“I set a Goal I Thought I Couldn’t Achieve – to win National History Day!”

By Harper Hoover

walking awayYoung historians around the world will soon begin the process of months of historical research that leads to National History Day. As the competition springs to life for another year, I grow more and more thrilled at the idea of history fair. American history as never been more fun than this (unless presented in rap musical form, of course.) My name is Harper Hoover, and I recently competed at National History Day at College Park, Maryland, where I won first place in the division of Junior Individual Performance. History fair is near and dear to my heart for many reasons, and my journey this past year includes quite a few memorable ones.

magazine covers - CopyCreating a National History Day project takes A LOT of work. It may not be exactly “life consuming,” but I spent many hours on my performance to make it historically accurate, interesting and as sharp as possible. This past year, my performance was on the early history of the National Geographic Society and how it has changed the world as we know it. As a part of my research, I had the opportunity to speak to people involved with National Geographic, such as their archivist staff, and I was able to attend a lecture led by one of their photographers at the Perot Museum in Dallas. When my ATLAS 8th grade class visited the Washington D.C. in May, I was able to visit the actual archives deep inside the National Geographic Headquarters (I even ate lunch there; I recommend their chicken.) The very kind and patient archivists gave me a tour of the thousands of photographs held there, and told me about the history of their photography. The experience was a once in a lifetime, but the best part? Unexpectedly seeing CBS correspondent Mo Rocca in the lobby.

in costumeSpending a great amount of time on the computer polishing my research undoubtably made my project stronger, but the competition is by far the best part of history fair. Regional competition held at Baylor consists of performing in the early hours of dawn, then waiting all day for the results to be announced. State brings even more excitement and anxiety, where you have to perform in morning preliminary rounds, and hopefully again in the afternoon finals. Late afternoon brings the awards ceremony with hundreds of nervous teenagers in a confined space (yikes.) Many students go home empty handed, but the others are soon to embark on a very intense, yet very rewarding, journey to Nationals.

Competing at the National level (or even in State finals) is similar to being nominated for an Oscar. Whether you place or not, your project is already in the very top percentage of your competitors. I’ve seen countless projects compete at Texas History Day that are better than projects at the National level from other states. While it may be easy to get caught up in the lights of Nationals, it really is amazing to be surrounded by some of the best young historians in the world, let alone compete with them. Trading state buttons may be the most important social event of NHD, but growing closer with my classmates, competitors and fellow Texans is definitely one of my favorite parts of the experience (but buttons are pretty cool too.) crowd picThis year, I’ve competed with students from Guam, South Korea, Guatemala and more- people from countries I may never visit, all because of National History Day.

Don’t get me wrong, the competition is grueling and very nerve-racking. I’ve walked into my finals room before thinking, “What are my first words?” “Did I forgot a prop?” “I don’t have enough sources!” Yet, I’ve managed not to pass out at any competition yet. This year, I was very lucky to do well in my performance and to have judges that appreciated my work.

shaking handsThe awards ceremony at Nationals is possibly the most anxious three hours of the entire week. It consists of countless minutes of talking until your category is called. Then your stomach sinks to your feet, and it’s hard to remember you’re “having fun.” The feeling I was overwhelmed with when they called my name was one of shock, excitement and honestly just a lot of confusion. I sprinted down the stairs, whether to keep the ceremony moving or because I couldn’t stand to walk. I had done it!

At the beginning of the last year, my social studies teacher, Mr. Wright, had us write down a goal for the year. I could have written “To pass the STAAR test” or “Make A Honor Roll”, but instead I wrote a goal I thought I couldn’t achieve – to win National History Day. As I share my experience with others or look back at this summer, all I am is thankful. Thankful that the dice rolled my way, thankful for my family and friends who pushed me to do the best I can. I’m thankful for my church and school family, my school district and teachers who give so much so that I can have an opportunity like this, and really thankful for a community that supports me in whatever I do. There isn’t a day that goes by that I regret doing history fair, no matter how stressful it might have been. And I’m thankful that I didn’t give up.

