I loved my time at University High!

By Roman Novian

It happens all the time. I meet someone new and during the course of the conversation I am asked what high school I attended. I respond, “University High School!” Then, like clockwork, their eyes grow huge. By now I know what the next questions will be. “Were you scared”? “Did y’all have to pass through metal detectors every day”? And on and on. No, I was not scared and no, we did not have metal detectors and actually, I loved every minute of it!  I will admit, I was definitely scared my first day as a freshman. Of course being an awkward freshman on the first day of school is nerve-racking for anyone, but the rumors and comments from the public surely didn’t help. As the first day turned into weeks and then months I realized that I was in a great place. I started making great friends and becoming involved in many of the activities that were available through the public school system. I realized that all of the negative comments that I had heard over the years were completely erroneous. I received a top-notch education, extracurricular activities that helped me discover myself, and an unparalleled support system from my educators that went beyond the textbook to help me prepare for the real world.

Today, I am one of the top real estate agents in the country. I can certainly say that my time in the Waco public school system has helped me to be the person that I am.

I recently created the Roman The Realtor scholarship fund for local high school students. I believe it is important to give back to our community and there is no better way than education. Through the Waco public school system I was given an opportunity to succeed and I did.


The “Roman the Realtor” scholarship is open to University High School seniors who have been accepted and plan to attend college. Students should be ranked in the top 11%- 25% of the class and have demonstrated community involvement and volunteerism. Specific application requirements will be announced in early 2017. To learn more about the Roman the Realtor Scholarship, please contact University High School and ask for Mindy Place or Lisa Cain. The Waco ISD Education Foundation manages several scholarship funds for Waco and University High Schools. A committee of Education Foundation members, teachers, counselors and/or administrators reviews applicants and selects recipients. Those interested in contributing to or setting up a scholarship may contact the Education Foundation at 254-755-9517 or educationfoundation@wacoisd.org.

Roman NovianRoman Novian is a top producing real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Jim Stewart Realtors in Waco, Texas. He was born and raised in Waco and attended Waco public schools. His recent accolades include being among the top 1% of real estate agents worldwide for Coldwell Banker, the Coldwell Banker 30 under 30 award, The National Association of Realtors magazine 30 under 30 award, and Waco’s most loved Realtor by Locals Love Us.

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.

An Open Letter to a New Wacoan

Dear Friend:

Welcome to Waco!

The boundless summer skies in Central Texas are filled with the savory smoke of family cookouts, the lazy tunes of summer concerts and care-free laughter from parks and summer pools.

Summer is also a time of transition.

As you unpack your bags, I pack mine.

Waco is my home of three years and I will greatly miss it as I leave to serve as the chief fundraiser at a Habitat for Humanity branch in my hometown in Maryland after serving in that role here at Waco Habitat. With some difficulty, as I will explain later, I draft this letter as a means to provide orientation to you and a farewell to our community.

Keep Those Sleeves Rolled Up – Waco Needs your Talents

You have moved, made your first trip to Waco Habitat for Humanity ReStore, found some great paint to redecorate a room or two and you probably made your first trip to a magical grocery store that holds everything your heart, soul and stomach could ever desire in three initials: H.E.B.

You may wonder about your first steps towards getting involved in your new community. Well, you made the right step in reading Act Locally Waco.

Three years ago, I met the founder of Act Locally Waco (ALW), Ashley Bean Thornton, who created the site initially as a “one stop shop” for nonprofits, businesses and individuals to post upcoming events, and job opportunities. ALW is now a critical communication tool in our community.

Ashley and I met at Common Grounds. Three unexpected things happened during the meeting: 1) I noticed and respected Ashley’s incredibly red converse shoes that brilliantly matched her joyful spirit, laugh and intelligence, 2) I placed a random order for a coffee drink called, “Pig Swig”, a decision that forever changed the course of this coffee drinker’s life for the better and 3) Ashley invited me to write about housing issues and how national policy impacts affordable housing here in Waco; a natural fit for someone who works at Habitat for Humanity. I did not know that this invitation would make me the first blogger of what is now a series of talented, well-respected Wacoans who serve as peer-bloggers about diverse issues that range from food, health, fitness, racial issues, education and many topics in-between.

Three years later, it is mighty difficult to find a meaningful way to say goodbye to a community that has meant so much to me between 500-1000, non-rambling (non-sappy) worded blog post.

