The Artist’s Gift of Love

By LuAnn Jennings

I’m a theatre director, and recently I was talking with an actor who was suffering from stage fright. This actor is a person of faith, as am I, and I said something like this: Sometimes people will suggest combating stage fright by imagining the audience in some non-threatening way. But I suggest the opposite. If we think about the audience as people God has given to us to love and serve, then we can be eager to share what we’ve created even at the risk of failure and embarrassment.

People of Judeo-Christian faith are told in our scriptures that our job is to love others as God loves us. It makes sense that God would uniquely craft each of us with abilities to do the thing that God tells us to do. Artists are created with skills to make works of art.

So, in this month of February when we celebrate love, I want to use a well-known system of thinking about the expression and receipt of love, Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages, to unpack how artists love through creating.

Words of Affirmation: When an artist expresses something in a painting, dance, story, or song that you relate to, and then shapes your experience into something beautiful, the artist validates and affirms you. “Beautiful” isn’t the same as “pretty” – sometimes the artist’s job is to find and communicate meaning in things that are anything but pretty. Remember that sad song you couldn’t stop listening to in high school? Didn’t it make things seem better and more bearable somehow?

Quality time: Art takes a great deal of time to create. When I direct plays, I try to plan an hour of rehearsal for every minute that you see onstage. That doesn’t include the time that goes into costumes, lights, scenery, and more. Great musicians and dancers practice daily. You might think a painting looks like the artist created it quickly, but there were many sketches and plans that happened first. In return, you give the artist quality time as you engage with the work she created for you.

Giving Gifts and Acts of Service: Artists don’t do it for the money. In most cases your purchase of an artwork doesn’t begin to pay for the time it took the artist to learn to do it, prepare it, and present it to you. Art isn’t free to create – artists have materials costs and they’re taking time from other paying work to create art. They may need you to share in the cost. Think of it this way: if you brought me a sack of groceries and I used it to make you a truly amazing meal, the meal is a gift and act of service to you which is far more valuable than the materials I started with.

Physical touch: If you’ve ever been to a great museum and seen a painting in-person that you’d seen photos of before, you know that experiencing the real, physical work of art in a special place made for it is entirely different than seeing it in a book or online. It’s the “physical touch” of the artist. Live, local arts experiences require presence. Receive your neighbor’s creative gift of love to you in the way he made it for you. Go to galleries, plays, and concerts as well as experiencing art that was recorded so you could engage with it on your own terms (TV, iTunes, etc.).

If you want to share an expression of love with someone special, check out all of our live, local opportunities here in Waco! Visit Creative Waco’s Creative Directory for suggestions on venues and check out our many local arts calendars.

Luann Jennings is a local theatre director, arts educator, and advocate. She juggles several part-time arts-related jobs including projects at Creative Waco, the Good Neighbor Settlement House, and Waco Civic Theatre, where you can also see her upcoming production of The Three Musketeers. You can reach Luann 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 #7: What’s a Community Health Worker?

(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 Christy Perkins

The Community Health Worker Initiative is an innovative program designed to bridge the gap between the community and available resources. The program methodically targets 4 zip codes in Waco that could benefit from these resources: 76704, 76705,76706, and 76707. As Community Health Workers (CHW) we are trained to respond to cultural diversity with understanding and acceptance to help clients overcome barriers to using the available health resources.  Our role is to connect clients to resources and help them navigate the healthcare system. By doing so, we help individuals reach a state of self-sufficiency to create a healthy and thriving community. We aim to build trusting relationships with our clients, to increase basic and critical health education that will develop confidence in those facing adversity, and to decrease unnecessary emergency (E.R) visits.

In 2016, I began purposefully researching and embedding myself into organizations and projects that are geared toward advocacy and health. I became passionate about client advocacy after personal life experiences left me in the dark about such services. When my oldest son fell ill as an infant, I didn’t know that patient advocates were available to help me manage this uncertain and scary time in my life. No one stepped in to advocate on our behalf by making me aware of available services that could support my son. That is when I became prayerful and intentional in regard to advocacy and awareness. I grew interested in holistic methods of health during that time and now find myself on the path to become more educated in this area.  I saw this opportunity with the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District as a foot in the door to professionally connect to, advocate for, and educate individuals who have been left in the dark like I once was. I aspire to be a voice for those who feel their voice has been silenced.

