Urban REAP project puts theology of “creation care” into action

By Katie Schaeffer

Jimmy Dorrell, CEO at Mission Waco, believes that “creation care” is not a side bar issue, but rather, “Christian justice demands that the creation must be protected, because every thing and every person is made in the image of God.” That is why he has worked tirelessly to put together Mission Waco’s Urban REAP (Renewable Energy & Agriculture Project). The project has commercial composting, rainwater harvesting and purification, solar power, an aquaponics greenhouse, raised grow beds, and a small training center for groups to come learn as a part of Mission Waco’s effort to be about “creation care.”

The passion Jimmy has about the privilege and responsibility God has given mankind to care for and harness his good gift of creation, and not abuse it for personal gain is based on the cultural mandate found in Gen 1:28, where he believes we receive God’s expectation that everyone should be good stewards of creation.  Jimmy was also profoundly influenced in this area by the teaching of theologian Francis Schaeffer, who among many things, wrote Pollution and the Death of Man (1970).  Jimmy recently posted on Urban REAP’s facebook page, a quote from the book, in which Schaeffer suggests that many in the church need an ecological conversion, “lamenting that much of evangelical Christianity had adopted a dualistic view of the world that did not take nature seriously.” He posted “For Francis Schaeffer, our shared finiteness created a bond of common grace with the rest of creation that calls for responses of stewardship, regardless of one’s religious worldview.”  In another post, Jimmy expresses why creation care is so important, “Statistics profoundly show global deterioration of God’s perfect ecology that affect basics of food, water, land and weather”.  He hopes that Mission Waco’s efforts in addressing these issues, will encourage individuals and corporations in Waco and the country to think about their impact on our ecology and what changes they can make to be better stewards of God’s great gift.

Ground breaking for the Urban REAP project, which was funded mostly through a generous grant from Green Mountain Energy Sun Club, began on January 18th, 2017. Every month since has seen the anticipated additions of the project come together. Just this week, 315 Hybrid Striped Bass fingerlings were added to the aquaponics system, which will provide organic produce to Jubilee Market, and up to 500 lbs of fish and 720 pounds of crawfish annually.  Next week the commercial composter arrives which will turn biodegradable waste from Jubilee market, local restaurants and businesses into compost. This compost will be available for purchase at the upcoming greenhouse nursery behind Jubilee Market.

Come see and learn about all of these developments at Urban REAP’s Grand Opening on August 22nd from 10am-12pm.  Those who can’t make it are always welcome to drop by for a quick tour and sign up to be a volunteer! All this news and much more can be found on Urban REAP’s Facebook page: mwurbanreap,  and Mission Waco’s website.

Katie Schaeffer and her husband Rick consider it a real privilege to be managing Mission Waco’s amazing Renewable Energy Agricultural Project (REAP).  Katie and Rick came to Waco at the end of 2015, from CA. This week they are moving into a house they have been renovating, just a few blocks from Mission Waco and are really looking forward to being part of the neighborhood community.  Katie is happiest being in nature and tending to plants, and eating good food with friends and family.  She and her husband Rick are also grateful for the privilege and deep joy of raising two sets of twin boys, who are now amazing 23 & 24 year old men. That is Tony in the photo with Katie.  He is her “angel” volunteer who is there everyday she is, and the reason the aquaponics greenhouse is so beautiful and well run.

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.






Construction Sciences Program Moving Forward at Waco ISD

By Scott Bland

It has been about 16 months since I was approached about helping to put together a Construction Science program at the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy (GWAMA). There has been an amazing the amount of progress that has been made since that time a year ago.

We have received approval from the Waco ISD school board to create the Construction Science program at GWAMA with the first classes starting in August of this year. The team of people tasked with getting the program off the ground has succeeded in receiving about $200,000.00 in cash and in kind donations from the private sector to help renovate the space at GWAMA and secure the necessary tools and supplies.

Most impressively, our team, in conjunction with the Texas Association of Builders and Representative Doc Anderson, has succeeded in proposing and passing state legislation that removes the liability insurance concern regarding businesses employing paid student interns while they are in the program. This is exciting not only for the Construction Service program, but it allows all the GWAMA programs to incorporate the paid internship model for its high performing students.  Not to mention what this means to career and technical programs all over the state. In a legislative session that has seen a record number of vetoes and a special session, this was an amazing accomplishment.

