Storey Cook

By Kathleen Seaman

Making a Strategic Local Impact

Storey Cook was the kid in elementary school who was glued to the TV during presidential debates. “I’m very motivated by what is going on and who is making changes. And are those changes helping people or hurting people? And how can I be on the side that helps people and brings the most amount of equity and justice to everybody?”

Cook was active in student government throughout her education, and she even majored in political science at Texas A&M University, but when it came to life after college, she took a different route. In 2010, Cook joined the Junior League of Waco. She’s held many placements over the years, including Deck the Halls co-chair and vice president of community, and she currently serves as the league’s executive vice president. But after a decade of service, Cook is looking forward to the next chapter.

She’s currently in graduate school at B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and completing a practicum to become a licensed professional counselor. Then just last year, Cook finally had the chance to return to her early passion and interest, local government. In August 2020, she was sworn in as a city of Woodway councilmember. She ran unopposed and filled the incomplete term left vacant by former councilmember Keven Kehlenbach. That term ended in February, so after refiling and running unopposed again, she’ll will be sworn in again this month.

Cook recently spoke with the Wacoan about her love for both A&M and the Baylor Bears, her service with the Junior League of Waco and its community impact, and then coming changes she hopes will modernize Woodway and better reflect its community.

WACOAN: What inspired you to become a city councilmember?

Cook: That’s actually a lifelong goal of mine. I’ve always been in student government, and I was a political science major in college. I was an intern at the Texas State Capitol. I actually also got to do some lobbying on behalf of Texas A&M University my senior year about tuition and the Top 10% rule. [Editor’s note: The Top 10% Rule, which is a common name for Texas House Bill 588 that guarantees Texas students who graduate in the top 10% of their high school class automatic admission to all state-funded universities]. After I graduated, I really didn’t have another opportunity to be involved like that. City council always felt like a very natural step for me.

I’m actually the executive vice president right now with the Junior League of Waco. So the timing of stepping on to city council in the middle of that, while also doing grad school and a practicum to be [a licensed professional counselor] was not the very best timing. But as my friend, [former Woodway city councilmember Kehlenbach], was moving away, it just seemed like something I couldn’t pass up and will hopefully be something that is my next big focus. So, I’m very much still in a season of learning within the city council.

I love being a part of seeing things that need to be done and helping bring them to life and helping make them happen, so I want to be able to do that in the city of Woodway. And I hope I’ve been able to do that in the Junior League of Waco and my decade serving with them.

WACOAN: What initially created your interest in student and local government?

Cook: My government teacher in high school, Dodie Kasper, was a huge influence in my life. She was also one of my student congress advisers, and the other was Marci Roe. They influenced me in an incredible way to be involved, and they pointed out leadership qualities in me. I learned so much from my student congress experience.

I’ve always been very engaged by the national scene, but especially now that everything is so polarized, I haven’t wanted to be as involved in that. The thing I absolutely love about city government is that it is bipartisan. It is just truly trying to make a community that is great for everybody who lives there and making sure needs are met. My city manager, [Dr. Shawn Oubre], always says that a pothole doesn’t care who fills it, if it was Democrat or Republican. The thing that needs to be done is to address the pothole.

WACOAN: Why didn’t you initially continue your involvement in local government after college?

Cook: I moved to Waco, and the state senator at the time [in this district] was Kip Averitt. His office said, ‘We can allow you to be an unpaid intern.’ As a college graduate, that was just not something that was going to work for me. At the time, my parents were very much like, ‘And you are cut off,’ which is completely reasonable. I actually became a nanny and started to work on my master’s in education, so I could become a social studies or government teacher.

I got to the point where I got all through my studies, I passed all of my certification tests, and then I started calling around and applying to schools within 30 miles of Waco. Every time, the question was, ‘And what would you like to coach?’ My answer was always, I really don’t think you want me to coach anything, unless it’s dance-related or cheerleading. And those don’t tend to count when it comes to coaching in this world. I actually could not find a job in education, so I didn’t finish my master’s. The only thing I had left was student teaching.

I also got pregnant during that time, and I was like, OK, we’ll just go a different route. I was married, and I started painting. I had a friend who had a booth in Spice Village, and she asked me to paint some things for her to put in her shop. It turned into this neat little niche market of people. I would make birthday banners for people. I would make people bring me swatches of their furniture, whatever their fabric was for their child’s nursery, and I would create something custom that would match. I did that for a while, but it was not fulfilling for me because I was doing so much by myself while I was painting, and I missed the interactions with people.

That’s when I joined the Junior League as an outlet, just to be able to be with people, be a part of an organization I felt like was creating change. Over time, that organization has evolved incredibly to a place that I’m very proud of. At first it was like, get me out of the house. Now it’s like, oh wow, we are a big player on the stage of making sure all [Waco area] children have the opportunity to have a pre-K education to give them the best chance of success in school and in life.