Harper Hoover 2Harper Hoover is currently a freshman at Waco High School where she stays busy with band, choir, school and community theater, and her 3 cats. This was her fourth year competing in the NHD contest, and her second time to make it to Nationals. She would like to thank the Waco Scottish Rite Foundation, the Heart of Texas Regional History Fair and Waco Independent School District for making her journey to Nationals 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.

In the Words of a Single Parent Student at MCC

By Lizette LaStrape and Becky Boggus

The Support and Empowerment Program (SEP) at McLennan Community College provides a holistic support network to single parent students seeking a degree. To learn more information about the program and its purpose you can read a previous blog post written about SEP here: “Participants in MCC Program for Single Parents are hard-working, compassionate and driven! Today we’d like to introduce you to one of our many exceptional students.

mom and kidGabriela Segura, who is known by her SEP Coaches as Gaby, is a student in the Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program. Gaby is also a single parent of a three-year-old child and the first and only member of her family to pursue college thus far. She is compassionate, intelligent, and unwavering in her desire to provide a better life for herself and her son.

Completing a health professions program at MCC is highly demanding of a student’s time and skills. It is not unusual for Gaby to start her morning with clinicals or studying before the sun comes up and finish the day reading class materials long after her son goes to bed. In between, she plays soccer, reads her son books, cooks dinner, attends classes and study groups, and tries to catch her breath! Being a single parent in the OTA program for Gaby is “way more difficult than I thought. It takes a lot of my time.” Between having a full course load, clinical rotations and being a single parent, Gaby says that “finding the time to study and spend time with my son; just balancing everything” has been the toughest part of being a single parent student for her.

learning at tableStill, through the late nights, the tests, skills assessments, and countless hours of studying she has persevered and will graduate in December 2016. A mere four months of classes, clinicals and sacrificing time away from her child remain before Gaby walks across the stage at commencement. She shared what graduation means to her – “It just means success! Success for me and him (her son), and my family overall. It will mean that I have accomplished the things that I set out to. I didn’t give up. I can accomplish anything and my son and siblings can too.”

For first-generation students like Gaby, completing a college degree can mean changing the trajectory of their family for generations to come. Gaby states “going to college is something that I knew I had to do in order to live a different kind of life than my parents had.” Gaby shared that she didn’t receive messages about attending college from her family and states, “My mom never said, ‘Oh, you need to go to college.’ My messages came from school. That’s where I learned that education was the way to a better life. I saw how hard my mom had to work as a single parent. That’s not what I wanted. I wanted to have a job that I chose and that I enjoyed going to every day.”

In a world where first generation students are already overwhelmed with navigating the college system, add the additional responsibility of providing for a family, the lack of reliable childcare, transportation, financial resources and family support, and making it through college becomes a daunting goal. For these reasons, creating solid connections early in the college experience can make all the difference. MCC aims to provide just this type of connection for single parents and displaced homemaker students on campus through the SEP.

During her first semester of the OTA program, Gaby applied to SEP for the financial support, which the program provides in the form of childcare or transportation assistance to qualifying students. After being a part of SEP for several semesters, Gaby states, “This isn’t just help with daycare. I’ve gotten more out of this than I initially ever thought.” Gaby added, “My coach really is supportive and I like this program because the coaches are here to help with whatever you need. It’s a matter of just showing up and just asking.” In addition to financial support, SEP provides various skills-building workshops and one-on-one monthly support meetings with each student. Gaby stated, “They help with any resources that you need, and workshops are enjoyable and provide helpful information. I’ve learned how to be a better parent, how to communicate better and provide better nutrition for my son.”

While the decision to go to college was intimidating and her time as an OTA student has been challenging, Gaby shares that she has grown a lot personally through the experience – “I have proven to myself and others that I am smart. That I know more than I like to give myself credit for. That I am capable. That it’s not about the A’s, it’s about learning and understanding the material. That I am going to love what I do every day, because I already love it more, the more that I learn about it!”

