I enjoyed Assistance League in Austin. Would it be a good fit for Waco?

by Estela Smith

I appreciate the efforts of the hard-working folks of Waco, especially those in the nonprofit realm.  Many success stories prove that their hard work is paying off.  Like in many communities, however, the need is great.  The non-profit organizations cannot do everything on their own.  Volunteers can help.  I can help!  Until recently, through Assistance League of Austin, I contributed my talents and energy, to volunteer in effort’s that served the local community…of Austin. Now my husband and I live in the Waco community and I want to contribute in this community.

I am a fan of Assistance League. I believe they make a difference, and I think it could be a benefit to start a chapter here in Waco.  As the Waco area grows and becomes home to more folks, the need for additional services also increases.  Assistance League could come alongside existing organizations to help serve the folks of McLennan County. Assistance League could help support the continuing effort to ‘make Waco a better place to live’ by recruiting and tapping the potential of volunteers to help those less fortunate to a better, more meaningful life.

Assistance League® is a national nonprofit organization, with 120 local chapters across the U.S. including Hawaii. It is a member based all volunteer organization. The purpose of each chapter of Assistance League is to meet the needs of the local community. They work through charitable giving programs helping one child, one young person, one senior, at a time.

For some members volunteering is their social connection. Some of us are recently retired or widowed and are now available to volunteer and explore new interests. We are busy volunteers, but we also enjoy each other’s company. As a member-volunteer in the Assistance League of Austin, I met and worked with several fascinating and very giving souls, both men and women, committed to the local community effort. The volunteers are from various backgrounds. Many, for example, are retired teachers. After having seen the positive effects of the Operation School Bell® Program as teachers, they now participate in the giving side of Assistance League.

Assistance League of Austin has been serving the community for the last 45 years. The chapter’s Toy Cart Program really held a special place for me. As a preemie, my own daughter had been in the hospital for an extended period of time. I always appreciated the solace of an encouraging nod and a small stuffed toy, for baby. Now, it is my turn to give a smile and a game or toy and a book to the patient and their family.   Fact: The Toy Cart Program donates and delivers toys and books to more than 18,700 patients at children’s hospital every year! Besides toys, Assistance League volunteers provide pillowcases, embroidered blankets, and onesies for preemies at the children’s hospital in Austin.

Anne Banning founded National Assistance League® in 1935. It was the first nonprofit, nonpolitical, nonsectarian organization founded in the West to recognize the potential of volunteers in helping those less fortunate to a better, more meaningful life. We now have over 23,000 dedicated volunteers in 120 chapters nationwide (10 chapters in Texas). With 1.5 million individuals served, 3.2 million service hours and $38 million returned to local communities. We do make a difference!

The sustainable and charitable giving programs of the Assistance League are powered by volunteers. Most importantly, Assistance League serves the local community. All funds raised in the community stay in the community!

I loved volunteering with the Assistance League in Austin and I would love to help start a chapter here.  Would you be interested in helping get a chapter started in Waco/McLennan county?   If so, please contact me, Estela Smith by email at bckntx@gmail.com.  For more information about bringing Assistance League to McLennan County email: chapterformation@assistanceleague.org  or visit our national website: www.assistanceleague.org.

Estela Smith is a native Texan. Born and reared in Dallas. Estela and her husband lived on the West Coast for 35 years; now they own their home in the Cedar Ridge neighborhood of Waco. They are grateful for family in the Greater Dallas area and in Austin.

One of her favorite quotes is, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” (Booker T. Washington) Contributions and edits courtesy of A. Neish, past president, National Assistance League.