WACOAN: While in the league, have you gravitated toward in-league placements, community placements or a combination of the two?

Cook: The first half of my league career was very much Deck the Halls focused. I ended up co-chairing Deck the Halls in 2015. Then I moved to the community realm, and that is what made my heart skip a beat, what made me feel the most alive and engaged.

My favorite placement was being the vice president of community. Then I moved to the membership side of things and helped try to change the way our placement world works. Placement advisers are now called member advocates, and our organization made a very big shift to try to become a lot more member-centric. So I got to be part of that. I was the first to have the title ‘member advocate chair.’

I stepped in this year as the executive vice president, which is a fairly new role for the league. The president used to be over all of the internal workings and strategic workings of the league. Now the president is very strategically focused, and the executive vice president is able to oversee all of the council VPs. We have a management team that I lead, where we make sure all of the programs we have in place are running smoothly. This allows for the board to be able to think strategically and bigger picture and focus on our external commitments and partnerships in the greater Waco area, which has been incredibly helpful to building great partnerships with the United Way, Prosper Waco, Baylor University’s External Affairs office and so many others. We all want the same thing.

In particular, the Junior League of Waco’s new vision statement is that all women and children in McLennan County are equipped to thrive and fulfill their full potential. That is what really motivates me. That’s what has motivated me to stay engaged with the Junior League even as my world has evolved and I’ve moved into other things. I’m excited about being part of city council and looking forward to really focusing on that, but I haven’t let go of Junior League yet because I really believe in what we’re doing right now. It’s been neat to be involved in such a big way. Even while I’m in grad school.

I’ve always been more motivated by the extracurricular in my life. In high school that was the way [it was]. In college, I did MSC Hospitality at Texas A&M, where anytime dignitaries, any politician, anybody who came to campus, we would host them. I was very motivated by being part of that and then serving on legislative relations my senior year. I was always involved in the student body campaigns. During college, my grade point average reflected how involved I was, but I had such a wonderful experience.

WACOAN: Since you joined the league in 2010, you mentioned how it’s evolved and how it’s become a bigger player in Waco. What is something in particular you’re proud to have been a part of?

Cook: I’m very proud to be a part of essentially an overhaul of how we view our community impact. In the first few years that I was in the league we voted to have our collective community impact focused on early childhood. As that evolved, we brought in [an early childhood education] consultant, [Cathy Doggett, Ed.M] from Austin.

We wanted to make a deeper and bigger impact. We didn’t want to be as broad. We also didn’t want to create programs to fit things we felt were needs. We wanted to meet actual needs. She came in and saw, OK, here is a big gap in Waco that needs to be addressed. And that is childhood education, which is not just in Waco we’re discovering. That is a nationwide issue, [the lack of access to] quality child care and access to high-quality pre-K and early childhood education.

We created all new programs. Most of them partner very closely with Waco ISD, and we’ve been able to have [superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon’s] blessing of saying, OK, you’re not just trying to create programs for the sake of programs. You’re trying to meet real needs in the community. It’s been incredible to be a part of that evolution.

We did a strategic planning weekend a couple of years ago, in 2018, and I got to be a part of that. Every step of the way, getting to learn more about the impact quality early childhood education access can have for a child’s future has really motivated me to stay involved and motivated me to keep going even though it’s been a very long decade. I could not be prouder of how our organization has evolved, because the organization I stepped into in 2010, if it had stayed where it was, I don’t know that I would have been willing to give the level of commitment that I am now.

WACOAN: After a decade of service, members typically look at sustaining. Have you decided when you’ll become a sustaining member?

Cook: As we say over and over until we’re blue in the face, ‘We’re a training organization.’ And I feel very trained by the organization and all that I’ve been able to be a part of. Next year, I will actually sit on the management team as the sustainer adviser.

I am going sustaining, but I’m going to be the adviser, which is the perfect thing. I can bring a historical context to things, I can encourage, but then I can also just sit back and watch the new leadership blossom.

The woman who’s following me [as executive vice president], Lindsey Helton, is also the principal of Alta Vista Elementary. She has incredible ideas. She is a remarkable woman, and I cannot wait to sit at the table where she is leading and get to witness it and, you know, throw my two cents in when I need to.

WACOAN: What are some of the things you hope to accomplish in your tenure as a city of Woodway councilmember?

Cook: What excites me about the city of Woodway is being able to bring some more amenities for families. I grew up in Plano, Texas, but one of my very best friends grew up in Woodway. I would come and spend a week or so in the summer. We came for every Baylor homecoming and stayed at her house. She lived right behind Poage Park, so I grew up coming to Poage Park and the Woodway Family Center.

One thing I’ve noticed, since I have lived in Woodway since 2006, is that not much has changed. I really want to be a part of helping Woodway reflect a newer time. There are several other newer councilmembers who share that same excitement for what Woodway can be. Keven Kehlenbach, whose place I stepped into when he moved, he shared that and knew I would as well and that is part of why he recruited me. (I also think maybe it was because I’m a fellow Aggie in Waco.)