To other single parents who are in college or thinking about attending college, Gaby has this to say: “If God has given you the opportunity, then just take it! God places everyone where they are for a purpose. Just never give up. Nothing is easy. The outcome is your reward.” In regard to being part of SEP, Gaby encourages other single parents by saying, “If you’re a single parent and completing a degree, you are working harder than most people. You have more responsibilities, and if you can have a program like SEP to help you get through this every day, then you can finish school!”

Every semester, SEP accepts new students with life stories similar to Gaby’s. SEP Coaches are ready and looking forward to each opportunity to take this journey of hard work and dedication with each single parent who dreams of earning a college education. SEP coaches are here to remind each potential student that, like Gaby, they are smart, capable and able of completing a college degree!

To learn more about the Support and Empowerment Program at MCC, call Lizette LaStrape at 299-8600 or Becky Boggus at 299-8569. To learn more about the Success Coach Program at MCC, call 299-UCAN (8226).

lizette lestrape-2Lizette LaStrape is a native Californian, now living in Waco since 2006. She has worked at McLennan Community College for the last eight years and is passionate about higher education and helping people reach their goals. She loves spending family time with her husband and two-year-old daughter.

Becky BoggusBecky Boggus is a Social Worker, a pastor’s wife, a mom, and a believer in education and strengthening Waco families.  You can probably find her anywhere outside this summer: hiking in Cameron Park, chasing her kids around, and most likely eating a popsicle.

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.




Speaking up for the “locked up and locked out”

By Jerrod Clark

Although the U.S. has only 5% of the World’s population, it has an astounding 22% of the world’s incarcerated population.[1] One out of three people in The U.S. have a criminal record.[2] 12 million Texans – nearly 45% of us – have a criminal record.[3]  4.7 million Texans have a conviction on their record.[4]

These criminal records severely restrict the chance to work and find housing. Employers and landlords can lawfully discriminate against those with convictions simply by asking applicants to “check the box” if they have a criminal record. And even if an individual doesn’t check the box, criminal background checks are at the fingertips of most employers and landlords via the convenient access through the internet.

In regard to hiring, these rules may seem reasonable at first glance, but the result is to exclude a massive pool of able-bodied individuals from being productive members of society. This creates further separation and segregation and ultimately increases crime.[5] If one cannot provide for him/herself with food and shelter, crime will be inevitable. This is a direct relationship that cannot be ignored any longer!

If one has been marked with a criminal record, the domino effect of systemic separation begins. We know that 50% of marriages end, most often due to financial stressors.[6] If one cannot get a job, the institution of marriage is at a higher risk for failure, and families are severed because of lack of income. Child Support fines, fees and interest mount and compound. Without income, a father then must go to jail if he cannot pay his financial obligations. Eventually his driver’s license will be revoked, often a final blow to one’s ability to access the few jobs that are available to felons.

Finding a place to live is another serious challenge for formerly incarcerated individuals. After an individual’s time has been served, he is released back into society to reintegrate. A foundational part of reintegration is to find a place to live.  Landlords, however are legally allowed to discriminate on the basis of criminal record.  Even if a formerly incarcerated person finds a landlord who is willing to rent to him, the cost is often prohibitive. Most landlords have a “3 times rule”—an applicant must have three times the rent in income to qualify and be eligible to be a potential applicant. This is a high bar for formerly incarcerated people who often struggle to get even a minimum wage job. These barriers often result in homelessness, which can have a negative effect on mental and physical health, making it even more difficult to find a job and a place to live.   In other words, “the system” as it stands right now creates burdens on our community rather than alleviating them.

What can we do to change the system? I am not suggesting entitlement programs as a solution, I am suggesting equitable “in roads” and “on-ramps” or opportunities that allow one to get back on track and recover and develop from their past and present circumstance.