Summer Learning Opportunities

By Robin McDurham

In a few short days, the teachers in Waco ISD will be giving our students hugs and high fives and send them home for summer. However, learning does not have to stop for ten weeks. There are several things families can do to engage the brain and prevent summer learning loss. Applying academic skills to everyday activities can keep the learning in the forefront. Wouldn’t it be great if this blog posts could start a conversation with the Act Locally community about how we keep learning alive during the summer? Here are a few of my favorites:

  • If you are taking a road trip, consider listening to a book on tape together. If you want to push the learning, do a Google search for book discussion questions ahead of time. Focus on questions that require everyone in the car to consider what the author is trying to convey.
  • Give the list making duties to the kids.  By organizing and writing down items on grocery shopping list, packing list, and chore lists, children are using critical thinking skills and taking ownership of family responsibilities. The potential for learning increases when taking the lists further by creating a weekly meal plan, developing a budget, and charting progress.
  • Have a yard sale or open a lemonade stand, and put your child in charge.
  • Turn on the closed caption feature on your television to encourage reading along with the shows. When they get good at reading the captions, push them by turn off the sound.

Parents don’t have to prevent summer brain drain all by themselves. Several organizations offer learning opportunities for students during the summer. The short list provided below is a snapshot of opportunities provided by Waco ISD campuses and educators:

Elementary Schools

June 6th-June 30th (8:00 am to 3:00 pm- Monday through Friday). Language Acquisition Summer School for all current English Learners in PK and Kindergarten. The program will be presented at Bells Hill Elementary. We have a great plan for the children filled with intense direct instruction in literacy, language, math, and other disciplines! Transportation is available. Breakfast and lunch will be served. Contact the department at 254-755-9525 for more information.

June 6-8, 12-15, and 19th (8:00 am to 1:00 pm) J. H. Hines Elementary School – Summer Enrichment Program – J.H. Hines is partnering with the YMCA, and other organizations to offer exciting opportunities for students including Tours of McLane Stadium, The Cameron Park Zoo, Waco Wetland, Mammoth Site, World Hunger Relief Farm, Cameron Park, Mayborn Museum, and a Spectacular Science Day. Breakfast, lunch, and transportation will be provided. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017 (2:00 pm – 3:30 pm) Author’s Alley at the Waco-McLennan County Library- Waco ISD teacher, Mary Evans, will present a lively reading of her book, Thunder and Lightning.  She will talk to the kids about writing a book and what it’s like to be an author. There will be a fun craft for kids to make and take, too.  Books will be available for purchase and signing. A percentage of the proceeds will benefit the Friends of the Waco-McLennan County Library.

June 12-15, 10 a.m.-noon  – McLennan Community College summer camps- Cooking with the Rainbow  – This four-day session will highlight stovetop-based recipes for pre-teens and teens. Main dishes, sides, and desserts will be featured while focusing on a “rainbow” of ingredients. Young chefs will be educated about making meals with a focus on both taste and nutrition. Your son or daughter may even offer to make dinner after this week is done! For ages 13 to 17. Class will be taught by Waco High teacher, Wendy Moulds. Cost: $79 Class ID: AVC 5245.01

June 26-July 14 (8:00 am to 3:00 pm- Monday- Thursday) West Avenue Elementary is hosting VOICE Inc. summer camp from 8am-3pm for students enrolled in 1st through 5th grades.

July 10-15 Waco High School Overture Summer Theatre Camp for Kids – Students entering the 2nd-9th grades and may be enrolled in schools other than WISD. We’re producing 101 Dalmatians. We still have “spots” available. Email klynn.childress@wacoisd.org for more information.

Saturday, August 12 (9 am – noon) Family Fest – food, fun, vaccinations & information, school supplies and backpacks for registered WISD students

Date and times to be announced. The Waco ISD Education Foundation awarded a grant to Kendrick Elementary to refurbish the existing outdoor classroom that had become overgrown and unused.  Much of the work will be done this summer so that Kendrick students can start using the garden in the fall. Projects such as building a deck for seating, constructing raised garden beds, and establishing an area for a butterfly garden are on the agenda. Skilled workers and volunteers would be much appreciated.  Local businessman Thomas Arnold, the owner of Central Crushed Concrete, has graciously donated the materials needed for a walking path. This will be another task that will require many hands.  Work dates have not been determined at this point, but anyone interested in helping can call Dina Hoffman at 254-495-0070.