Sure enough, before I knew it, I realized I was writing around emotions and not truly writing about the true impact our community had on me…it was easier to write about my favorite coffee spots (Common Grounds as mentioned before, Dichotomy is also highly ranked in my heart) and provide a survey of their must-eat menus than to share the heart of the matter. In the spirit of embracing vulnerability (Brené Brown), I rephrased this letter to do just that.

I am a better person because I called Waco home.

I edited this letter several times to unbury the questions: “what about Waco made me feel at home…what about Waco made me want to dig deeper and work harder for our community?”.

The soulful, truth-seeking expedition started above my keyboard and made me feel like a paleontologist at our Waco Mammoth National Park…the “day to day” of three years, commutes on Franklin Ave and I-35, hours of meetings, errands to H.E.B., and highs and lows we all have in life needed to be brushed aside so I could see that truth.

That truth is that Waco’s strong communities of worship and the outstanding service opportunities & associations of our town made the three years a rich, life-giving experience.

Communities of Worship

There are nearly 365 houses of worship in the Greater Waco area based on one recent survey conducted by a local nonprofit. I was able to call Calvary Baptist Church, Acts Church and later Antioch Community Church my spiritual homes during my time here.

Each church was stuffed with timely friendships and messages of encouragement that were sorely needed and allowed for opportunities for me to give back as well. Antioch’s life group network is among the best communities of faith I have been part of and I’m thankful to have the good problem of scheduling more goodbye visits with brothers and sister than there are hours in the day.

You may have the good problem of sorting through which house of worship is a best fit. If you are to be a long-term member or have a membership that reflects mine, know that no matter where you land, you will find a great spiritual home.

Service Opportunities & Associations

For each community of faith I encountered, I found that the mission to put the Gospel into action was highly encouraged and space was provided in service to share about upcoming volunteer or giving opportunities.

Likewise, I’ve had friends who were not part of any community of faith but also cared deeply about Waco and their friendships had an equally powerful influence on my personal growth.

Often times, I would meet diverse people from different professional, ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds as we discussed positive ways to build our community. We all seemed to share the courage to push the status quo while we also shared mutual respect for each other.

The following nonprofits and civic groups provided space for that personal growth (learn more by clicking on the service opportunity):

  • Caritas – Caritas provides the vital service of food and nutrition in addition to other services to our community. Contact them to learn how to volunteer, donate financially or learn about what items are most needed in the food bank ministry.
  • Waco Community Development Corporation – Community engagement and affordable housing are some of the focus areas for Waco CDC. Contact them to learn about their homebuyer education courses and learn how to donate to their mission. Their Executive Director, Mike Stone, is going on Mike’s Hike during this summer to raise funds for much needed home repairs in Waco. Call their office to learn how to support this work.
  • Citizens for Responsible Lending – A grassroots group focused on the healthy alternatives towards payday lending. Contact Alexis Christensen at Waco Community Development to learn more (see above link).
  • Waco Habitat for HumanityHabitat brings people together to build homes, communities and hope. Habitat builds affordable new homes, repairs existing homes and operates ReStore. Contact the Habitat team to learn how to donate, volunteer or to hear about our latest inventory at ReStore.
  • Association of Fundraising ProfessionalsProfessional mentorships, trainings and online resources provided by AFP empowers regional fundraisers to excel through ethical fundraising practices (annual membership in June is discounted $50, contact chapter admin Susan Duecy at suedue53@hot.rr.com for more info).
  • Prosper WacoAn effort designed to look at education, health and financial security and how our community can move along a collective impact, data-driven model towards each category. Contact them to learn how to join committee work.
  • LeadershipPlenty – Leadership training for Wacoans at no cost, LeadershipPlenty is made of facilitators from the community who teach a proven curriculum. Local leaders graduate and apply lessons learned to deepen their existing leadership roles in the community. Contact Catherine Bauer at cbauer@wacofoundation.org to learn about the application process.
  • Nonprofit Networking HoursSponsored by the Cooper Foundation, these trainings in management best practices also allow space for news and local events to be shared. Click on the “Nonprofit Networking Hours” link to learn about past and upcoming events.
  • City of Waco Council MeetingsHeld at the Waco Convention Center on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of every month. The hearing of the visitors officers a time where you as a citizen can speak for about 3 minutes about any topic and City staff follow up with you about your concerns. This is a great way to have your voice heard.
  • Chambers of Commerce: Hewitt, Waco, Central Texas African American, and Hispanic chambers offer social hours, networking events; Waco’s Young Professionals host professional trainings.

