to any service and eat there at any time.

The abundance of knowledge and resources within the Culinary Arts Ministry begs a pertinent question: Why doesn’t the community make healthier food choices? “I actually believe that people don’t eat healthy because of finances,” Moore shares. She began to reflect on previous attempts to connect the people in East Waco to healthy food. One of those early efforts was the “Veggie Van” organized by World Hunger Relief, Inc.  As the name implies, the organizers would bring a van full of fresh vegetables to East Waco on a regular basis and offer them for sale.  “I thought that the produce wagon that used to come through was pretty good,” Mrs. Moore says, “but they were a little bit expensive for the people in the neighborhood.”  To remedy this, Moore has high hopes of rebuilding the church garden which would provide fresh produce to the community each week – with no obligation to turning a profit.

Another key ingredient Moore says is needed to help the community eat healthier is education – not only for nutrition, but for buying fresh with a low budget. “We need to get people educated on what they can eat without it being so expensive. Everybody says eating well is so much more expensive, but if [they] knew how to eat and how to prepare it [they] wouldn’t spend as much money.”

Moore is a strong believer in making a plan and sticking to it. Her advice to those who are new to or struggling with eating healthier? “Go to the market with your budget and your menu and have what you buy be geared to that. Work within those parameters. The next week do the same thing, and you’re going to learn that the food is much more tasty and makes you feel much better.”              

Evelyn Moore continues to be a leading voice in improving the nutritional components of meals within her church and her community. However, she is just one of a team of individuals at Carver Park Baptist, and in East Waco, who are seeking to improve lives through better food. Another of these individuals is Helen Lewis, who manages Carver Park’s expansive food pantry. We will share that story in Part 2 of this series.

Khristian Howard is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Georgia State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has a passion for empowering communities through service, and seeks to connect advocacy to creativity. Currently, she is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Texas Hunger Initiative Waco, where her work focuses on fostering collective impact to improve health and eating habits in East Waco. When she is not working, you may find her sharpening her culinary skills or exploring new poetic and artistic pathways.  

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.

East Waco Voices: Serving One’s Own Community as a Community Health Worker

By Khristian Howard

What sense of mission drives you? Where does it lead you? Away from home? To a zip code or group of people that are unknown to you?  This is a common tendency when it comes to service. We sense a connection to an issue even though we’ve never been directly affected by it.  We look at communities that face challenges, like poverty and a lack of resources, and we intervene from the outside.

But what happens when your sense of mission leads you to your own backyard, and you choose to focus your service on your own community and family? This was the case for Domonique Corsey, a Community Health Worker (CHW) in East Waco.  She answered the call to serve the very community she and her family have lived in for generations. A candid chat with her reveals her path as a community influencer and organizer, as well as valuable details about what is needed to improve the quality of life in East Waco.

If you have been around Waco for the past couple of years, you will likely remember the new program implemented by Prosper Waco and the Waco-McLennan County Health District that placed Community Health Workers in a handful of local zip codes with the highest needs.  “Community Health Workers” are individuals from selected neighborhoods who are trained to help make their neighborhoods healthier. The workers don’t provide medical health care services themselves, but they receive extensive training in how to connect residents to resources and how to provide health education.  They serve as health advocates in the communities where they live.

Domonique was living in Estella Maxey Place in the 76704 zip code when she first got involved with the CHW program. She summarizes her motivation for being a Community Health Worker this way, “My main interest is seeing everyone be their best self, we are all different, and my best self might not be the next person’s best self…so just helping people be their best selves, and [to] know who they are.”  Shirley Langston, a neighbor and organizer in Estella Maxey, nominated Dominique for the CHW program because of her work with young girls in the community. “When this program was introduced to me, I think it was just in the works. Ms. Shirley Langston is who told me about it originally…from what I understand, she recommended me…In September 2017 we started class and went through 160 hours of training.”

Waco Area Community Health Workers, Domonique Corsey front row, center.

What led to this recommendation? What was Corsey already doing that made her a good fit for community health work? She shared that prior to becoming a CHW, her work in the community was, “…not so much health as far as nutrition, eating healthy, and exercise, but I was a community person and that ties into a lot of what we [CHW’s] do because we are planning and connecting with people to help them walk through steps.” Domonique’s community work before becoming a CHW entailed connecting to young women with a girls’ workshop – which will take place again this spring – that focused on teaching them about their bodies, self-esteem, and peer pressure. Through this work, she found herself often acting as an advocate for people needing help with navigating processes with Child Protective Services (CPS) as well. Corsey believes that her connections and rapport with the community influenced her placement in the ’04 zip code as a CHW.  “The way they chose our zip codes was based on seeing what was beneficial for us and the community.”