I believe we are seeing a turn in the general public’s perception of technical and career education. We have ignored and stigmatized this segment of our educational system for so long, the workforce shortage has reached crisis levels. This has resulted in ever increasing costs of both residential and commercial construction. The trickle down effect means the costs of housing and essentially all goods and services go up as a result to offset those costs.

The field of construction has seen a dramatic change as well. Building a home or commercial building is no longer as simple as putting up four walls and a roof. Advancements in technology mean that we can now build structures that are extremely energy efficient and wired into all the current digital demands and capable of advancing into the future with the changing technical capabilities. This means that not only do we need more workers in construction; we need highly educated workers in the workforce.

This means that our construction workforce must be better educated than ever before. The Construction Science program is the gateway to introducing our young students to a dynamic and ever changing industry that is as challenging and rewarding as any industry in our country. Our program is designed to direct students into post-graduate certification and degree programs with the background they need to be successful.

While attitudes towards jobs in the trades are seeing a dramatic turn-around, we need another common belief to begin to change as well. With the high cost of secondary education going even higher every year, the concept of the 4-year degree needs to be re-evaluated. With the senior year paid internship allowing our students to develop relationships with employers in the construction industry, it should be an easy transition from high school to advanced education while continuing to earn a wage. The shortage of qualified workers provides a strong incentive for companies in the industry to work with a young student’s work and school schedule, giving the student an opportunity to earn that advanced certification or degree without student loans.

However, working while learning comes with a cost in terms of time. Instead of thinking along the line of a traditional 2-year advanced certification or 4 year degree program, students (and their parents) should be thinking along the lines of a 4 or 6 year educational term. It should be obvious that a debt-free 6 or 7 year degree is much preferable to a 4 year degree and $150,000.00 worth of student loans.

In just a little over a year we have created a program from scratch and succeeded in passing legislation in the process. We have raised more money than the cost of a typical college degree in that time as well and seen attitudes and opinions regarding career and technical education finally begin to change. In August we will see our first students begin the journey towards changing their lives and our industry for the better.

For more information about the Construction Sciences Program, visit the website or contact Donna McKethan, Director of Career and Technical Education.  Her email address is donna.mckethan@wacoisd.org.

Scott Bland was born and raised in Waco.  He is an alumnus of Baylor University. He worked for Highland Homes in the Dallas area from 1998 to 2001, then joined the United States Secret Service as a Special Agent after the 9/11 attacks.  He retired his commission in late 2006 to return to Waco and take over the family business, Jim Bland Construction, where he has served as Owner and President of the company for the last 10 years. He is currently the President of the Heart of Texas Builder’s Association as well as a member of the Board of Directors for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. 

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.



Lessons Learned: My First Full Year in Service Learning at Indian Spring Middle School

(A follow-up to https://www.actlocallywaco.org/2016/07/19/service-learning-at-indian-spring-helping-kids-learn-to-be-citizens/)

By Travis Cheatham

Last July I wrote a blog about what service learning looks like at Indian Spring Middle School (ISMS).  I explained the structure, the value, and the potential of the program.  Today I write about the rewards, challenges, and opportunities of this last year through a few stories.  (Names have been changed to protect student identities)


Ava is a good student in class but she’s the queen of eye rolling.  Throughout the year, I frequently had to coax Ava to get to her service learning group, which ironically she liked, but for some reason, she frequently dawdled in attending.  This, by the way, is a common theme among students and is really a fact of life for middle schoolers.

In March, our school planned an event with the VA Medical Center thanks to funds from The Meadows Foundation.   Our students decided to use the funds to donate plants, games, and activities for VA residents.  Ava was sure to help out with all of the last minute preparations and came to the event on a Saturday morning, no less.  The following Monday morning, I was poised at the school’s main entrance to greet students (as I usually do) and Ava came running up to tell me how great a time she had.  She then asked if there was any way that she could go back on her own to meet with residents.

The lesson: Are you sharing power with your child, mentee, or student?  They will relish it and will thrive.  I never see our students more fulfilled at school than when they are given a task to perform.  Our students have power, talent, and desire, but we have to activate it.  In this next year, I hope to have more opportunities to empower our students.