Do Not Wait to Unpack

Living in Waco is not a spectator’s sport.

You can engage the above partnerships or match your skillset to others (by no means is the above list comprehensive of all the partnerships in Waco).

Some common themes run throughout the on-going work of many Waco-based organizations. The above partnerships deal with ongoing issues such as affordable housing, racial disparities in our community and poverty that cannot be addressed alone as it takes your participation, time and resources to make a difference.

I have lived in four states and several different communities and I have never before witnessed any other community like Waco where effective collaboration makes such a positive impact.

We have achieved a great deal together and can still do much more. Further progress greatly relies on open access to the discussion on how to make Waco a place we can all call home.

Using ALW to first learn about said issues and then to later participate in events is a realistic progression towards engagement.

Don’t wait to unpack your skills – jump right on in; Waco will embrace you as you embrace Waco.

What are perceived social or economic challenges are tremendous opportunities for partnership and growth.

No matter how long you may call Waco home, you will be changed for the better and our community will greatly benefit from the gifts you are willing to unpack, share, and develop with your new community.

All the best.

Phil York

Phil 2For the last three years Phil York has been working at Waco Habitat for Humanity, most recently as Director of Development.  A self-described “policy nerd;” he has also been the Act Locally Waco housing and homelessness policy blogger.  Now he is moving back to his home state of Maryland.  We’ll miss you, Phil!  Thank you for diving into Waco!  We are better off for your having been with us for a while!

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.

Entrepreneurs of Waco: The Spin Connection

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

By Allie Drain

Spin Connection is nearly empty by five p.m.  Classic rock and modern pop songs play from the speakers, mixing with the soft rustle of plastic – the sound of customers flipping through records.

It’s a comfortable atmosphere. Relaxed. Posters from popular bands and movies, both modern and vintage, plaster the walls behind the displays that line the sides of the store. In the middle are two rows of wooden displays, each row made of eight total bins.  These displays show the real treasure of the store: they hold the thousands of vintage records that Spin Connection is known for.

It wasn’t always like this. “When we started, we had a couple of these racks set up,” Stan Wojciechowski explains, pointing his thumb at the bins in the middle of the store. “We were having them built, and so we just had like four racks and about five hundred, eight hundred albums out here.”

“I never thought I would have my own business,” he says. “A few years ago, we did the Austin Record Convention, which is one of the biggest record shows in the United States if not the biggest, and we decided we’d maybe try to have a store here in Waco because vinyl was having a comeback of some sort. Not a huge comeback, but a comeback nonetheless.”

Stan and his wife, Alicia, opened Spin Connection about two and a half years ago. Stan had come to Waco in 2007 for his work with industrial equipment—a job that he still holds on top of running his store. He’d always had his own collection of records though, which he started selling even before opening Spin Connection to help with bills and his children’s tuition.

“I think it’s something that he’s kind of wanted to do for a while and when he did it, his determination, I think, just made it happen,” Stan’s son, Josh, says.

Josh, who helps out at Spin Connection on top of going to school and working, recalls his father’s lifelong hobby of going to flea markets and auctions for music, which often turned into family trips with his parents and older siblings. He didn’t always appreciate it when he was younger until he started learning more about the work behind having a stall or a small business, something he’s become more aware of with his father’s store. “To me, I would say it gives me some inspiration on how to find that something you like doing and turn it into something that you’re proud of,” Josh explains, clearly impressed with his father’s accomplishments.

One of the most challenging parts of owning a record shop is finding the right inventory. With very few exceptions, the records which fill the racks of Spin Connection are all vintage, brought in by either customers looking to sell, or found through an auction of some sort.  “I just have to find them, because I want to find them for a good price so my prices are reasonable for the customer,” Stan explains. “Some of the titles we can’t keep. Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, we can’t keep it. The Wall, also by Floyd. Michael Jackson’s Thriller, it doesn’t stay very long. Those kind of albums, you put it out here, ‘Ahhhh, look!!!’ It’s gone.”

