Sequins, Moms, and Social Graces

By Ashley Bean Thornton

My mom worked so hard on me! My whole childhood was a series of experiments to see if she could instill in me what she called “social graces.”   One of her failed experiments was dance lessons. Ugh! When I was seven or eight she signed me up for tap and – double ugh! – ballet. I had no sense of rhythm and I couldn’t really tell my right from my left…hopeless!

Fast forward 45 years or so. My friend Shirley Langston tells me she is starting a Dance Troupe. (I suppressed an “Ugh.”) Miss Shirley runs Restoration Haven, a ministry in the Estella Maxey Complex. She was going to partner with Joy’s School of Dance to provide dance lessons for “her girls” who lived there in the public housing. Really? I thought. Wasn’t there something more important she could be doing for those girls? Maybe something having to do with school work or computers? She was so excited about it though, that despite my prejudice against dance lessons, I accidentally caught some of her enthusiasm.

She named the troupe “Miriam’s Army.” I went to one of their first recitals, a Christmas show complete with red-nosed reindeer and Angels. Since that early show a year or two ago, Miriam’s Army has performed at Juneteenth celebrations, the Waco Cultural Arts Festival, and no telling how many other events around town.   Last week I saw them perform at the NAACP 80th Anniversary Gala. They stole the show dancing their hearts out to “Baby Love” and “Heat Wave” among other familiar favorites. When they finished, the crowd jumped to their feet and gave them a long, loud standing ovation.

Pat and Miriam's Army

Four dancers from Miriam’s Army visit with School Board President, Pat Atkins. (Photo bombing mom in the background!)

After their moment in the spotlight, the dancers marched back to the tables reserved for them and sat through the rest of the banquet program. It was a fine program, but I can’t imagine it was terribly interesting to a bevy of tween-age and teen-age girls.   They sat through it though, with just the occasional restless tapping of their still tap-clad toes, minding their manners and politely pretending to listen. When the event was over, I noticed four of them walk up to WISD School Board President Pat Atkins, introduce themselves, and engage in a some pleasant after-dinner conversation.

Here’s what occurred to me as I watched the four young girls in fringed, sequined dresses with peacock feathers in their hair carry on a conversation with the school board president: These young ladies are learning some social graces!

“Social Graces,” it turns out, is code for “basic stuff you need to know to pave the way for yourself in the big, wide world.” The girls in Miriam’s Army are learning things like being on time to get on the van to go to practice, keeping up with their gear, and working on something they are not good at until they get good at it.  They are learning to smile even when they are nervous.  They are learning how to sit still during a speech even though it’s boring, how to manage at least the basic etiquette involved in a banquet, and how to introduce themselves and have a polite conversation with a grown-up person they don’t really know.   Would I be able to have the job I have now, the life I have now, if I hadn’t learned these kinds of things somewhere along the way?

Being a part of Miriam’s Army is about more than sequins and Motown. It’s about life. Dance team isn’t just a fun, frivolous “extra” that successful people can afford to provide for their children; dance team (and other similar opportunities) is where those children learn how to become successful people.

I did manage to pick up some “social graces” along the way, and they are so automatic to me now that it feels like I was born knowing them. But, I wasn’t. I learned them somewhere – if not in dance lessons, then at speech tournaments, or in choir, or drama or some other opportunity that I probably took for granted at the time. You can’t learn all these kinds of lessons in a classroom.  You learn them by doing something that requires you to perform in public, something that exposes you to new social situations and requires you to meet new and different kinds of people.   When you think about it, children who miss out on these kinds of opportunities are missing a crucial part of their education — just as if they had missed the week in school when you learn about percentages. When you think about it a little longer, you realize that these kinds of opportunities cost time and money, something that the moms in Estella Maxey don’t often have in great supply.

The moms in Estella Maxey want the same thing for their daughters that my mom wanted for me. With the help of Miss Shirley and Joy’s School of Dance, more of them are able to provide their girls opportunities to develop the “social graces.”  We should all want that for these girls. The confident tap-dancers who are introducing themselves to the school board president now will be the confident young women who are introducing themselves to college admissions officers and employers in the very near future. We all benefit if they are successful!

Would it give you joy to help support this ministry? A dance troupe requires dance outfits. Miriam’s Army saves money by purchasing their outfits second hand. They purchase three outfits every spring, one each for ballet, tap and Hip-Hop. Their invoice for outfits this year is around $3,000. The girls and moms have worked really hard selling popcorn and raffle tickets in addition to paying a hard-won $25 registration fee. They have raised over $1,000; they need to raise about $2,000 more. Contributions designated for Miriam’s Army can be sent to Restoration Haven, P O Box 875 Waco TX 76703 or donate on-line by clicking here:

Ashley Thornton 3This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, the Manager of the website and the editor of the WHOLE Enchilada newsletter. 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.