“Everyone knows service learning is boring; you’re wasting your time.”  This was a common greeting from Tim as I corralled students to get to their service learning groups.  I’d love to say that Tim was alone in this belief, but he wasn’t.  Last year, our goal was to place all 6th and 7th graders in a service learning group based on surveys of their interests.  By the time students met in their first service learning group many were confused about why they were there (even though I spent a week prepping the students).

Although middle schoolers’ decisions are inherently confusing (even to themselves), forcing students to go to something that they have no stake in is an act in vain.  With no grades or requirements, our program really depended on a good hook for students’ interest and sometimes the gradual development of interest.

The lesson: This next year students will attend a service learning fair and sign up for any groups they are interested in.  If they’re not interested there will be no arm twisting, but we will require students to at least take a look at their options.


“Hey Mike, I’m just calling to …let you know we need to cancel tomorrow due to ______

…remind you that I need you to turn in paperwork for last week’s outline

…apologize for the delay in setting up the field trip, could you do it on …”

The lesson: Although program flexibility is great, universal policies make for a well-oiled machine.  As I look at the future sustainability of the service learning program I need to refine a model that can be easily administered and replicated.

How can you help? 

Become a facilitator!  Facilitators meet with students 1-2 hours once a week throughout the school year to guide the students in developing service projects.  This year we hope to use your passions as a volunteer as the springboard for connecting students.  Training will start mid-August and the program should start mid-September.

One More Good Story

Every month throughout the school year I would hold a roundtable meeting for all of our service learning facilitators to talk about upcoming events, how things were going, and to provide ongoing training.  My favorite part: listening.

I’m under no delusion that I am a master of anything; do you want to know the good news for volunteers? You don’t have to be either!  In those discussions, even our facilitators who were not veterans of the program contributed in a way that generated new ideas for the whole group.  Those sessions produced innovative and self-critical observations which are essential for fostering real growth both individually and as a program.  I am incredibly thankful for the work of my awesome volunteers and cheerleaders of this program.

Not ready to jump in?  Give me a call or email and I’ll let you know about other ways to get connected at ISMS.  You can also visit our website at http://indianspring.wacoisd.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=13246&pageId=424889

to learn more about our service learning program or http://www.prosperwaco.org/mentor-coalition/ to see other ways you can mentor students in Central Texas.

Travis Cheatham is the Service Learning Manager for Indian Spring Middle School. Before ISMS, Travis was the Executive Assistant at Mission Waco and helped lead a culinary class with the MPowerment job development program. Travis is also the Chef/Owner of Cuppa, Waco, TX a catering and food consulting business that was a regular at the farmers market in 2015. Travis is a ’06 Baylor grad who loves this community and loves to travel with his wife, Amy, whenever possible.

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.

Collective Enthusiasm Makes our Community Thrive

By Kimberly Trippodo

I moved to the Waco area from Austin two years ago July 1. Prior to that, I lived in Washington DC and other similarly large cities. I saw urban centers as a sort of adult playscape, featuring subcultures to try on for size and see if any stick as community. I care deeply about non-judgement and respect for people’s self-determination, and large cities provided me with a huge range of culture, identities, and backgrounds to embrace.

When I moved to Waco, I was at the peak of a life that was quintessentially Austin. My first home in Austin was an art commune, which I shared with a writer, a couple painters, a photographer, and a carpenter. My favorite pastime at that home was playing my violin in living room jam sessions. My calendar was always packed to the gills with Austin art and nature events. On any given weekend I might participate in a hill country camping trip, a spontaneous concert in abandoned buildings and drainage piping to enjoy the acoustics, a warehouse dance party, a spoken word coffeeshop, an aerial art production, a hula hoop drum circle, an art or music festival, an effigy burn with glorious pyrotechnics, a costume birthday party, a city bike ride, a hippie swim in a natural watering hole, a hike or spelunking adventure, and more. I loved having such an arrayed tapestry of easily accessible events.

Austin was a place I felt more accepted & more free to explore, while connecting with closer community and chosen family than anywhere I lived prior. At the same time, city subcultures have the luxury of choosing exclusivity because there is a vast number and personalization of the alcoves for each talent, interest, and identity label. There is a collective acceptance that one may try a subculture on for size and be met with, “You’re not exactly what we are looking for here. You’re not ____ enough.” I experienced that exclusivity from time to time. I believe in safe spaces for specific identities to experience cohesion, and I believe there is always someone out there more talented and/or fitting, so I was very understanding of this exclusivity.