Here are three concrete possibilities:

  • Encourage private businesses to adopt “Fair Chance Hiring Policies.”  These policies do not require that employers ignore a job candidate’s past, but they do delay questions about criminal background until after the individual has had a chance to present his or her qualifications and make a case for being considered.  Many employers have found that formerly incarcerated individuals make excellent employees if given the chance.
  • Support bills like SB 1473which limits liability for landlords who rent to those with criminal records.  SB 1473 is currently awaiting review under the Senate State Affairs Committee.  Research show that crime, recidivism and homelessness decrease and production increases when housing options are increased for formerly incarcerated individuals.[7]
  • Landlords could also work together to allow the working poor (including the formerly incarcerated) fair access to affordable housing. Instead of the “three times rule,” they could institute a “two times rule” for individuals who have been vetted by agencies like Mission Waco and Salvation Army. Waco landlords, please entrust organizations like these to be the “middle man” or advocate that can stand with and behind the individuals who need such a break just as Jesus stands with us.

As an educated white male with a livable wage job, my own experiences cannot fully equip me to represent the experiences of marginalized populations. However, because of my vocation and more than a decade of working with the “disqualified”– those “locked up and locked out” of society — I feel “qualified” to advocate with and on behalf of those affected by systems of oppression.

What qualifies me even more than that is what Christ did by taking my place on the Cross, making me a kid of the King and giving me citizenship to the Kingdom of God. This makes me doubly responsible to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.  I cannot be silent. I must not be afraid to speak up and speak out.

Jerrod Clark 2Jerrod Clark is a Texas transplant. He came to Waco in 1996 to attend school and never left. He is a graduate of Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work and is the Social Worker at the Meyer Center for Urban Ministries. He has been working with the homeless since 1998. He and his wife, Carolina of seven years have two daughters, Nichole and Hannah Jean. They are active participants at Church Under the Bridge.

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.


[1] http://www.prisonstudies.org/news/more-102-million-prisoners-world-new-icps-report-shows

[2] http://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Americans-with-Criminal-Records-Poverty-and-Opportunity-Profile.pdf

[3] https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bjs/grants/244563.pdf

[4] http://www.texaspolicy.com/library/doclib/2007-11-PP28-licensing-ml.pdf

[5] http://publicpolicycenter.texascjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/TCJC-Fact-Sheet-SB-1473-Landlord-Protection.pdf

[6] http://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/

[7] http://publicpolicycenter.texascjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/TCJC-Fact-Sheet-SB-1473-Landlord-Protection.pdf

Entrepreneurs of Waco: Urban Produce

(Act Locally Waco loves Waco area entrepreneurs!  For more posts about local entrepreneurs, please click here: Entrepreneurs of Waco. – ABT)

By Kathy Carr

“It makes me laugh thinking how a guy who grew up in the suburbs of Dallas now owns a farm… but I love what I do.” – -Gib Reynolds

Salads have become the epitome of healthy eating these days. There’s nothing quite like digging into a big bowl of veggie-filled goodness. Toss in some grilled chicken and even the carnivorous can reap the health benefits of the bountiful greens.

But with recalls becoming more prevalent, there’s an understandable lack of trust in the safety of supermarket produce. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way for farmers to safely grow leafy greens without harmful pesticides and exposure to all of the unhealthy yucks that make people sick?

Gib ReynoldsGib Reynolds and his dad have done just that with Urban Produce. Together, this father-son duo have founded a large scale hydroponic lettuce farm where everything is controlled and grown indoors. The greens are grown “under glass” on floating rafts in nutrient rich ponds. This method provides a pesticide-free environment, and also eliminates the possibility of toxins and other environmental junk from making their way to the growing greens.

It’s quite an innovative idea. The funny part is that Gib grew up a city-boy in Richardson, Texas. He’s an Eagle Scout who flew model rockets competitively all around Eastern Europe. When Gib came to Baylor in 2008, he did study Entrepreneurship as an undergrad, but farming wasn’t his end goal.

Gib was interested in developing a portal that could connect investors and entrepreneurs, something similar to the Baylor Angel Network (BAN) where investors provide early-stage capital to entrepreneurs with business plans. Gib was highly involved in BAN as an undergrad and even became an analyst, so this seemed like a perfect fit.

After his Baylor undergraduate work, Gib continued his studies in the MBA program at Acton. He tossed around a couple of business ideas, but as he researched controlled environment agriculture and food production Gib realized there was a unique opportunity.  And the idea for Urban Produce became a reality.

