Being Their Rock

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Children’s program director does more than just help students after school

Story by Emily Edwards | Photos by Katie Christofferson

Mission Waco has a significant impact on the local community, and especially on children. McKenzie Miller, the heart and organizer behind the children and youth programs, plays a big part in this.

A part of the Baylor University class of 2008, Miller left with a degree in sociology and passion for the people of Waco. She initially got involved with Mission Waco through the class, Poverty of Waco, taught by Mission Waco co-founder and president Jimmy Dorrell. 

Through the class, she began volunteering with the youth program. Realizing she would stay in Waco the summer prior to senior year, Miller secured an internship with Mission Waco. Miller noted that her internship was the point her volunteering and time at Mission Waco became more.

McKenzie Miller hangs and laughs with students that are part of the after-school program The Rock. 

“That’s how I really got involved with Mission Waco,” Miller said. “Knowing the staff here and knowing the full scope of Mission Waco.”

Typically, volunteers only see a few areas of Mission Waco. There are 26 sectors of Mission Waco, ranging from World Cup Café to Jubilee Food Market to the Rock After School Program. 

Miller directs the children and youth programs, which include the Rock After School Program, King’s Club and summer camps. She has led the children’s program since she came on full time in 2008 and acquired the position of directing the youth in January 2019. 

Miller helps students with homework before preparing for activities at the Mission Waco after-school program. 

There are a variety of classes offered to choose from, ensuring the kids get to participate in activities that are of interest to them. Art, Bible study, theater, robotics and nature club are a few of the options. Specific classes are offered each day of the week, keeping the kids on a schedule.

“We try to pick classes that will fit our kids and that they enjoy doing,” Miller said, “Overall we really want them to enjoy being there.” 

An average day for Miller begins around 9 a.m. when she comes in to the Mission Waco office. She usually starts the day by checking and answering emails. 

There is plenty of communication and coordination that occurs behind the scenes. Miller works with organizing volunteers and volunteer groups, and responding to emails from staff and outside organizations. She is present at the program and stops in the youth program with the older kids every once in a while. 

Miller plays outside and pushes a child on the swings outside The Rock building. 

Kamrie Rhodes, a Mission Waco work-study student, touches on what it is like to work with Miller.

“McKenzie is such a great person to work under. She is straightforward, hardworking and easy to be around,” Rhodes said. “Everyone at the Rock adores and respects her so much, and it is so evident.”

The structure and content of the programs must be planned ahead of time so all resources needed are ready to go. 

What is happening in the after-school programs must be known ahead of time so volunteers, supplies and all resources are available. 

Miller said she plans ahead by looking at the week in front of her and buying all supplies needed for that specific week. When day-to-day set-up is done ahead of time, it leaves room for forward planning for summer and other events coming up. 

Miller emphasized the importance of forward planning. She explained how it leads to program improvement by “always taking time out to figure out how we can do things better, how we can structure better, have better systems, be better organized and managing the staff we have to make sure they feel supported.” 

Along with other staff members, she picks the children up from school and brings them to the center. During the program, children do their homework, have a snack, participate in the planned class and play outside. The children are served dinner and then Miller assists the children getting home through a bus route. Once the children are home, Miller finishes her day by checking and answering emails once again. 

Miller prepares food for members of The Rock from their grant program, Kids Cafe, that provides food and snacks for low-income children. 

Programs continue through the summer and include day camps, field trips and even an out-of-state trip for the youth. 

“We want to give them memories and experiences,” Miller said. 

They have traveled to Washington, D.C., San Diego and San Antonio. Miller said taking the kids on trips is full of fun and one of her favorite parts of her job, as kids gain knowledge only learned through experiences. 

“The best way for them to learn about the world is to go and see it,” Miller said. 

Miller shared with a smile that the best part of her job is the relationships that have formed. Going on her 11th year as children’s director, Miller has known the families for many years. At this point, she is seeing siblings, nephews and cousins of kids from her first few years coming through the program now. 

“It’s just so neat that I have had the opportunity to know their families for 10, 11 years,” Miller said. “I think that is definitely my favorite part.”

Two students model for the camera outside The Rock playground one afternoon.

Children program assistant, Mo Guillory grew up in Waco and returned to her hometown when accepting the position at Mission Waco. 

“I felt God was calling me back to Waco to serve and do ministry in my hometown,” Guillory said. “Upon searching for jobs, I came across the opening for children’s program and I applied, was interviewed and the rest is history.” 

Guillory says Miller creates an environment where each person can use their gifts and are encouraged in their strengths, as well as pushed to grow in areas of weakness. 

“The McKenzie that I report to as my supervisor each week is the same McKenzie whom I am proud to call my friend, and do life alongside,” Guillory said. 

Relationships are an important part of Mission Waco and reflect the love and care of the employees and volunteers. Guillory especially notices Miller’s heart that she pours into her relationship with the kids. 

Outside of The Rock building, located at 1525 West Avenue in Waco.

“McKenzie genuinely loves and cares for these children and families and is always seeking their highest good, through her decisions and actions,” Guillory said.  

The work of Mission Waco impacts the community but the people involved have an impact on the employees and volunteers as well. 

With a smile, Miller shared that the families she has met through the programs have impacted her life. 

“They have become real family to us, and we have become family to them,” Miller said. 

A Day in the Life of McKenzie Miller

9:30 a.m. McKenzie Miller gets to the office Monday-Thursday and works on emails and meetings

2 p.m. Starts preparing for program that day

3:15 p.m. Miller and the staff pick up the children from school and bring them to the center

3:30 p.m. Arrives at the children’s center

The children eat a snack, work on homework or play outside

4 p.m. Dismisses the children to their class they chose for the day

5 p.m. Dinner time

Children are fed through a grant out of Austin (Kids Cafe)

5:30 p.m. Program ends, children go home on a bus

6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Returns to the youth center to help clean up, checks email one last time