Probably one of the moments this exclusivity was the most vivid was when I was trying to learn to play bluegrass fiddle in Austin. I played violin most of my life, from first grade through my senior year in college, and I was trying to learn a new style as an adult in Austin. I carefully prepared a piece to demonstrate my abilities and went to Fiddler’s Green to take a lesson. My instructor was someone who played multiple instruments in many bands locally, who wore a leather jacket, who had a kind of hungover, tragically hip presence. He listened to me play and without a moment’s pause mumbled in a raspy voice through his thick beard I was “too classically trained,” to be able to play bluegrass. I remember having a moment of, “Who are you to tell me that?” An internal rebellion, which would prepare me for my life in Waco, was emerging.

My move to Waco was not the most graceful of transitions. I found people I connected with right away, but I struggled to find experiences I craved. I tried to stay positive and find purpose, but it took a lot of effort and focus to land in Waco. My then fiancé, now husband was more than patient as I constantly edited our schedule in, “Let’s try this,” fashion. Fortunately, my stepson has an adventurer’s heart like me and enjoyed all our community explorations.

At the start of this year something clicked for me. I made a New Year’s Resolution to “be a good neighbor” and figure out exactly what that meant in my current home. Mostly lately, that means contributing my abilities to create a vibrant artistic and culturally diverse home. Waco is an up and coming city. People from all walks of life are moving here. My husband and I hope to create a venue and possible living space in which artists can gather. I just began bluegrass lessons with Tabitha Hymer, in hopes of creating music again and collaborating with other musicians. This year will mark my second year of participating in Ekphrasis, a downtown display of the paired works of visual arts and musicians. Jenuine Poetess, host of In the Words of Womyn and Shay MacMorran, Graphic Designer at the Waco Tribune are the lovely friends who connected me to this event. I recently took an interior design class with Leslie Myrick and a bed & breakfast class with Rick Allen, through MCC’s Adult Continuing Education program, which expanded our horizons in considering spaces for artists to gather. My mother-in-law, Lee Trippodo, is helping me learn to sew. She recently gave a sewing machine to our church, in support of an effort to teach women how to sew in third world countries as a form of economic independence for them. These are just a few of the examples of beautiful people and inspiring efforts everywhere.

Yet another example, a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Public Deliberation Initiative Conference at The Mayborn on Baylor Campus. Ashley Bean Thornton was the opening presenter at the event, and she said something which represents my experience now perfectly. She invited us to not be mere consumers of Waco, but to “live in a state of optimistic discontent, with the constant inquiry of ‘how can I make my community even better?’” In one sentence, she encapsulated the journey I am embarking on, in my new home.

Living in Waco caused me to grow up and “do” in my artistic participation. While in the past I would often wait to be “voluntold” or would step meekly aside if I was not seen as perfect for the job, in Waco I am learning I must be brave enough get in there, try my best, and actively support the growth that is happening. We need to figure out how to use our gifts to make it go, whether or not we can create the most perfect version. I am learning to participate more widely, instead of limiting myself to the alcoves of subculture which most reflect my identity, and in shedding those limitations, I feel challenged to expand outside my comfort zone, more myself, and happier. I am learning a new form of inclusive volunteerism here. I am not pretending I have the time to attend everything Waco has to offer, but I am a vocal supporter of events, an optimist about what is next for our city, and one who will devote as much creative energy as possible to get efforts off the ground. There is an amazing bouquet of everything from nonprofit to small business, from secular to faith-based, from antique to modern grassroots initiatives. We have so much potential, so many newly emerging and smaller scale opportunities which need our support to get going. It takes our collective enthusiasm to make community thrive.

Kimberly Trippodo is a social worker in the Waco area. She always had a passion for writing. She writes fiction, poetry, creative prose, policy analyses, and blog posts. Her other modes of creative expression are playing her violin and participating in art collaboration events and festivals. She assisted in founding Journal to Save Your Life, a nonprofit providing an online therapeutic art outlet to youth. She loves the connection and closeness of the art community in Central Texas.