While Spin Connection is never as busy as the chain stores, there is a steady flow of people from all ages and walks of life. There’s a good number of Baylor students who are part of the new record culture, but also plenty of older people. Many of them, Stan notes, come in looking for albums or artists they were fond of in the past, and some come in looking to sell. “You hear them out here laughing and looking like ‘Honey, look at this,’ and they’re laughing. It’s not even a comedy album, it could be anything. They just get a kick out of it.”

Spin Connection’s customers are drawn in mostly by word of mouth, however Stan also mentions the importance of location in starting a business. “You wanna be where there’s a lot of traffic,” he says.  For that reason, Stan opened Spin Connection at 3703 Franklin Avenue, right near the intersection with North Valley Mills Drive. Beneath the upbeat music of the store’s soundtrack there’s a steady thrum of passing cars on the street outside. Traffic is a constant on Franklin Avenue, proving the worth of Stan’s words. The location provides Spin Connection with the opportunity to both attract more customers and avoid the heavy fees that helped close some smaller businesses he knew in the downtown area. “Waco is a good place to open a business, but you have to know what you’re doing,” he says. “Do your homework.”

“Having more live music would be good,” Stan says about his future goals. Bringing in bands is one of his favorite parts of the business.  “We had a band up here from Austin that was really good and they did an acoustic set. They were doing headbanging music in clubs, but I asked them if they could do acoustic and they said yes,” he recalls. “It was really good.” The live music adds to the unique atmosphere that sets Spin Connection apart from many other music stores.

“He’s involved in all facets of the business,” Josh explains about his father’s work, “and I’ve learned that if you find something that you really like doing, you should really just do it. There are risks involved. My dad didn’t know how exactly it would turn out for him. I guess that’s part of the fun, but his resolve to just open the store and just take that risk … I guess I’ve learned that I should take risks for stuff that I love and try to really focus on those things that I love.”

Allie DrainThe writer…Allie Drain is a recent graduate of Baylor University, Class of 2016. While at Baylor, she focused her studies on English and Creative Writing while also acting as Co-Editor in Chief of The Phoenix, Baylor’s literary magazine. She loves reading, writing, and sharing stories, and hopes to one day enter the publishing industry.

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.






A Most Dangerous Woman

by Rick Allen

It all started with a mule. In 1865, a young Confederate veteran by the name of Albert Parsons sold a mule and some cotton land for the money to attend Waco University. He made it through one year before the allure of Radical Republican politics called him. He began taking political appointments and doing political field work. On one of these trips to a former slave neighborhood, he met a young woman of mixed ethnicities calling herself Lucy Gonzales. They fell in love and attempted to marry. Texas at that time was a state that had legal strictures against “miscegenation”. So…they sold what they had and went to Chicago where they could legally wed.

In Chicago, Albert worked as a printer and eventually had his own newspaper. Lucy, who had learned to read and write, became a labor organizer in garment factories. She also, alongside Albert, led the first May Day parade in Chicago on May 1st 1886 with 80,000 labor union members marching behind. It appeared the days of twelve hour work shifts and children working during school hours were over. Just days later, a riot erupted during a labor rally in the Haymarket Square and several police were killed by a bomb. After a “kangaroo court” of business owners found Albert and four other innocents guilty of the deaths, they were hung.

Lucy wrote pamphlets about this injustice and by 1900 was a leader in the growing movements of socialism and anarchism. She became a hero to the poor and a “radical” to the rich. She encouraged strikes, walkouts and takeovers of factories. She helped start the American Communist Party and the International Workers of the World. By 1940, she was on an FBI watch list and even the NYC Police Commissioner described her as the, “most dangerous woman in America.” She died from a mysterious fire in her apartment in 1942. The police confiscated all her property and it disappeared.

Today, the USA , Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and a dozen other countries refuse to celebrate Labor Day or Workers Day on May 1st. However, more than 200 countries remember with their own marches the day Lucy and Albert led the big parade.

Rick AllenRick Allen has worn many hats since coming to Waco in 1982. He has been a history and English teacher, social worker, therapist, special educator, school counselor, Dean of Students, Waco City Councilman, landscaper, xeriscaper, pedicab entrepeneur, B&B host, board member, Sunday school teacher, junior college instructor, MHMR curriculum writer, public speaker, blogger and dad.

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.