Waco in the Palm of Your Hands

By Caitlin Giddens

(photo credit: Rae Jefferson)

You can hold a piece of Waco in your hands. Creative Waco has released a deck of playing cards called “Waco 52.” Each card captures the spirit of Waco and McLennan County by featuring a piece created by a local artist. The Waco 52 cards are currently for sale, and each purchase supports new arts and cultural initiatives in our community.

Waco 52 began as an art exhibit displayed in the lower rotunda of the Texas State Capitol Building in May. This exhibit served as part of the celebration of Waco’s designation as a State Cultural District and resulted from an invitation from State Representatives Charles “Doc” Anderson and Kyle Kacal. The project united different parts of the community by featuring the original artwork beside quotes from local businesses and leaders who support the arts.

To compile the exhibition, Creative Waco called for submissions from local artists at the beginning of the year. Then, Martha Peters, vice president of public arts at the Arts Council for Fort Worth, and Sarah Derrick, head of learning at Dundee Contemporary Arts in Scotland, judged and selected the pieces over the course of several months. The judges looked for high-quality art that depicted Waco and conveyed the power of its growing creative sector.

(photo credit: Rae Jefferson)

The deck of cards features a diverse cross-section of the many cultures, generations, and perspectives that enrich our community. It also serves as an offering of hospitality that conveys all are welcome here. Within the deck of cards, each suit reveals a different aspect of Waco’s “personality.” The hearts speak of our passions; the clubs tell the story of our town’s history and landscape. The spades depict the earth and the work to be done; and the diamonds reveal some hidden gems that locals will love to see.

As Fiona Bond, Executive Director of Creative Waco, says in the introduction to the exhibit catalogue:

“Waco 52 marks with pride the launch of Waco as one of the State of Texas’ newly designated Cultural Districts, and it is symbolic of a community that has come together to support the growing identity of Waco as a vibrant hub for artistic and cultural excellence.

Behind every one of these artworks is a story that captures something of the distinctive spirit of our remarkable community.  Here you will find celebrity photographers; rising stars of the international art world; educators dedicated to inspiring the next generation of creative minds, young artists and designers just starting their careers; master craftspeople bringing relevance to ancient skills; and the only US-based artist who designs for the Paris fashion house, Hermes. They represent the diversity, passion and talent that characterize Waco at this time.”

Click here to browse the exhibit catalogue and see pictures of the pieces in the exhibit.

Waco residents will have an opportunity to see the full exhibition and meet the artists when it opens in Waco in August. In the meantime, learn more about the artwork, the stories behind the art, find local vendors, or purchase a deck of cards, by visiting creativewaco.org/waco52.

Caitlin Giddens is a local English teacher and writer. She graduated from Baylor University’s Honors College in 2013. When she’s not teaching or writing, she enjoys leading yoga and barre classes at Yoga Pod Waco.




SmartBabies Initiative: Working Together for our Youngest Wacoans

By Ashley Weaver, Director of the SmartBabies Initiative, Waco Foundation

In McLennan County, approximately 45% of women have their first child at age 21 or younger. Research tells us that children born to young mothers are at higher risk for low birth weight and infant mortality, have fewer skills and are less ready to enter kindergarten than their peers. They are also more likely to give birth as teens.

Waco Foundation is committed to improving quality of life for all McLennan County residents. In 2009, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees recognized a deep need to focus efforts on improving the community for our youngest residents, so they commissioned an early childhood study to better understand quality of life for children ages 0-3. The study found the average early childhood quality of life measured at 41.67% on a scale of 0 to 100 and was significantly lower than the average found in some neighborhoods. Those results, coupled with Waco Foundation’s goal to engage in more proactive and strategic grantmaking, laid the groundwork for the launch of the SmartBabies Initiative.

SmartBabies works to facilitate cross-sector collaboration with professionals who provide direct services to parents and families. Waco Foundation provides fiscal resources, staff time and neutral facilitation to ensure the success of this community-wide initiative. Many times, organizations have similar goals but lack the capacity to engage with each other because the work is vast and time is limited. SmartBabies is designed to bring these organizations together to collectively address early childhood quality of life.

One of the great things about our community is the willingness to participate in this type of collaboration. Often times, this means setting aside agendas to work on something that may not be in direct relation to an organization’s goals but will ultimately benefit the entire community. As a native of Waco, I was eager to be a part of this because I want to see change happen in my community for families and children — somewhat like LeBron James has been for Cleveland and basketball (if you’re not a basketball fan you can contact me for clarification). My work allows me to engage with the organizations that want to see real change happen, and early childhood is the best place to begin a successful trajectory for children in Waco.

Our community is in the perfect position for initiatives like SmartBabies. The size, willingness and commitment to see change from so many individuals and organizations are strengths we must continue to build on. While we are primed for this type of work, it’s important for everyone to understand the length of time it takes to fully understand the skillset needed to see the change we want. This is truly a marathon, not a sprint.