Youth Council Trip to Nashville a Terrific Experience!

By Sandra Arias

I’ve always had large ambitions of traveling to new places. When I first heard that I would be heading to Nashville, Tennessee for the National League of Cities Conference I knew that I was in for a great time.

For the past two years I have served on the Waco City Youth Council, an organization dedicated to helping the youth of Waco become more active in the community. Within this organization I have been a part of many wonderful projects such as fundraising for the Waco Humane Society and donating gifts to some of the five hundred foster children in McLennan County. Annually, the Waco City Youth Council, along with the Waco City Council, travels to the National League of Cities Conference. Delegates from across the country meet at this conference every year to discuss local issues, and hear from speakers who have made a great impact in their communities.

students in NashvilleThis year I, along with five other students from Waco, attended this conference as youth delegates. Never in my life had I left the state of Texas, let alone been on a plane, and for me to travel to the country music capital was inconceivable. There are not enough words to express the excitement I felt. Weeks prior to our departure my good friend and fellow delegate, Kristen Petree, and I spent our time planning everything we wanted to do when we landed in Nashville. However, to actually be in the city was a breathtaking experience.

On November 2, 2015 we departed for Nashville, Tennessee. As we landed in the grand city, it was very clear that it was a vibrant place filled with great energy. On our first day we made our way to the Music City Center, one of the largest convention centers in the country and got a first glimpse of the convention. Thousands of people gathered in this large building, spanning the length of five city blocks, for the sole purpose of finding ways to improve their city. We also met with several other youth delegates from all around the country. What was astounding to me was that so many of these young adults, like myself, cared very much about their community. One of the major highlights of this trip was hearing Vice President Joe Biden speak. In his speech he highlighted the importance of small businesses, and the vital necessity of city infrastructure to bring in companies that could provide jobs for our citizens. Within our small Joe Bidencity of Waco, I believe that we truly embrace the words of Vice President Biden. In Waco, we embrace our small businesses with the hope that our citizens will prosper. We have also done well by providing the infrastructure needed to house large companies such as M&M Mars, which employs many people in the area.

During the rest of my stay in Nashville I enjoyed a variety of other things. Our group had plans to consult with various companies about their proposals for developing our city. We met with council member Alice Rodriguez on several occasions to discuss with her all that we had seen and heard. The Nashville youth delegates gave us a tour of the city and its historic sites. We were also treated to a private concert by some of Nashville’s up and coming artists.

Overall, my journey to Nashville was spectacular. I was able to meet many great people who provided me an outsider’s perspective of my wonderful city. I am very grateful to the Waco City Council, as well as the Waco City Youth Council for allowing me to attend this wonderful trip. In the end, I learned about many ways to improve my community, and I plan to employ what I learned to help our community prosper.

Do you know a young person who might be interested in Waco Youth Council? The Waco Youth Council’s primary function is to provide the Waco City Council a teen perspective on issues facing the City, and to provide a voice for teens in the community. The group typically volunteers at functions such as the annual Feast of Sharing, Brazos River Cleanups, and at community center events such as Easter Egg Hunts and Halloween carnivals.  Applications are available from high school counselors, or by emailing Earl Stinnett at The deadline to apply is Thursday, April 21, 2016. <Youth Council Application> <Youth Council Information Sheet>

Sandra Arias-2Sandra Arias is a senior at Waco High School, with plans to attend the University of Texas at Arlington this fall. She will major in science and exercise, and hopes to earn her Master’s degree in athletic training. She is very involved in Waco High’s student athletic training program, and has also been a part of Waco High’s cross country, track, and Lady Lion soccer teams.


Here’s Your Chance to get a Clear Idea of the State of Education in the Heart of Texas

by Fred Hills

Few things are more important to the prosperity of our community than our educational systems. As citizens, it is our responsibility to keep up to date on the state of those systems, but that is sometimes difficult to do. Where can you get objective information about how well the schools systems are performing? How can a “lay” person get in depth information about some of the important decisions being made that have the potential to affect our children and our economic prospects? How can we get that information we need to be informed, responsible parents, teachers and community members when it comes to education? Fortunately, an opportunity is on the horizon to help us do just that.

MCC 50 logoThe Heart of Texas P-20 Council & Prosper Waco are cohosting this year’s State of Education in the Heart of Texas on Tuesday, April 19 from 11 AM to 1:30 PM at the McLennan Community College Conference Center. The community is invited.

