2017 Greatest Hits #1: A letter to my DACAmented friends in Waco

(During December we will be reprising some of  “2017’s greatest hits” from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: 2017 Greatest Hits.  Merry Christmas! — ABT) 

By Eloisa Haynes

What a hard week this has been for you and everyone who loves you. I am grieved at the uncertainty that you and your family face now that President Trump has decided to terminate the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. We all knew that DACA was the equivalent of receiving a band-aid for a shotgun wound—but we rejoiced over the band-aid. It opened the opportunity for you and many others to obtain a driver’s license and enter the workforce. It allowed you to come out of the shadows and not be afraid for the first time. It opened the door to achieve the American dream. It gave us all hope.

As a formerly undocumented immigrant, who remains in this country by the sheer will and grace of God, I know what it is to live in fear and isolation. I feel compelled to acknowledge and validate your pain. Those who know little about the brokenness of our immigration system will likely downplay the severity of your situation in hopes to cheer you up. Those of us who have been entangled in the immigration system know better and are keenly aware that you and your loved ones are in a perilous situation.

It is right and proper to cry, to feel despair, to experience anger and hopelessness – but only briefly. You and I do not have the privilege to curl into a ball and hide, or to roll over and die. Our parents sacrificed everything that makes life worth living to give us a chance for a better life. We cannot fail them. Being undocumented puts individuals like us in a vulnerable position. We carry around the stigma of illegality. We isolate ourselves and at times keep our neighbors at arm’s length in order to protect ourselves. To conceal our immigration situation, we allow the media and politicians to drive the narrative about who we are. But we cannot afford to live that way any longer.

Let me remind you that DACA did not come about because President Obama was a kind-hearted, compassionate politician. No – it happened because brave young men and women like you shared their stories and demonstrated that our hearts beat for America. Others who have come before you stuck out their necks and risked everything. If there is any compassion for Dreamers in the current political climate, it is because Dreamers like you have fought the good fight for the right to belong in this great nation.

Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us that “there is a time to be silent and a time to speak.” I believe this is the time to speak. What do you have to lose? You have been stripped of everything – except for the love you have for Waco and the United States. This is the time to reach out to your neighbors, co-workers, teachers, professors and friends. Come out and tell them your story. Let your story shed light. Let your story stand as a contrast to the narrative our neighbors and friends hear from the media day in and day out. Let your pastor and your coach meet a Dreamer – come out and claim your place in our great community. They already love you and care about you. If their political views say otherwise, it is only because you and I have failed to bring our humanity into this political conversation. We are not pawns. We are productive members of our community – we are nurses, students, business owners, parents, church leaders… It is time to speak.

If you are a Dreamer and would like a community of friends in these difficult times, reach out to the Waco Immigrants Alliance. In this political climate where it feels like the rain keeps coming and it is up to our necks, our goal is to ensure no immigrant in our community treads the water alone. But we will not just tread beside you – we will sing. We will raise our voices together, to sing the songs that tell our collective story for all the world to hear. Our story is our battle cry. It is our greatest weapon of peaceful revolution. Jesus Christ taught the greatest lessons in parables, revealing the power that a story holds in our heart. So together, we will sing and share and cry and rejoice, until all our lives no longer exist “in the shadows,” and our national policies respect the God-given dignity and worth of all immigrant lives. And with each victory, big or small, we will give thanks with una danza alegre. (Ps. 30:11-12).

Eloisa Haynes is a wife and mother of U.S. citizens, yet she is still entangled in the broken immigration system. To her, Waco is a special community – the place where she first met Jesus, started a family and found friends who have supported and encouraged her. She is proud to call Waco her home and believes that everything she has accomplished, the Lord has done for her (Isaiah 26:12). She works in higher education and volunteers as a community organizer.

