Giving Back

By Richelle Braswell

Meet volunteers serving eight local nonprofits

Pictured: Photographs by Marlo Collins

The Wacoan asked eight local nonprofits to nominate their top volunteers serving our community. From a couple delivering food for Meals & Wheels to a father and son working in Salvation Army’s Community Kitchen, the volunteers are as unique as the nonprofits they serve. As you read their stories, consider where you could lend a helping hand.

Theresa Jackson

YMCA of Central Texas

Theresa Jackson and her son got involved in the YMCA 18 years ago. Now Jackson volunteers there once or twice a week, coaching youth basketball, T-ball or coach pitch baseball. Jackson enjoys seeing children learn something new and accomplishing their goals. The Y provides the opportunity for children to play and develop their skills, something Jackson believes every child needs. She says the Y has inspired her. “When I retire from my real job [with the State of Texas], I would like to open my own youth facility,” Jackson said.

Chelsey Rodriguez

Friends for Life

Chelsey Rodriguez, a freshman at McLennan Community College, volunteers every other day at Friends for Life, an adult day care center that helps seniors and people with disabilities. Rodriguez enjoys playing games, making arts and crafts, exercising and visiting with clients who have disabilities. She also looks forward to taking field trips to the movie theater, the Mayborn Museum or, most recently, the bowling alley. With dreams of becoming a neonatal nurse, Rodriguez believes working with people who have disabilities will help prepare her for her future career.

Katie Gompper

Fuzzy Friends Rescue

Katie Gompper, a sophomore at McLennan Community College, first found Fuzzy Friends when her family rescued a dog from the shelter. That’s when she realized she wanted to see the animals every day and help them find perfect homes, just as her dog did. Gompper said she loves working at Fuzzy Friends because “it is a no-kill shelter. I like supporting that. I love animals, love being around them and taking pictures of them. They are naturally sweet, kind animals.” Gompper enjoys helping customers become acquainted with the animals, matching customers with the right pet and seeing furry friends adopted into loving homes.

Bill and Lianna Smyers

Meals & Wheels

Bill and Lianna Smyers fell in love with volunteering at Meals & Wheels. When the Smyers began volunteering, they thought they would bless the clients. But the clients blessed them as well. “You get back more than you ever put in,” Bill said. Lianna agreed, “It’s more like friends stopping by who happen to bring food as well. We care about them, and they care about us.” Bill added that volunteers are taught to call people by their first names “because it might be the only time they will hear their first name all day.”

Sarina and Simone Chavez

Mayborn Museum Complex

Sarina and Simone Chavez, like many Waco kids, were introduced to the Mayborn Museum Complex through school field trips. When their older sister volunteered at the Mayborn, Simone and Sarina saw how much fun it could be. They have now volunteered for the past two summers. This summer the Chavez sisters worked in the Imaginate exhibit. Sarina said, “We help kids understand what they are doing and how to do it.” They also enjoy making new friends with other teen volunteers. “Volunteering here has helped me be more outgoing,” Simone said. The Chavez sisters plan to volunteer at the Mayborn again next summer.

Armstrong Family

World Cup Café

For the Armstrongs, volunteering is a family affair. Jessica serves on the board for Mission Waco, and she’s recruited help from her kids, Alana, 16, and Luke, 12. They each started volunteering at Mission Waco’s Christmas and school supply stores when they were 3 years old. Then they transitioned to serving at World Cup Café with their mom, who has volunteered there for 10 years. Alana said the most rewarding part of volunteering is “being able to see it make a difference in the lives of the people that you’re helping.” The Armstrongs believe volunteering as a family helps raise a new generation of godly people.

Brad and Bryce Strickland

Salvation Army Community Kitchen

When Brad Strickland rededicated his life to Christ 10 years ago, he wanted to help the community beyond his church’s walls. He and his son Bryce, a sophomore at Lorena High School, volunteer in the Salvation Army’s Community Kitchen every Wednesday. The kitchen provides a hot meal to anyone in need. Brad said the Salvation Army “has made a concentrated effort the last several years to help out veterans that are out on the street.” Volunteering allows Brad to set an example for his family and share quality time with his son. Bryce said the most rewarding part about volunteering is “making a relationship.”

Jada Stanton

Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children

Jada Stanton interned for the Advocacy Center before volunteering with its 24/7 crisis hotline. She believes her night job as a police dispatcher with the Hewitt Police Department trained her in helping victims cope with trauma. After taking the call, Stanton meets victims at the hospital and stays with them during the physical examination. Apart from volunteering twice a month, Stanton also works full time, attends school full time and raises three kids. She said staying busy is “not uncommon for people in law enforcement. Helping people is what you do. It becomes who you are.”