The forum will provide statistics and information on the progress of local educational efforts followed by panel discussions giving students, industry partners and educational leaders the opportunity to share their perspectives on education in central Texas. Prosper Waco will also share their ongoing efforts in bringing together collaborating partners from the greater Waco area in cooperatively addressing educational issues in our community.

We are honored to have Texas’s House Representative Jimmie Don Aycock as our lunch keynote speaker. Rep Aycock represents District 54 and currently serves as the chair of the Public Education Committee and a member of the Defense & Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He will share his perspectives on educational policy in Texas.

The agenda is as follows:

  • 11:00-11:10 a.m.: Introduction by Fred Hills, Heart of Texas P-20 Council and Matthew Polk, Executive Director of Prosper Waco
  • 11:10-11:30 a.m.: Presentation: Statistics of Education in the Heart of Texas
  • 11:30-11:50 a.m.: Industry Panel Discussion
  • 11:50-12:10 p.m.: Student Panel Discussion
  • 12:10-1:00 p.m.: Lunch & Keynote Speaker, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock
  • 1:00-1:30 p.m.: Updates from the Heart of Texas P-20 Council and Prosper Waco

Registration cost is $15 which includes lunch. All are invited and welcome to register at Region 12 ESC’s website, Session #88565. If you have any questions about the forum, contact either Fred Hills at or Chris Holecek at


Fred HillsDr. Fred Hills is the current president of the HOT P-20 and Dean of Arts, Science and Business at McLennan Community College. He has worked and lived in the Waco community for over 20 years and has served on the HOT P20 for the last four years.

Behold your Wickedness

By Rachel Toombs

(Note: This piece was originally published on )

Suspension_Bridge_Waco_Texas100 years ago, two miles from where my house now stands, seventeen-year-old Jesse Washington was lynched just outside the courthouse in downtown Waco, Texas.[1] What came to be deemed nationally as “The Waco Horror” was caught through gruesome images of Washington’s charred body hanging from a tree with a crowd of thousands in their Sunday-best encircling the scene. One of these images (warning: this image is graphic) captures the face of a young man smiling a benign smile that could just as well be made in a school photograph or at the sight of one’s crush on a first date. The smiling young man beams out from the bottom right corner of the image. Just to the left of him, there is a tree and hanging from it is the barely recognizable remains of a man.

It would be easy to stand apart from the appalling joy of this young man before such a horror. Evil is always easier to swallow when we are able to stand apart. It is a bit harder to stand apart when the evil occurred right down the street, but not all that hard. When I asked a class of undergraduates who also live just a couple miles from the Waco Horror if they knew the name Jesse Washington, not one hand was raised. Not one. It is easy to stand apart from evil, even when it occurred right down the street unless you are on the receiving end of those evil acts.

It is worth taking a moment to state the obvious: those in positions of societal privilege are much less likely to recognize the evil in our midst and in ourselves. This is a kind privileged ignorance. When we find ourselves among the lynching crowd and not the lynched, the horror can be lost on us. And often is, as can be seen in the indelicacy of the proclamation that “all lives matter,” when it is the black body that is treated as though it matters less than a white one.

Now, our ability to stand apart is, of course, unsurprising. For “the heart really is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”[2] When I look at that picture of the young man in a crisp white shirt, I cannot understand it. When I allow myself to consider for that terrifying moment how I ignorantly and willfully participate in my own forms of perpetuating even delighting in evil, I cannot understand it. But I know it is true.

We like to see ourselves as part of the crowd that welcomed the God-Man into Jerusalem with palm branches signaling his triumphal entry into the holy city. We do not like to identify ourselves as the same crowd later that week who cried “Crucify him.” It is entirely fitting that often the ashes that streak our foreheads and initiate us into the Lenten season of the bruised heart are made from the ashes of the palms from Palm Sunday: behold your wickedness.

In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas notes what was accomplished in Christ’s Passion: “As Christ’s slayers were men, so also was the Christ slain. Now the charity of the suffering Christ surpassed the wickedness of His slayers. Accordingly Christ’s Passion prevailed more in reconciling God to the whole human race than in provoking Him to wrath.[3] We are Christ’s slayers. Our wickedness is not minimized in the Passion event. Instead, Thomas emphasizes that Christ’s charity, his love, surpasses our wickedness. Our wickedness, seen not only in the mob that cried out “Crucify him” two thousand years ago but throughout the centuries and in my case down the street, must not be forgotten if we want to do justice to the Christ event. We can only grasp the profundity that Love came down, becoming one of us, being crucified by us, and raising both himself and us from the curse of death if we behold our wickedness that God’s love surpassed.