Middle Schools

June 12-15 (12:30-2:30 pm.) McLennan Community College summer camps Pasta and Sauces for Teens – Get a taste of Italian as you learn to make a different sauce for each day of this four-day cooking session for preteens and teens. You will learn about different pasta types and salads as well as finish off your meal by making an Italian dessert! For ages 13 to 17. Class will be taught by Waco High teacher, Wendy Moulds. Cost: $79.  

June 26- July 20th (9:00am-4:00 pm Monday through Thursday) Bulldog Summer Enrichment Program at Indian Spring Middle School for students attending Indian Spring in the 17-18 academic year.  Activities include a robotics program, kayaking, rock climbing, swimming, leadership training, team-building, arts & crafts, tennis, soccer, kickball, basketball, gardening, hiking, educational trips, and more.

June 6th – July 20th excluding July 3rd & 4th (1:00 pm – 5:00 pm) – Texas ACE Summer Camp at Carver Middle School campus and Doris Miller YMCA for swimming. The camp is for Carver students who just completed 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Activities involved:  swimming (at the YMCA), gardening with World Hunger Relief, Zumba, Y fitness, reading club, and art.

High Schools

June 5-8 and 12-15 University High School STEM team is hosting Project SOAR a two-week Project Based Learning program that incorporates fun, hands-on activities while learning the important skills needed in Pre-AP, AP, and Dual Credit classes. The two-week program is based on real-world experiences and helps you to develop creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork. The theme for this summer is “Destination Mars.” The program is for students in the UHS 2019, and 2020 cohorts Call Ms. Stephanie Bailey at (254) 756-1843 ext. 2196 or Mr. Jeffrey Cunningham at (254) 756-1843 ext. 2124 for more information or to register.

July 17-20 8:00am to 1:30pm. Freshmen institutes- Waco High School and University High School will be hosting Freshman Institutes for incoming 9th graders to introduce them to high school life.  The class of 2021 will learn about study skills required for success, earning credit, getting involved in campus activities, and building the relationships that will help them navigate the next four years of learning.

A few additional plugs

Monday, July 24: 8 a.m. – Registration for the 17-18 school year begins. Parents may register online or at campuses.

Summer Meal Program –  Any child up to 18 years old can participate in the Summer 2017 program by showing up at one of the campus, city or mobile sites on the days and during the meal time(s) indicated on the SFSP schedule. Sites will be open all summer from June 5, 2017, through August 14, 2017. Please note the dates and times of service at each location. Meals will not be served before or after the scheduled serving times. Meal times and dates are subject to change. Some sites will be closed on Monday, July 3, 2017, and Tuesday, July 4, 2017, in observance of Independence Day. Click here for the list of Summer Meal Program Sites.

So now for the action part for all of us Act Locally faithfuls.  Let’s see how many folks can add to this post by sharing ideas and events for preventing summer learning loss.  Add a comment and pass it along. There are roughly 70 days of summer can we shoot for a new learning idea or event for each day?

Robin McDurham is an assistant superintendent with Waco ISD. Although she and her husband Doug are currently enjoying life as emply nesters, they had a great experience as Waco ISD parents for 16 years with their sons Zane and Dakota. Robin is passionate about providing opportunities for students that make learning relevant. Contact information: Robin McDurham, Ed.D., Area Assistant Superintendent, Waco ISD. 254-755-9601. robin.mcdurham@wacoisd.org.

What is the Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom?

By Ashley Stephens

The main focus of the Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom is to offer children and adults the opportunity to connect with and learn about gardening, nature, and sustainability. The Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom offers ongoing gardening and outdoor classes for children, workshops for adults, and community events.