Gib’s long-term goal with Urban Produce was to build a huge lettuce company. Go big or go home is an underlying motto for all entrepreneurs, but with ninety-eight percent of lettuce in the US coming from California building a dominating lettuce company is a daunting mission. But with his self-proclaimed stubborn nature, Gib dug in his heels for the long haul.

Before any produce could even be sold, it was imperative for Urban Produce to receive certification for GAP/GMP (Good Agriculture Practices and Good Manufacturing Practices). The certification provided a layer of accountability to help customers trust this new startup company.

One of the initial challenges Urban Produce  faced was finding those trusting customers and ensuring that distribution processes were in place to get the greens to customers in a timely fashion. Careful not to bite off too much too quickly, father and son built a loyal customer base one customer at a time. Confident in their product, the duo simply lets the lettuce do the talking. And the lettuce has been talking…a lot. So much so, that Urban Produce has expanded distribution beyond the confines of the Waco area. With regular deliveries to San Antonio and Houston, this lettuce is outright screaming.

Urban Produce trudges through the normal layers of regulations and inspections that come with being a food producer. Inspections and annual audits from the USDA help ensure proper growing and handling techniques. Gib feels that food safety is a paramount concern, so while the regulations may be at times be an annoyance, it’s all necessary in order to keep food safety on the front burner.

All-in-all, the proof is in the pudding… or maybe it’s better said, the proof is in the lettuce. No herbicides – no insecticides – no pesticides, but loads of tasty deliciousness. Gib’s hopes of putting Waco on the map as the “Lettuce Capital of Texas” may not be too far off.

Kathy CarrKathy Carr is a long-time Wacoan. She’s a Baylor grad who just couldn’t’ get enough of the university so she now works there too. She loves the beach, a bowl of good ice cream and Netflix binges.

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.


Let the teens in your life know: Healthy relationships matter, at every age

By Natalie Garcia

It would be hard to miss what’s been in the news lately.

Even when the Young Adult book series Twilight first came out, it was quickly criticized for its depiction of teen relationships as glamorizing abuse, control, and manipulation.

Sometimes when we consider domestic violence, we fail to think about how a relationship might have gotten there in the first place, so let’s go a little further back – before moving in together, before marriage, before all those “relationship milestones” that come to mind.

Do you remember what you thought dating was supposed to be like, when you first started dating? Maybe you were in your early teens, maybe a little younger, maybe older. It was pretty scary, right? So much excitement and yet so many butterflies, and either too little advice, or way too much unhelpful advice (“Just follow your heart? What does that even mean?”).

Navigating romantic relationships can be overwhelming and confusing, and for so many teens, we simply don’t prepare them for what they can expect in a healthy relationship, or for how they can notice red flags in unhealthy or abusive relationships.

1 in 3Here is the bottom line: 1 in 3 teens in the United States will be a victim of dating violence of some type – that includes physical, sexual, digital, emotional abuse, and even stalking. [1]

That is a rate far higher than any other type of youth violence in the U.S.

Can you imagine what might happen to the rate of domestic and dating violence in our communities if every teen knew what a healthy relationship looked like (long before they started dating!), and knew that they deserved to have one?

If that’s what we’re reaching for, what can you do to help the teens in your life be prepared to meet the challenges of dating head-on?

  • Be a role model for equality, respect, and positive communication in your relationships.
  • Increase your comfort level with openly discussing dating and dating violence. Easier said than done, right? But – it’s so worth it, because your comfort in sharing on such a difficult subject will make teens more comfortable too, and can decrease the stigma that comes with seeking advice on healthy dating.
  • Encourage critical thinking on dating myths and gender stereotypes. Remember: Abuse is NEVER normal, and it is NEVER the victim’s fault.
  • Listen! Be a safe place where teens know they can come to when they need to work through their struggles, and not be judged, lectured, or stigmatized.
  • If you or someone you know is looking for help regarding an abusive relationship, you can always contact the Family Abuse Center at 1-800-283-8401.