There’s so much potential for our parks, and already, we just voted to move forward with the plans for a newly created Woodway Family Center that will be behind the location where it currently is. As my fellow councilmember David Mercer said, ‘It’s the same building I was playing in when I was 6 years old.’ There has not been a lot done, so this will have another basketball court, it will give us more space to be able to host more games at the same time, and it will be up to date and reflect our community a little bit better.

I’m excited about the potential and just being able to add more amenities for families. We’re doing a lot of updates to the [Carleen Bright Arboretum], and hopefully, people have noticed. I think they have because I continually hear about people seeing our new logos and our new seal splashed all over town. And Lenny Caballero, the assistant city manager, has done an incredible job of updating everything to reflect a more modern time. My favorite conversations in this role have been with him because I think he is someone who can really bring a lot of dreams to life and make them a reality.

WACOAN: What brought you to the Waco area?

Cook: I ended up here because the person I was dating at the time, who I ended up marrying, Graham was in grad school at [George W. Truett Theological Seminary]. He’s actually an engineer, but he was in seminary at the time, and we knew we wanted to be together. Instead of getting settled somewhere else, we decided to take the jump.

But it felt so natural for me to come to Waco because I had grown up coming here so much. My family, they’re all Baylor graduates. My sister was at Baylor while I was at Texas A&M, and she was a cheerleader. I came to watch her cheer a bunch of weekends, so it felt very natural to be here.

In general, I think the reason we stayed is because my husband went to high school in Brownwood, Texas, and I grew up in Plano, Texas, and this is a wonderful middle size between those two. We love that it’s a great place to raise a family. We love the diversity. It felt like home.

When we started looking for houses, we were very drawn to Woodway. We’ve lived in the same neighborhood since 2006, even though we moved houses once within it. We love the trees. We love the hills. We love the beauty of this area and the small-town feel. Just being able to go anywhere and know someone, the community aspect is so strong here.

WACOAN: Can you tell me about your kids?

Cook: I have two kiddos. My daughter, Cambell, is about to turn 13. She is at Midway Middle School. My son, Grayer, is 10, and he is wrapping up fourth grade at Woodway Elementary and is going to head on to River Valley Intermediate School. My son plays soccer in the HOT league. My daughter is in junior company at Joy’s School of Dance.

They are sweet kiddos. They are just compassionate kids, and I’ve loved getting to involve them in everything that I’ve done in the community. They get excited about getting to serve, so I’m very thankful for how civic-minded they are at their young ages, particularly my daughter.

She comes with me to meetings. Whenever I was VP of community in the Junior League, she was with me at every event. This year, she dressed up as an elf to welcome people to our Gingerbread Bash event. She is also very justice-minded, and she cares deeply about the Earth. She makes sure we always have a care bag in our car if we see someone who needs it, someone who’s asking for something when you pull up to a stoplight. She has a heart for people in a way that challenges and inspires me.

WACOAN: In addition to the Junior League and the city council, you’ve also mentioned you’re working on your master’s in counseling. What made you decide to become a licensed professional counselor?

Cook: I had a short stint in ministry for a while after I had stopped painting. During that time, I started a recovery ministry. While I was serving in that role, I really wanted to be able to serve people in a very holistic way. I was very drawn to becoming a therapist to be able to help from a clinical perspective. I want people to find wholeness in their lives.

I also grew abundantly in my own experience going to therapy, and so it’s important to me to be able to provide that and promote awareness of the importance of mental health. I am very passionate about mental health being available to everyone and a very equitable experience. I look forward to being able to see clients and offering services.

I’m currently [completing a practicum] at Premier Neurofeedback & Counseling Services, which is owned and operated by Dr. Kristy Donaldson, who I met in the Junior League. She is wonderful, and she has already offered me the opportunity to become a clinician with her after I graduate. It feels wonderful to know where I’m going to be.

My adult life has been anything but a linear path, but I’m so thankful for every yes that I’ve given. It has always led to something unexpected and ultimately led me to my career path of becoming a counselor. Nothing has been wasted. I’m really thankful for my journey.

Storey’s 5 Must-Have Items:

1. Erin Condren planner and colored Paper Mate Flair felt-tip pens. That is how I know where to be when and where to take my children when.
2. City of Woodway tumbler. I never leave the house without my city of Woodway tumbler. It either has water or coffee in it.
3. H-E-B Cafe Ole Taste of San Antonio coffee blend. That is what every morning starts out with.
4. A lint roller. I always have a lint roller. We have two Brittany Spaniels, and I have white hair all over me at all times. It couldn’t be more obvious. You can’t really hide it.
5. Mayari Birkenstock sandals. No matter how comfortable the shoes that I’m wearing out are, the second I get home, my Birkenstocks are on my feet. I live in them. My dog chewed one of them up one time, and I literally bought them again immediately because I couldn’t live without them.

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