In preparing to become a CHW, my coworkers and I underwent 160-hours of training over the course of 4 months to become certified by the Texas Department of Human Services (TDHS). The training covered 8 core competencies: communication, interpersonal, service coordination, capacity building, advocacy, teaching, organizational, and knowledge base skills. During training, we began attending coalition meetings, community meetings that were open to the public, toured facilities of community organizations, and had several guest speakers who assist the community explain their services. Additionally, I’m an active participant in Leadership Plenty, Round 7, which builds skills in community leadership, managing conflict, diversity, and taking action. The CHW training together with the leadership training are important tools when working with clients and partners.

Now that my fellow CHW’s and I have completed our training, we are preparing our first project!  We will be hosting launch parties in the 4 zip codes that are the focus of this program. This will be an opportunity for the community to become familiar with the CHW’s assigned to their neighborhoods as well as enjoy the festivities that we and our community partners will have available to the families. Check out our new Facebook page —  McLennan County Community Health Worker Initiative — for updates on these events!

I am truly looking forward to helping my CHW team in piloting this program. I feel the beauty of this program is that we are able to meet our clients where they are in their current life situation and create an action plan that is attainable within our capacity. My hope is to assist them with self-reliance when developing goals they desire to achieve and that will be beneficial to their well-being. In turn, creating a partnership with those clients to assure them I am dedicated to their personal successes. I will strive to access integrative resources on their behalf while preparing them to confidently do so independently. My personal goal is to specialize in nutrition and help guide others in holistic lifestyle choices to improve their quality of life.

I look forward to continuing to build relationships with community partners to tackle the problems of our community by collecting information at the grassroots level that will support and develop this program. We will be working closely with the healthcare system in Waco to assure that this program is effectively aiding the community.

I’m looking forward to working with my fellow CHW’s in beginning walking groups within the communities we are serving.  This is an example of the kinds of efforts that will help us connect with fellow residents and encourage healthy lifestyle routines. This is an exciting time for us as we embark on a mission that will shape a program that has been conjured up through discussion, data development, and planning for years. What an honor it is to be entrusted as the charter group to thrust this project into a flourishing program!

Christy Perkins is a certified Community Health Worker for zip code 76707. She currently serving on the Garden Committee at Brook Avenue Elementary. She is looking forward to becoming a graduate of the prestigious leadership training with the Leadership Plenty Institute in March of 2018 and serving on the YMCA, Young Junior Professionals Board. When she isn’t involved in community work, she is a Mother of 3 handsome boys. They keep her life busy and entertaining. She has a passion for writing, reading, and fellowship. She is originally from Amarillo, Tx but has grown to love Waco, Tx and is looking forward to building a future here. You can reach her at or on Facebook at McLennan County Community Health Worker.

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.


Men of Color Find strength through Initiative at MCC

By Madiha Kark

Young men of color face challenges every day; they strive to be seen beyond their stereotypical portrayal as depicted by news media and pop culture. Especially in higher education, their representation is small, and completion rates have been historically low. At McLennan Community College, the Men of Color Success Initiative focuses on engaging in individual and group mentoring to address challenges for first-generation students, traditionally underrepresented groups, and students in need of academic and personal direction.

The goal of the program is to increase higher-education completion rates among men of color while raising awareness of issues with diversity and equity, and creating awareness of support services available. The initiative is modeled after similar programs at other colleges in Texas, and representatives are working closely with the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color to grow its efforts.

According to a study by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE), titled Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges, “Consistently and unmistakably, data show a persistent gap separating Latinos and Black males from other student groups on measures of academic progress and college completion. These gaps exist across higher education.”

Barron Lowe, who graduated recently with an associate degree in communications, said before he found the initiative, he was going through personal issues and wasn’t sure where he was headed in life. A trip to Austin to attend a seminar for the Men of Color made him realize he wasn’t the only one with problems.

The program pairs faculty members and mentors with students to help them achieve personal and academic goals. The idea is to be accountable and push each other to better ourselves. Lowe says the networking opportunities he has had because of the initiative helped him to reach the next level in his life. He is currently working as a leasing agent for a community center but wants to get a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M. “I’ve met some of the most amazing men through this, and they’ve helped me be the best version of myself.”

Building networks and relationships is a big part of the initiative, and one that allows the group members to make stronger ties, because everyone is invested in the common goal.

“It gave me the opportunity to have a professor who was good one-on-one and really caring, and saw I had the potential to be a better student,” Lowe said. “He basically took me under his wing, and it’s been like this ever since: close.”

At a time when one might feel like they’re taking on the world alone, college can be daunting, he said. Lowe had to learn how to ask for help when necessary, something he couldn’t bring himself to do before MCC, he said.

Click here and learn how you can be a part of the Men of Color Success Initiative at MCC.

Madiha Kark is a Marketing, Communications and Photography Specialist at McLennan Community College. She holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of North Texas. She loves to travel, cook, and read nonfiction books.