So, what has her work as a CHW uncovered about health needs in East Waco? After a moment of thought, she responded, “One need I do see in East Waco a lot is mental health. That, and a lack of food access. But what I see [overall] is that there’s more of a need for resources…there’s not enough resources to compare with the need. So that’s the main thing. If I could build more resources…that’s what I would work on.” 

According to Corsey, other barriers to health and wellness in East Waco include a lack of public transportation and simple, practical education on how to buy and eat healthy. “[For example] showing simpler ways to cook healthy – and having someone to help you budget and show you how you can save your SNAP,” she stated.

Corsey went on to discuss the new developments that are popping up in East Waco, and how this holds the potential to benefit the community. “So, for East Waco, a lot of people want work and I would want to see how to bring our people in [to get] jobs at some of these new development places that are coming in.”

As Community Health Workers, Corsey and her colleagues seek to build on the resources that are in the community. This calls for accountability and transparency from them when building relationships with clients. Corsey says openness and honesty are her policy,  “…let them know what you can and can’t do…connect to them in a way where you let them know, ‘hey, I’ve been where you are’ or ‘this is how I overcame this issue’…give them and open mind, confidentiality, and trustworthiness [so that] they know they can come to you with things, no matter what they are.”

Reflecting on the community, Domonique pointed out that East Waco fosters a lot of great energy, history, and unity. As far as how Community Health Workers affect change in East Waco, she stated, “I believe we have to come together and educate each other and build on our history…That’s where the work begins and ends… with the community. We listen to them, feed off them, feel their energy and then come back and do what we have to according to what they need and want. That’s what we do.”

If you live in 76704, 76705,76706, or 76707 and want to connect to with a CHW, please contact: Health District Education Department (254)-750-5631. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WacoCommunityHealthWorkers/

Khristian Howard is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Georgia State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has a passion for empowering communities through service, and seeks to connect advocacy to creativity. Currently, she is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Texas Hunger Initiative Waco, where her work focuses on fostering collective impact to improve health and eating habits in East Waco. When she is not working, you may find her sharpening her culinary skills or exploring new poetic and artistic pathways.  

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.

East Waco Voices: Da Shack Farmer’s Market

By Khristian Howard

East Waco is a source of rich, proud history. Just a mention of revered figures like World War II hero Doris Miller or of Paul Quinn College, the oldest historically black college in Texas, reminds us of the national significance of this part of the Waco community.

What does East Waco have to offer now? There are several gems in the community that continue to sustain the residents, preserve its culture, inspire change, and fuel its heartbeat… but you may have to look for them. One such gem is Da Shack Farmer’s Market. Located in a quaint and quiet part of the neighborhood at 925 Houston Street, “Da Shack” (like the name implies) may not impress you from the outside. However, once you walk through the doors and enter the green oasis that is their garden, you realize it is a hub for nutritious food, education, beauty, and serenity.

Donna Nickerson, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Da Shack, sat down for a brief interview.  She shared about how the farmer’s market began, and talked about her dreams for benefiting the community.

First, how did they come up with the name?  “I wanted something that was catchy, something that was different. As far as the name, ‘Da Shack’ is not a place where it’s fancy…it’s just simple.” she explained.  “We try to implement simple things – even with gardening. We try to utilize our resources and try to communicate that with the community as well. That way they know you can use what you have. You don’t have to be fancy with things, just use what’s available.”

What should a visitor expect from Da Shack?  For Donna, the most important thing is for customers to leave with an education, even if they do not buy anything. “When they come here, they are going to learn about healthy eating, organic growing, gardening. Our goal is not to just provide healthy organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs…but also to educate them on how to grow and start gardening.” Da Shack is a place where there is something for every potential gardener. For folks who do not want to grow their vegetables from the ground, Donna and the others at Da Shack can give advice and guidance on how to start with pots, vegetable cans, or even in water.

Donna’s passion for educating people on how to improve their health shares roots with her profession as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist. Da Shack provides an avenue for addressing both physical and mental health.  In fact, Da Shack is now offering mental health services to the community. Donna is registered with most insurance agencies and is also providing sliding scale and pro-bono sessions for visitors to learn about behavioral health, managing stress, and more. When asked about why she chose to connect therapy to the farmer’s market, she stated, “Behavioral health is a barrier for a lot of people. If it is not addressed, it creates walls for individuals. Healthy people understand stress and how to cope with it…If you are in good condition physically, you’ll be in good condition emotionally, and vice versa because they work hand-in-hand…not a lot of psychotherapy services are present [in East Waco] and it is a big need.” Furthermore, she wanted “people in the community to come to a place where there is serenity, relaxation, warmth, and resources.”

