Story by Morgan Harlan | Photo by Maryse Bombito | Video by Tahila Sowa-Gutierrez
Waco has many different opportunities to become immersed in the community. From being up to date on Waco event, to playing with children and joining together in worship, Waco is a crown jewel of hosting volunteer opportunities. Take a break from the Silos, and take to the streets to donate your time and get involved in Waco.
Painted white brick, black-rimmed windows and food trucks seem to cover Instagram feeds when the location reads Waco, Texas. While the Magnolia Market is now the staple of go-to Waco destinations, there are multiple ways to become immersed in the Waco community besides the Gaineses’ famous “Fixer Upper” powerhouse.
Wacoans have started taking initiatives toward improving the socioeconomic gap in Waco and getting members of the community involved through implementing programs. Act Locally Waco is an organization dedicated to encouraging the community to get involved in different events.
Act Locally Waco started in 2008 as a round-robin email among Waco churches and representatives from other organizations that had a common goal of reducing hunger in the community. Ashley Bean Thornton, a volunteer who ran the email list and updated the website, currently heads the operations of Act Locally Waco.
Thornton founded Act Locally Waco because she was frustrated that there wasn’t a single go-to source for information about events in the community. Every Friday, Act Locally Waco sends out a newsletter, “The Whole Enchilada,” that gives details of events going on in Waco.
“The best way to receive information is through the newsletter,” Thornton said.
There are over 2,700 subscribers that receive the newsletter. Act Locally Waco also posts jobs on its website, along with a blog including submissions from different members of the community.
Thornton has been a part of the Waco community for 20 years and has worked with Act Locally Waco for 10. Throughout her time working in Waco, she has noticed that the conversation about Waco has evolved.
“People are more confident that we can address our challenges and move forward in a positive way,” Thornton said.
Her favorite part about Act Locally Waco is the people she has been able to meet and gotten to work with.
“Neighbors, to the mayor and everyone in between have been amazing,” she said.
Prosper Waco is an organization that is designed to help improve the education, health and financial security of Waco residents. Prosper Waco collaborates with the existing nonprofits and community efforts to improve the lives of the people in the greater Waco area.
According to the findings of Prosper Waco’s final assessment report and American Community Survey, almost 30 percent of Waco residents lived in poverty in 2013. Waco is also socioeconomically separated. The urban core of Waco has a higher poverty-level concentration, while the outskirts of Waco contains a high level of middle-class families.
Some of Prosper Waco’s partners include Baylor University, Baylor Scott & White and Waco ISD — the full list can be found on their website. Volunteers can sign up to be a youth mentor, join a neighborhood team or participate in a working group (an action-based team of community members who collaborate and connect to find solutions for the community.)
Looking for ideas on how to get involved in the Prosper Waco initiative? Check out the “Get Involved” tab on their website.
Vertical Ministries, a non-denominational college ministry that was founded in 2009, holds services on Monday nights at Baylor University. Vertical has the goal of helping college students grow in their faith despite the demanding workloads and stress that takes place during their college career.
Vertical has 130 volunteers and has approximately 600 students attend in the fall semester and 400 students in the spring semester.
Caroline Yablon, a sophomore from Dallas, is a student volunteer with Vertical Ministries. Yablon transferred to Baylor from McLennan Community College, where she became involved with Vertical during her freshman year. Yablon serves on the street and hospitality team.
“My favorite thing about Vertical is the friendships that have formed and the opportunity that Vertical gives to students to grow in their faith,” said Yablon.
Vertical brings together college students from different areas and socioeconomic backgrounds to worship together.
Kings Club is a volunteer opportunity sponsored by Mission Waco. Kings Club is an after-school Bible club that is hosted at various low-income apartments around Waco. Kings Club is currently held in Kate Ross, Ashton Oaks, the Villages, Robinson Gardens and South Terrace. Volunteers play soccer, read, share about the Bible and play games.
Taylor Ernst is a Baylor junior from Huntsville who volunteers at Kings Club every Thursday.
“I think Kings Club gives the kids some stability in their lives. Plus, it is a positive influence in lives that tend to lack role models,” said Ernst.
Ernst became involved with Kings Club two years ago during the spring semester of his freshman year after being referred to the program by a friend. Ernst’s favorite activity is playing tag and writing in chalk with the kids.
“Honestly just knowing that I’m making a difference in the children’s life and being able to just play with kids for two hours is fantastic,” Ernst said.