3.10 - image - Jesse Washington FlyerMarch 19 – REMEMBERING JESSE WASHINGTON: Memorial Walk and Service – On March 19, we come together as the communities and churches of Waco to mourn our history and pray for a better future. Join us as we walk in visible remembrance from Washington’s birthplace to downtown Waco and gather in a service of lament and prayer on Baylor’s campus. For more information, contact Read the history at or view the walk route (subject to revision) at

Rachel ToombsRachel Toombs is a third-year theology doctoral student in the Religion Department at Baylor University. She moved to Waco from Vancouver, BC, where she completed her MA in Old Testament. Before she started her graduate studies, she worked with at-risk youth in Minneapolis. Her academic interest is in the theological style of narrative, specifically in the Old Testament and contemporary literature. She lives in Waco with her husband and two pit-mix puppies. She is a diehard Twins fans, and remembers when the Dallas Stars were called the North Stars.

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.

[1] For a more detailed accounts (warning: contain graphic images):,,

[2] Jeremiah 17:9

[3] Sum IIIa.


Make Sure your Student knows: TSTC offers a World of Opportunities!

By Brandon Chappell

In recent days, I have been trying to find out what the perception of Texas State Technical College is from the students in the community, and I have been totally surprised at what I’ve heard. One student told me that he was under the impression that TSTC was strictly a place you go to when you want to work on cars. Another student told me that she wasn’t aware that females could even attend TSTC. Neither of these statements is true. TSTC offers a wide variety of associate degrees and certificates for both men and women and is considered by many as one of Waco’s best kept secrets.

tstc signTSTC, formerly known as TSTI has been a part of educating and preparing students for the workforce in Waco for over 50 years. With an array of programs such as Gaming, Programming, Welding, Laser Optics, Building Construction, Culinary Arts, Web Design and many others TSTC, offers hands on education and experience locally at a very affordable price. All of the instructors at TSTC have experience working in their particular fields, so the knowledge and wisdom they offer the students is invaluable.

A lecture-style class is not for everyone and at TSTC, we appreciate and value a hands-on teaching environment. Aside from the instructors themselves, there are many services TSTC offers that help our students successfully graduate and find a job in their field. There are scholarships and grants that students can apply for to help pay for tuition and books. The students have access to Success Coaches, who are the academic advisors available 5 days a week to help students navigate any obstacles that comes between them and graduation.

Another service TSTC offers to students is the Project Link Program. Project Link is a program administered by Prosper Waco at TSTC and MCC that allows the students who are members of the program at La Vega High School and University High School to have their own personal Success Coach. My name is Brandon Chappell and I am the Project Link Liaison at TSTC. I help prospective Project Link students who are interested in enrolling in TSTC in the future with information about testing, admissions and other requirements dealing with pursuing a degree or completing a certificate program. If the Project Link students have any problems or concerns dealing with being successful at TSTC, I am their “go-to guy.” I offer a one-on-one mentoring environment, and access to the same support services that the other Success Coaches have, but I am given the opportunity to concentrate on a much smaller number of students and build on a level of familiarity with the students from the high school level.

tornadoCome check out the TSTC Waco campus. Take a tour of some of the different departments and find out what program works for you. TSTC isn’t just for recent high school graduates; many of our students have been in the working world for several years before enrolling at TSTC. Most of our programs take 5 semesters or less to complete. If you’re not interested in earning a college degree, TSTC also offers certificate programs that can teach you the basic skills in many different trades so that you can broaden your horizons or make yourself more marketable in the workforce.

At TSTC our goal is to prepare our students for gainful employment, and we have an amazing placement rate. Ultimately the goal is to get our students out into the real world with the necessary job training and skills that it takes to work in many different industries.

The job market has been getting increasingly more competitive and TSTC can help even the playing for field or place you at the front of the hiring race. To find out more information about TSTC, visit or head over to the campus between 8-5 and one of our recruiters will be happy to give you a tour or answer any questions you may have.

Brandon ChappellBrandon Chappell was raised in Houston, TX, but his roots are here in Waco. Most of his family were born here in Waco and graduated from local high schools. He attended Prairie View A&M University as a first generation college student. He graduated from PVAMU in 2012 with a Bachelor’s in Communication, and became the first male in his family to be awarded a college degree. He has been employed with Texas State Technical College since 2012 in several different positions and enjoys using his experiences to assist the students with being successful during their time in college.

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.