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.


Gardening Waco Part 2: Digging Deeper while Gardening

(For the other parts of this series, click here: Gardening Waco. — ALW)

By Aime Sommerfeld Lillard

I’ve gone back and forth about the best way to talk about the benefits gardening provides.  I’m sure some people would like a well-crafted research study that demonstrates statistically positive results of gardening. Others would prefer a simple story.

I will try to combine the two a bit while relying heavily on my personal experiences. My degree says “Horticulture”, but that doesn’t clearly define my field of study. Other names one may use are sociohorticulture, people-plant interactions, and horticultural therapy (which is really its own branch of therapy).

Through many conversations about gardening I have learned that for most people it seems the garden itself, whether it is a community or school garden, is seen as the end-product. I would prefer the garden be seen as a location for a multitude of interactions. These interactions can be between individuals and plants, or between people. Have you noticed that the weather is a pretty safe topic of conversation? A garden will function similarly if individuals are given some basic exposure to growing or green spaces.

I will start with my experience installing a garden at a Montessori preschool that served kiddos infant to 5 years and a few older ones in an after-school group. I was looking at visual motor integration and delay of gratification with pre and post testing measures from ages 2.5 years up. I was working with a range of children from different socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, and various upbringings.

My first big “Oh my” moment came after we had our family engagement day to build the garden and I had done a couple of inside lessons. We were ready to start working in the garden.  I knew I could only handle 3-5 kids at a time due to their age. The garden was fenced and adjacent to the playground area. My idea was to go down the roster and have the kids come in as class groups. By the time I had things set up in the garden and turned around there was a line of kids waiting by the gate at the fence. And by “line of kids” I mean practically everyone on the playground was crowded around the fence.

Cue the delay of gratification practice. Here I thought it was going to come from seed germination, plant growth, and waiting for harvest. Well, it came a lot quicker than that! Pretty much immediately I had kids crying because they didn’t get to go in the first group, or the second. I admit, standing in the garden watching little kids bawl on the other side of the fence because they wanted to come garden was not what I had prepared for!

With the teachers help we created a system so that those who wanted to garden sat at a designated spot in a line until it was their turn. I kid you not, there were kids who would leave playtime to come sit at the end of the line and wait for 10 minutes to go in the garden and cut three leaves off of a collards plant. Color me impressed.

I briefly want to mention a couple of other experiences during that project. There were two little boys who were high energy and had difficulty focusing in a classroom setting. I was a little worried about having them in the garden, but they were no different than the other kids. One day, we were transplanting, and I set one of the boys to work on that job. He was supposed to plant about 5 plants out of the tray of 35. Forty-five minutes later he finished all the plants. Did I need them all done? No. Did his “turn” in the garden end before that? Sure. However, I just let him work while I cleaned up and his teachers let him stay outside to finish his work. At the end of the day we got to see his pride as he and the teachers brought his mom out to see his work. Was it worth my extra time and flexibility of schedule? No question.

Another time a little girl transferred to the school who didn’t speak (much) English. She wouldn’t go into the room to be tested with me for our pre-test measures, but she waited with everyone else to work with me in the garden. It was easy to see that the garden was comfortable for her, she could point, dig, plant, and harvest just as well as anyone else. Here was a place she could gain confidence, be herself, and not deal with barriers she experienced in the classroom.

One of my favorite memories when I was working in a long-term care facility was cleaning up after a planting project. Ladies came out with their walkers, air pumps, and wheelchairs to watch and participate. When I was putting things away after the project, I turned around and encountered a walker pushed up against the wall outside. Turns out carrying a plant to your room can be more important than taking your walker. This still warms my heart, knowing that for that time, her focus was clearly on something else. A hope for life, for growth, for an experience.

What I ask you to consider after reading this is how the garden offered a setting for these encounters. It was not gardening itself, or the physical labor. Simply by being there, and being available, the garden is a place where growth and experiences can happen. A garden provides the potential for growing pride, growing food, growing communication, and growing community.

Dr. Aime Sommerfeld Lillard has cultivated a love for nature and gardening through multiple outlets. Dr. Lillard is a Texas A&M graduate with a B.S. in Agricultural Leadership and Development and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Horticulture with a focus on human issues in horticulture. Currently, Dr. Lillard contracts with the Urban Gardening Coalition (UGC) for the Waco Health District’s Farmers Market Promotion Program Grant. She works in the Waco area through the vision of UGC to “strengthen local food production, improve access to healthy food, and empower folks to “grow their own” by creating a coalition that can impact a variety of horticultural education and grow through strategic partnerships.