Of dreams, food trucks, and a class that changed a life

By Madiha Kark

It’s still a few hours before Veronica Trejo-Evans, 43, will open her food truck at a busy strip mall on West Waco Drive. Nestled between car repair workshops and a beauty parlor, Dos Mundos Spud Shack is a labor of love. As a first-generation American, Veronica prides herself on the work ethic and sense of responsibility her Mexican parents instilled in her.  The classes she took at McLennan Community College helped to make her food truck dream a reality.

Veronica had never been in the food business up until five months ago.  She and her husband, Cyrus Evans, had fantasized about opening a food truck someday. It was one of those fantasies that would happen when life slowed down a little. Life did slow down for Veronica and Cyrus in an unexpected way, when she lost her 20-month-old son. His death left a void, forcing the Evanses to ask, “What next?”

The idea for the food truck came when the couple was on a trip to Mexico and saw a line form. Upon investigating, they found the culprit to be a guy selling a bag of Doritos with nacho cheese and jalapenos. “My husband was like, ‘Wow!’ And for me, it was so normal to see,” said Veronica. Food trucks have been in the U.S. since 1872, but have become especially popular in the last few years.  Many restaurateurs who are hesitant to take on a new restaurant have turned to mobile canteens as a less expensive way to sell food and reach customers. For Veronica, the low cost was definitely a pull and something she was familiar with — food trucks and street food carts pepper the Mexican landscape. “I didn’t want another taco stand or another burger joint. I wanted to do something different.”


Behind closed shutters, Cyrus and a helper have been prepping the spuds and other ingredients for the lunch crowd since 8 a.m.  Veronica takes a short break from the prep work to reflect on what she learned in her class at MCC, “Even though you have plans and thoughts, you still have to do your work and do your research,” says Veronica remembering the challenge of being in a classroom of students 20 years younger. A Texas Workforce program paid for her tuition, books, and supplies. The program is designed for professionals who, like Veronica, were once working but had to stop for some reason and needed some new skills.

Of her time at MCC, Veronica says she wouldn’t have had the food truck if it wasn’t for what she learned in her classes. “I sat in the front every day – they (her teachers) were gonna know me, and I was gonna know them. They’ll take the time; they’ll meet with you. That was very valuable.” Veronica says if you follow the blueprint the advisors give you, they won’t let you down. “MCC was phenomenal especially coming in at an older age,” she says. It gave her a chance to mentor and connect with her classmates in a different way and discover a new world.

Dos Mundos has been in business for a few months but has already made a name for itself among the local Wacoans. Their Facebook page has over 1500 followers and a five-star review. But Veronica still holds on to the paper from her marketing class with Margaret Sanders that says, “I believe you have something here.” Veronica remembers her first day in that class.  When she found out what they would be covering, she was ecstatic! She knew then this was the missing puzzle piece for the food truck dream. “This is what I needed to make it happen,” she said.

The Evanses didn’t do any traditional advertising but utilized social media channels to spread the word. Veronica strongly believes that “every business leads through the heart of the owners.” The couple loves to cook, but “a business is very different from a nice dinner at home.” They had to find suppliers and develop their production process, learning along the way.  All of the recipes they’ve developed have come from their own kitchen. The bestseller at Dos Mundos is called the Big Papi (an homage to Veronica’s Mexican heritage) — a spud topped with a rib, a link, and chopped BBQ.

On a slightly cool March day in 2017, as the sun shone above the sky, some 20 family members gathered outside the Dos Mundos truck to support Veronica. They were her first customers. Her parents came from El Paso, as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Veronica had practiced on her cash register, but still everything was a rush. When the couple closed the doors that day, they were overwhelmed with joy and tears, she says. Remembering the day like a fond memory, “The support from the family let us know we got this,” Veronica tears up again, but still smiles with joy at a dream come true.

Veronica Trejo-Evans took classes at MCC through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  WIA is one of many Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) programs that helps employees get in to the workforce.  To be accepted into the WIA, Veronica passed an eligibility and aptitude test and a face to face interview.  Once accepted she began an Associates in Accounting program at MCC. For a list of eligibility requirements visit http://www.twc.state.tx.us/partners/workforce-investment-act#wiaEligibility

For a list of programs available see the TWC website: http://www.twc.state.tx.us/programs.  If you have questions about these programs or would like more information visit their website http://www.twc.state.tx.us.