What’s the most important thing you can take away today? Your example matters. Show the youth in your life that they deserve a healthy, loving, respectful relationship.

Natalie GarciaNatalie Garcia is a recent Baylor social work graduate. She and her husband have been stationed at Fort Hood since 2014. She loves science fiction and stand-up comedy. She has rescued two cats in the last six months, and thoroughly expects even more cats to find her in the future.

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.


[1] LoveIsRespect.org. Dating abuse statistics. (http://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/)

Waco Walks Proud: The Rose Street Path of Pride, Vision, and Justice

by Mike Mallick 

In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner is told to “build it and they will come.”  On Rose Street, in the heart of East Waco, we have dreams big enough to fill a field:  Dreams of proud families.  Dreams of a proud history.  Dreams of heroes.  On Rose Street, dreams don’t come true; dreams are true.  The heroes on our street built the Rose Street Path of Pride, Vision, and Justice to celebrate the greatness of humanity, the greatness of a neighborhood, and the greatness of dreams.  “Build it for they have come.” 

The Rose Street Path is a labyrinth, a walking path where the shade cools, the birds sing, and the route twists and turns in ever intriguing and unexpected directions, like the path of life itself.   The greatness of humanity is that life is always complete, yet always advancing at the same time.  As you walk along the path, your life is already complete, already heroic, and already successful, and yet each step brings about even more success.  At the very center of the path is the place of completion, a place to relax on a shaded park bench and celebrate your life, a life of success, accomplishment, and gifts.  It’s the place where your heroes stand proud of you each and every step of the way.  Heroes you know, and heroes you don’t know.  The hero within each and every one of us.  God, the greatest hero of all. 

Pride is having the whole world in front of you and heroes behind you.  Being proud means that you lift people up without exception, no matter what, even when it hurts. On Rose Street, we don’t just talk about pride, we live it.  We’re proud of parents.  All of them.  We’re proud of neighbors.  All of them.  We’re proud of you.  All of you.  And we’re proud no matter what.  Being proud means knowing that there’s always someone standing behind you who’s proud of you.  Always.  Even when you don’t see it.  On Rose Street, we have the courage to turn around and see who’s behind us.  We have the courage to have heroes.  We have the courage to Stand Proud. 

Vision is the knowledge that the whole world in front of you is your gift to the heroes behind you.  Our heroes (and God, the greatest hero of all) can know everything about us except one thing:  They can’t know that they’re more important to us than the path before us, whatever that path may be, until we acknowledge them.  On Rose Street, we turn around and look our heroes in the eye.  We know that every glance behind us is a triumph over every sight in front of us.  Every single one.  There’s no such thing as an unsuccessful day.  There’s no such thing as an unsuccessful life.  Everything we do is a gift to God, to our heroes, and to the hero within us all.  Everything.  That’s what life is all about. 

Justice is the knowledge that life is always greater than where you are, and love is always greater than who you are.  Justice is standing behind all, bearing the burdens of all, in order to lift all.   In the same way that life is always complete, yet always advancing, injustice has already been overcome, yet is daily being overcome.  That’s simply what families do, and on Rose Street, we’re all family.  Our family is our neighborhood, our city, and our world.  Our family is you.  On Rose Street we have the courage to lift up everyone, the just and the unjust, even when it hurts, in order to fight injustice every step of the way.  We don’t talk the talk.  We walk the walk.  And we lift a whole city.  

Walk with us and stand with us at this place of heroes!  The Path is always open, and is located at 311 Rose Street, 3 blocks off  Elm Avenue, on the right side of the street.  Rose Street intersects Elm at Tony DeMaria’s BBQ, just past the East Waco Library.  Please visit our website at www.riversidepride.org to share your dreams and share your walk!  At the Rose Street Path, we stand proud.  We walk proud.  We make dreams come true. 

mike mallickMike Mallick is a Wacoan who stands behind everyone in the city, except in the realm of beards.  He works with individuals, companies, and charities to build impact, strategies, and dreams.

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.