We’ve learned a great deal since we officially launched the SmartBabies Initiative in 2011. Through the extensive research we’ve conducted through partnerships with many local, state and national organizations, we’ve learned that preventing an unhealthy environment is the key to improving quality of life for our children. While this may not seem surprising, it confirms that we have to continue to look at a woman’s health and quality of life before she ever gets pregnant if we truly want to impact the life of her children. This means focusing on things that we may not have thought about initially, such as the importance of well-woman exams, access to affordable birth control for women

and families to plan their pregnancies and teen pregnancy prevention, to improve life for our children.

We’ve experienced many successes along the way, including collaboration with the Healthy Babies Coalition and the launch of Nurse Family Partnerships and Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES). These partnerships serve as examples of how effective collaboration works for the benefit of our entire community. In fact, Nurse Family Partnership and HOPES will bring in $3 million of outside funding to the Waco community, specifically for the purpose of improving quality of life for our children. For women and families who are planning to become pregnant, are pregnant or have small children, I highly recommend looking into these programs for fantastic resources about raising children. You can visit their websites here:

Waco Foundation has also learned many lessons from the SmartBabies Initiative that will help us continue to best serve our community. Our Board and staff have developed a deeper understanding of our role as a strategic grantmaker. We now know the longevity necessary to see long-term success, and we’ve gained a better understanding of the pace of this type of work. As the community foundation for McLennan County, Waco Foundation believes this type of work is necessary to accomplish our mission. In addition, the Foundation has invested in Prosper Waco, which has helped us achieve continuous collaboration for the long-term. Our hope is to be able to replicate the SmartBabies model to address other pressing community challenges.

Waco Foundation’s SmartBabies Initiative is directly tied to long-term objectives and goals. The work is difficult as there is no exact prescription for how we can produce real change, but we’ve proven over the last few years that progress can be made when we focus our efforts as a community. I’m excited to see the continued impact of our work and am grateful to the Waco community for embodying the work of SmartBabies, so we can create meaningful change in the place we all call home.

Ashley Weaver, a native Wacoan, brings to her position as Director of the SmartBabies Initiative extensive knowledge, background and passion. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Texas State University in Elementary Education as a certified teacher. She continued her education at Brown University where she received her Master of Arts in Urban Education Policy. Having served as project coordinator for the Greater Waco Community Education Alliance, Ashley gained valuable knowledge about the successes and challenges of this great community. She has extensive experience with community-based projects at a local and national level, bringing together stakeholders to achieve a goal. Ashley’s experience make her uniquely qualified for this most pressing position as we strive towards a community of SmartBabies.

Looking back, looking forward

By Fallon Bain

Having graduated from Waco High School hardly a week ago, I have yet to entirely wrap my head around what I just completed. Whoever told me that senior year would be simple assumed that I would not gleefully overcommit myself and would, instead, slow down to enjoy the ride. That was far from the case. If you can look beyond the heaps of college applications, financial aid forms, scholarship essays, and existential crises, yes, this past year was a breeze. It was a breeze in the sense that a never-ending tornado is a breeze – it was an incessant whirlwind of events, deadlines, and activities. Even so, I would not change the past four years for anything. I learned more in my high school career than I ever anticipated, and for that, I am very grateful.

More than any other lesson, high school impressed upon me the importance of finding a healthy balance between my different obligations and commitments. It was only after several years of overcommitting myself that I realized I could not participate in everything I wanted to. On the other hand, some activities, like theatre, were well worth the investment of time and energy. Anyone who has been involved in theatre knows that it entails countless hours of rehearsals and workdays often lasting several months. At the outset of every new production, my instinct was to become as heavily involved as possible. It quickly became apparent that this was unreasonable, and that I would have to restrain myself to a practical amount. It was important to remember that although I had committed myself to the shows, I needed to carefully manage my time to keep up with my school work, responsibilities at home, and wellbeing. Sometimes I failed to maintain a workable balance, but theatre was always well worth the struggle. The joys, fellowship, and pride from every show are some of my favorite memories from high school. I now feel prepared to manage my time adequately in college because my high school teachers had much more understanding and leniency than I expect from my professors, and I learned my limits in a lower-stakes environment.

One of the most difficult lessons I learned in high school, and am still struggling with, is not comparing myself to others. There will always be someone better (and worse, for that matter) than me in any realm I can imagine; there will always be someone prettier, someone smarter, someone more approachable, more talented. It’s hard to not compare my successes and my life with those of others around me when all I see on social media are highlights and carefully curated experiences. It’s natural to want to be the very best, but unrealistic to make it a primary goal. Any competition served as a healthy reminder of that; only one person could be in first place, and more often than not, it wasn’t me. It helped me take inventory of the many positives in my life, and not base my personal worth on the values of others.