Madiha Kark is a Marketing, Communications and Photography Specialist at McLennan Community College. She holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of North Texas. She loves to travel, cook, and read nonfiction books.


Changing the Game by Levelling Up

By Liz Ligawa

Waco has been my home for a while now, but I am still learning how much there is to this beloved city.  For instance, did you know that there are an estimated 700 non-profit organizations in Waco?  I know- that’s a lot, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  With the existence of so many non-profits, I don’t question that Waco is a community that cares.  It shows me that there are many people and organizations working to make the lives of Wacoans better.  However, I am curious about a few things.  And as a result of my curiosities, I approached my work toward improving the lives Wacoans differently, and would like to share a few lessons I have learned along the way from the “What’s Up, Waco?” community visioning series.

Lesson 1: Ask powerful questions.

I have just reached my one year anniversary with Prosper Waco, and as the collective work of community change has continued, I have often been asked about the community’s priorities around this work.  What I quickly learned is that many of us in the non-profit world were interested in an answer to a question that we were not really asking.  So this year, the Prosper Waco Community Engagement Council and I focused on bringing forward community priorities through a three-series long conversation: “What’s Up, Waco?”

If you were to walk in on one of these events, you might mistake the DJ’s tunes, the green leis, and the hopeful atmosphere to be someone’s family reunion you stumbled upon.   That would be a fair assumption, but don’t overlook what is really going on– the hard work of casting a vision and building a team around that vision.

The question that started the conversation was, “What are the results you want to see?” It may not seem like a powerful question, but it is not a question we frequently ask. Whether we are working with individuals, groups, or communities, I’ve learned that it is always appropriate to ask.  The charts below map out where each community has decided to focus their work:

Lesson 2: Pity doesn’t help us listen- Empathy does.

In the field of non-profit work, and other helping professions, we find ourselves in a bit of a quandary sometimes.  We are drawn to this work because of the change we want to see in the world, but often our desire to see change in the lives of people and communities paints a certain picture in our minds about people.  We tend to see people through what data says about them, or their community.  We receive messages about people as we look solely at the schools in their communities.  We subscribe to narratives about people without even having to think about it.  Messages are constant.  Messages contribute to our understanding of people.  Messages can be completely wrong.  Try Googling the word “pregnant” and look at the images that come up.  Now, put the word “poverty” in front of the word “pregnant” and hit search.  Look at the images.  Do you notice a difference?

I work with people in communities who bear heavy burdens of the stories that precede them before they even have a chance of showing up.  Stories that are heavily influenced by an outsider’s perspective.  Stories which play a role in every interaction.  What learning has been affirmed for me in this series is that if I want to work with people, it is my responsibility to continually work at checking my biases and my pity (of whatever nature) at the door.  To commit to the hard work of listening to truth, I must listen with empathy and not pity.  When we engage people with pity, we run the risk of not affirming the agency of that person to contribute toward their own solutions for change.  When we lead with empathy, we open ourselves up to learn.

Lesson 3: People are amazing- We need to level up!

When I decided that my own answers to other people’s problems would not create the change I hope to see in our community, I was afforded the opportunity to learn a lot more about the historical narratives and processes of change each community has been through.  As they reflected on the history of their community, and started putting together strategies toward their vision, I learned how powerful truth is in the work of restoring our communities, and how important it is for that truth to be heard.  In fact, 98% of more than 100 participants that have participated in the visioning so far responded “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” to the survey items: “I feel like my voice was heard”, and “This information was helpful to me, and/or my organization”.  So, this last lesson is about my part, our part, in coming together.  I leveled up by becoming proximate to the beautiful people and communities I hoped to see change in.  I leveled up by listening to the truths they shared.  And I leveled up by choosing to see what great things already exist, and what greater things we can create together.