In recent years, Waco has been a hub for social and economic transformation. Businesses are seeing a new promising market, families are finding supportive communities for their children, and students continue to flood to one of the oldest, most respected universities in the South. The work that Da Shack does in the community could be done downtown or in Woodway or Hewitt, so…why East Waco? When approached with this question, Donna gives a nod to the importance of managing perceptions about the neighborhood. She sees promise in East Waco, she says, and wants Da Shack’s location to be a catalyst for collective impact around healthier living there. “…As long as people continue to develop, as long as people continue to have a positive outlook, there’s really a lot of potential here, it’s just going to take a lot of collaboration. A lot of the key people that are willing to do something really need to be connected.”

Da Shack is a special place for East Wacoans, and for the rest of the city as well. They offer organic products that range from houseplants and outdoor plants, to vegetables and herbs, to instructional sessions about plant benefits and growing.

Beginning February 2nd, they will be accepting SNAP as a way to eliminate any financial barriers for the community – though their products are already priced at a fair rate to ensure affordability. In addition to this, they will soon be implementing smoothies for those who would rather drink their veggies, greenhouse classes and tours for students and non-profits, and monthly donations to families in need in East Waco.

Da Shack Farmer’s Market has taken a creative approach to marrying hobbies with service, nutrition with mental health, and the public sphere with privately-owned business. Ventures like these build on the historic positive energy of East Waco and move the whole community of Waco toward a healthy future.


Khristian Howard is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Georgia State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has a passion for empowering communities through service, and seeks to connect advocacy to creativity. Currently, she is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Texas Hunger Initiative Waco, where her work focuses on fostering collective impact to improve health and eating habits in East Waco. When she is not working, you may find her sharpening her culinary skills or exploring new poetic and artistic pathways.  

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.

For every White person in Waco: Five Things to Do

By Ashley Bean Thornton

After attending two Juneteenth celebrations and the terrific mural celebration party at the East Waco Library, I have seen far more Black people in the last month than I have seen in the 24 months before that combined.

Does that last sentence make you cringe a little? It made me cringe a little to write it. Do I sound like I’m bragging about being the cool White person who hangs out with Black people? Am I supposed to say “Black” or should I say “African-American?” Was I intruding? Would the Black people have liked it better if no White People had come? Should I write a post that focuses only on Black/White racial relationships? How will that make people of other races and ethnicities feel?IMG_1317

When it comes to race, I second guess myself coming and going. That’s OK though. If Waco is going to be a great place to live for every person of every level of income, more of us have got to wade into the sometimes fun, sometimes fascinating, often uncomfortable waters of learning more about other races and ethnic groups. I think Maya Angelou’s advice applies here, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” With that in mind here are five things I’ve done in the last few years that I feel like have helped me “know better.” I recommend them to you, my fellow White people.

1. Shop for kids’ books – Go to Barnes & Noble and try to find a baby book or a kids’ book with an other-than-white person on the cover. I did, and it was shocking to me how few choices I had. Once this opened my eyes I started noticing Black/White differences in all kinds of advertising, especially local advertising. Books and advertising influence our thinking, especially if we don’t notice that they are slanted.

2. Read Some of my Best Friends are Black  by Tanner Colby and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander – The Colby book is an easy read by a white man who grew up in the South. It’s a very accessible, somewhat irreverent, look at some of our foundational institutions – education, housing, church – and how they have contributed to our current race relations (or lack thereof). The New Jim Crow is a challenging read. I didn’t agree with every word of it, but it broke open my thinking about crime and race. Everyone should read this book.

3. Watch “Race the Power of an Illusion – This is a 3-Part documentary about race in society, science and history. It’s a little hard to find, but they have it at the Baylor library. (The Waco-McLennan County Libraries have ordered a copy.  It should arrive sometime July 2013.)  The information on the science of race and the section on housing were the most interesting to me. It shares a historical perspective that I bet most White people don’t know, but should.

4. Attend a Community Race Relations Coalition (CRRC)  meeting – Waco is lucky to have a thriving group of people who care about promoting good conversations about race. I recommend their regular “Dinner and a Movie” meetings as a good way to ease into the conversation. Last Valentine’s Day, for example, they had a full house to watch “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” Steve and Kathy Reid, of Truett Seminary and the Family Abuse Center respectively, led an honest, thought-provoking conversation about bi-racial marriage.

5. Attend a Black church…more than once — A few years ago the CRRC organized a “Church Swap.” Black people went to White churches and White people went to Black churches for three months. Attending a Black church for several Sundays gave us time to get past the initial shock-factor of a completely different worship style, to meet a few people, to learn some of the songs and to get to the point where we were actually worshipping instead of just observing. That experience did more to make me comfortable with being “the only white person in the room” than anything else I have ever done. I highly recommend it.

That’s my list of five?  What are yours?