I started the Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom in Fall of 2015 after not finding anything like it available locally for my son that I homeschool. We enjoyed gardening at home but he wanted to garden and learn with friends. More and more public and private schools are getting gardens, gardening classes, and clubs but there wasn’t a place homeschoolers or those without access to a garden could go for that. I envisioned more than just a “community garden” where people garden plots independent of each other, but instead a garden that brought people together  to learn, grow, explore, make new friends, and play on a regular basis.

The garden and the outdoors in general  are the perfect place for anyone, especially children to learn life-long skills, natural sciences, and build confidence in their ability and place in the natural world. I started with homeschool classes because I homeschool, but now I offer a preschool “lil sprouts” class, an after school club and a lot of the parents attend the class with their children too, so it really has become something for the whole community.

Some of the families that attend The Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom have acres of land, with animals, and a big garden. They come because they want to learn more, share what they know, and connect with others with similar interest. Some of the families that attend The Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom live in apartments in Waco with no yard at all. They attend because they want their children to still get to have wonderful outdoor experiences in the garden picking vegetables, caring for chickens, and hiking in the woods. A lot of the families fall somewhere between the two. I love the mix of families that attend classes and the community it creates.

What type of programs do we offer?

The Children’s classes are divided in sessions in the fall and spring. Each class meets once a week for 6-12 weeks. We also offer short summer and winter day camps for children. The garden has raised gardening beds, a fairy garden, a wildlife garden, compost bins, a key hole garden, chicken coop, worm composting bin, a play area with an awesome tree house that the children enjoy every class.

This past spring we offered a four hour nature school for homeschoolers. In this class we hiked in the woods and explored local plants and animals, read stories, and journaled our new discoveries, then had lunch in the park, after which headed over to the garden where we planted, watered, and harvested the garden, made garden fresh snacks like pizza, salsa, and hand cranked ice cream, cared for our chickens, harvested honey, made cob fairy houses, and learned about composting.

We also offered a one hour”lil sprouts” gardening class for ages 3-5 and their caregiver and an after school gardening club so children that attend school are able to partake in classes as well. In these classes we did some of the same garden activities as the nature school class does. The Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom also has put on workshops for adults like basic gardening and learning how to make sauerkraut and beeswax candles. This spring we hosted a community MLK Day of service with the Urban Garden Coalition, a Spring potluck, and a George Washington Carver Story in the Garden.

Where is the Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom?

It’s located at 100 N Oak in Lorena, TX,  just outside of Waco. We are in the very big backyard of the business Enchanted Cedar who graciously allow us to use the space. We are one block away from Lorena’s McBryer Park and hiking trails.
What keeps me going?

I want all families to know how easy gardening can be and the many benefits it offers to both children and adults. You not only get fresh organic vegetables but also children that are eager to eat them. It’s the easiest way to adopt a healthy lifestyle. There are so many lessons that can be taught through gardening with little effort, you just pick up on them naturally caring for and watching the garden grow.  You also get all of the mental and physical health benefits science shows of being immersed and connected to nature and in our busy world that can be very important. In the two years I have been leading classes at The Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom I have learned so much from the garden, children, and parents. I’m excited to see what new things the garden has in store. I want to inspire our community to garden, hike, and enjoy the outdoors more in their daily lives.

Upcoming Events:
Sauerkraut Make and Take Workshop: June 4th 3pm.  Learn to make lacto fermented Sauerkraut and the health benefits of fermented food. Make your own custom sauerkraut to take home

Art in Nature Day Camp June 12  – June 14  9 am – 1pm
Activities include using nature and natural material to paint, sculpt, draw, and craft along with plenty of gardening, hiking, animal care, snack making, and more. For children attending with a parent or guardian this will be a donation based event. There are a limited amount of drop off spots available.

You can find out more about upcoming event, register,  or contact the garden:

Ashley Stephens lives in Lorena Tx with her son Ajoni  and their chickens, ducks, and bees. She homeschools, runs the Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom, and works at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market. She loves to garden and backyard homestead. She studied Horticulture and Agriculture at Central Texas College, has a Permaculture Design Certificate, and is a McLennan County Master Gardner intern.