In the halls and classrooms of Waco High, I interacted with others with whom I shared very few qualities or interests. Coming from a school filled with diversity opened my eyes to other cultures and family dynamics; I learned empathy for other’s situations and struggles with which I had no personal experience. Developing an understanding of other cultures reminded me that the real world is not homogenous, and I need to be able to communicate effectively with my roommates, classmates, and peers in college and beyond.

From a very young age, Baylor had a large presence in my life. I grew up visiting many homecoming parades, attending Lady Bears’ basketball games as often as possible, and possessing almost as much Baylor gear as the university bookstore itself. When I began applying to colleges, I made sure that I applied to as many as possible, as I wanted to thoroughly explore all my options before making a final decision. I deliberated for months, officially choosing Baylor the week before the enrollment deposit was due. This indecisiveness has carried over into my selection of an academic major; while I know that I want to study science, I have not been able to narrow my interests down to a specific discipline. My dream is to work in some capacity as a researcher, but I will defer my decision until I have had time to formally study within my fields of interest. Very frequently when I tell others I am still undecided, I hear the same words of reassurance: “You have more time to decide.” While this may technically be the case, it seldom feels like it. For this reason, I often wish that I had thought about what I had wanted from my education prior to my graduation.

It is important to be mindful of the lessons you will not learn in school. Therefore, it is important to make an effort outside of the classroom to better yourself and learn on your own. Classrooms will prepare you academically, but there are many life skills you need that are not a part of the curriculum. Ask questions! Try to figure things out; don’t be content with being unaware. My final piece of advice to current students is simple – remember that soon, it will be over. Whenever I had a major deadline or stressor in my life, I had to remind myself that in a week or month I would no longer be worried about it. It may seem crushing at the moment, but time does not stop and this situation will not last forever. Make the most of your current circumstances, and be prepared to move on to the next challenge.

Fallon Louise Bain is the daughter of Judge Virgil and Glenda Bain.  She recently graduated as salutatorian of Waco High School and will be attending Baylor University in the fall.  While at Waco High she participated in the National Honor Society, The German American Partnership Program (GAPP) and Academic Achievers.  She is a Senior Company Dancer at Laurie’s Stepping Out Studio, a Symphony Belle and a SkillsUSA member.



Juneteenth: A Day of Freedom and Remembrance

By Rachel E. Pate

Looking back on some of my fondest childhood memories of growing up in Waco, I can remember summers filled with family, fun and celebrations.  It seemed like every summer we visited Indian Spring Park along the Brazos to partake in the fanfare of the Juneteenth festivities.  The crowd would be filled with families from my church, neighborhood friends and citizens from throughout the community.     I especially enjoyed the snow cones, cotton candy, soda pop, barbecue, talent shows and the variety of activities.  As a kid, I can remember wondering, “This sure is fun, but why do we celebrate Juneteenth?” Through my childhood eyes it was simply a day for celebrating community and having fun, but I’d later learn that this sacred day of remembrance was quite more significant in our American history.

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the abolishment of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19ththat the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas.  The troops brought news that the Civil War had ended and the slaves were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which became official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the enslaved Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order, and in part due to the isolation of the state. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

A name for the celebration of June 19th was coined –  “Juneteenth” –  and the remembrance grew with more participation from former slaves and their descendants over the last century. The Juneteenth celebration is traditionally a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continues to be highly revered in Texas, and many of my own family members make an annual voyage back to Waco on this date every year.

As an adult, I have invested more time in learning exactly what Juneteenth means to me.  It is an opportunity to rise above our beginnings, take pride in our heritage and move forward in the knowledge that it takes a community to enforce change.  This year I’ll be celebrating with my extended family on Sunday the 18th at a private cookout in the park.

You can take part in Waco’s celebrations on Saturday, June 17:

10th Annual Juneteenth Parade hosted by the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce  – Saturday, June 17th, 10:00am-12:00pm (Parade route begins at Quinn Campus and will proceed along on Elm Avenue, ending at Indian Spring Park)

Juneteenth Block Party & Voter Registration Event hosted by the Waco NAACP and the Project Vier Coalition – Saturday, June 17th, 12:00pm-4:00pm at Oscar Duconge (Carver) Park- 1661 JJ Flewellen Road

Rachel E. Pate is a native Wacoan and 1999 graduate of University High School.  She currently works as the Public Relations person for the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce and serves as Coordinator for the Esther’s Closet program for women.  She’s also a proud mom of one, lifelong member of Toliver Chapel (TCMBC) Church, lover of the great outdoors, avid sports fan and dedicated wearer of Converse’s Chuck Taylor shoes.


Historical Information Sources:

Website, Juneteenth.com – “History of Juneteenth”

Wikipedia-  Juneteenth