Will you continue to level up with me?  Our last series, “What’s Best?” will focus on putting the finishing touches on the vision, and finalizing the team that will carry this work forward.  These communities are putting in good work, and change is on the way because of it.  But it started by asking the right questions first.

What’s Best Series Event Information:

  • Saturday, Sept. 9, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., at Doris Miller YMCA
  • Saturday, Sept. 16, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., University High School Café
  • Saturday, Sept. 23, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., TBD (we will send you information soon with the location!)

For more information about What’s Up, Waco?, you can send me an email at liz@prosperwaco.org.

Elizabeth Ligawa is a recent graduate from Truett Theological Seminary, and the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, earning both her Master of Divinity, and Master of Social Work.  Though her prized role is being a mother to her dear son, Elijah, Liz has a love for encouraging people to come together in ways that engender healthy communities.  Her role as the Director of Community Engagement at Prosper Waco allows her the room to work in and among the many faces of her beloved Waco community. She may be reached at liz@prosperwaco.org.

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.


Signs of Hope

by Donald Felice

Laura Stevenson of Waco, TX, communicates “love” in sign language.



Hope is an amazing thing. It can take a person by the hand and lead them out of the depths of despair. It can raise up a community out of unthinkable disaster. And it can bless us with immeasurable spiritual riches in the midst of desperate times.

When Hurricane Harvey hit the tiny coastal town of Port Lavaca, Texas, many people found themselves dazed and confused. In the aftermath of the storm, their little community was left for a time with no power, tainted water, and scarce, if any, word as to how bad the situation was in their little corner of Texas. Uncertainty prevailed.

But imagine facing the storm when you cannot hear or communicate with anyone to express your fear or how much you need help. There is no aloneness like silence in a raging storm. No more feeling of hopelessness than not being able to make yourself understood in a life-threatening situation.

“What do you want?” The Salvation Army canteen volunteers asked. “How many meals?” Trying a little louder they asked the woman energetically motioning to them, “Are you OK?”

With increased worry and frantic expressions, the woman signed to the volunteers that she was deaf, but to no avail. The volunteers did not understand what she was communicating to them in sign language – I AM DEAF.

Peering through the canteen window, new soldier and recent Baylor University graduate, Laura Stevenson, saw the commotion just below her. She quickly stepped out of the canteen and approached the deaf woman signing “It’s OK, I’ve been signing for five years! What do you want?”

Worry and tension faded into joy and laughter as the woman signed back to Laura, “I did not know you would have people who signed – this is amazing!”

The following signing conversations were filled with more joy and laughter as the woman signs to Laura of her desperate situation. “My house is completely destroyed. If you did not have food, I would not have been able to eat today,” she signed. As Laura signs back to her that The Salvation Army will be here for as long as the community needs and that she can come as many times as she wants, her hope was restored.

According to Laura, signing is a very conceptual language and much of it is beyond words. Laura says she never got the deaf woman’s name. Maybe names are not that important when hope and joy transcend uncertainty and despair.

Laura and her husband Tyler, a Salvation Army Mission Specialist at the Waco, Texas corps, plan to become Salvation Army officers and look forward to entering Evangeline Booth College next year. “We love helping people and being a part of what The Salvation Army stands for,” says Laura, “because we are known for being the hands and feet of Christ.”

Yes, it is a very bright and hopeful sign that the mission of The Salvation Army, to share the Gospel and help others in their time of need, will steadfastly march on with people like the Stevenson’s joining the ranks.


How you can give help and hope

The best way to give help and hope after a disaster is to make a financial donation. Monetary contributions also support local economies and ensure that businesses can operate when relief supplies diminish.

Online: helpsalvationarmy.org

Donate by Phone: 1-800-SAL-ARMY

Mail Checks to:

The Salvation Army PO Box 1959 Atlanta, GA 30301

Please designate “Hurricane Harvey” on all checks.

Text to Give: STORM to 51555

This post was forwarded to Act Locally Waco by the Salvation Army.