Without a doubt, the cultivation of the Waco community is a team effort. And a huge part of that effort is carried out by the countless nonprofit organizations in our town. Each has a varying mission, but at the root is the hope of bettering our community and its citizens, and at the heart are the people that create, lead and support these organizations. From educating residents about homeownership to providing cultural experiences that enrich our lives, these seven individuals each passionately serve a local nonprofit that helps make Waco a great place to live and work.
Volunteer, The Cove
The Cove is a haven for homeless and unaccompanied teens to gather and have access to needed resources. It’s open during the school year Monday through Friday from 4-8 p.m., and thanks to licensed professionals and many volunteers, the center is able to provide homework help and mentoring, showers, hair cutting services, laundry facilities, counseling, healthy dinners and more.
Bonnie Carpenter and the women in her book club are some of those volunteers. Back in 2016 when The Cove first opened, fellow book club member, Judi Neville heard about the need for meal providers.
“Our work with The Cove has been a collaborative effort,” Carpenter said. “Judi saw a niche there that she wanted to fulfill, which was providing nutritious, homemade dinners on a regular basis to the teens who came to The Cove. She felt like that was something she would love to do. She is our driving force. She enlisted our book club to help.”
The book club is comprised of almost 30 women, who are divided into four teams. Each team provides dinner for about 20 kids on its designated Tuesday of the month.
“The kids can count on Mexican food on Tuesday night, and we’ve been told that they like it,” Carpenter said. “We’ve all raised children. We’re all empty nesters, mothers or grandmothers, and we love cooking for kids and have done quite a bit of it over our lives. It’s fun. One night might be King Ranch Casserole and another might be a taco bar.”
Each team has a team captain that’s responsible for the menu and grocery shopping, and each captain is a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where the women cook the meals every week. They deliver the meals to The Cove hot and ready to serve.
“As volunteers, we have received so much more out of this opportunity than what we give. It’s a small gift of time and ingredients,” Carpenter said. “Our hope is that by consistently showing up with these teen-friendly dinners, these young people will know that many adults care about them, and we want them to utilize the many resources at The Cove and have a brighter future because of it.”
Executive director & founding partner, Greater Waco Legal Services
In a McLennan County criminal case, if you can’t afford a private attorney, court-appointed counsel will be assigned to defend your case. On the civil side, Waco residents can enlist the help of the local legal aid organization, Lone Star Legal Aid. However, there’s a catch, and it’s known as the “justice gap.”
“You have to be very low income to qualify,” said Kent McKeever, founder of Greater Waco Legal Services. “There is a big gap between those who get a court-appointed attorney and those who can afford a private attorney, and we’re really trying to target that gap.”
Greater Waco Legal Services was founded in 2017 to provide the community with access to the justice system through affordable legal representation, advice and resources. The nonprofit’s three full-time attorneys provide counsel for immigration law, family law, criminal defense, housing, wills and probates, and more. GWLS also hosts a free legal advice clinic the first Monday of each month. If GWLS represents your case, fees are on a sliding scale, based on the client’s income and ability to pay.
Before becoming a lawyer, McKeever worked full-time as an ordained minister. It was his work in impoverished and underserved communities that led him to law school.
“I kept seeing the need for legal advocacy on many different levels,” he said. “When I started thinking about going back to school, those experiences where I felt helpless in addressing some of those very prominent needs in the communities, the doors sort of opened up to law school and it started making sense on many different levels.”
A woman from a neighborhood where he worked in East Texas once told him, “Pastor Kent, you’re getting another tool in your belt to help us,” and that idea really stuck with him.
“This is a tool in my belt that I can use to minister and care for the community that I live in and work in,” he said. “I absolutely love what I’m able to do here in Waco. It’s such a blessing to me, and I really approach the legal services as a ministry,” McKeever said.
Co-Chair, Beall-Russell Lectures in the Humanities
Baylor University’s Beall-Russell Lectures in the Humanities series was established in 1982 thanks to a financial gift from Virginia B. Ball. Previous guests include writer David McCullough, poet Maya Angelou, journalist Bill Moyers and author Alexander McCall Smith. This fall’s lecturer will be award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.
“The Edmond F. & Virginia B. Ball Foundation has been very generous in its funding, and we’ve been able to think about high profile speakers,” said Kimberly Kellison, one of the lecture series’ co-chairs. “Ken Burns has such name recognition, and he’s worked so much in the area of film on so many rich topics in the humanities that he just seemed like a natural fit.”
Getting these renowned speakers to come to Waco is orchestrated by the Beall-Russell Lectures’ committee and its co-chairs, Kellison and Dr. Alden Smith. Kellison is an associate professor and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Smith is a professor of classics and associate dean of the Honors College.
“We come together and brainstorm speakers that we think would be a good fit for Baylor,” Kellison said. “We want speakers that are nationally and internationally known for their art or scholarship in the humanities.”
Each lecturer is invited to speak about their discipline or chosen topic, but the committee requests that the topic tie into the vital importance of the humanities in our society.
“Humanities are the academic disciplines that study the human tradition and experience,” Kellison said. “It teaches us to understand more about ourselves as individuals and as a society — how we interact with others, how we understand our past, how we fit into a global context, how we empathize with others.”
This year’s Beall-Russell Lecture featuring Ken Burns will be Monday, October 1 at 3:30 p.m. in Waco Hall. The event is free to the public, but tickets are required. Tickets will be available through the Bill Daniel Student Center ticket office starting August 1.
Program coordinator, The Art Center of Waco
Claire Sexton came to Waco three years ago via Brooklyn, New York. She previously did communications for a nonprofit art gallery in New York City. After volunteering with Waco Cultural Arts Fest, she joined The Art Center of Waco as its program coordinator in May 2017.
Since 1972, The Art Center has worked to cultivate the visual arts in Central Texas through education programs and exhibitions. It hosts exhibitions that are free to the public, and it offers classes and summer camps for children ages 5-17. In her role, Sexton handles most of the marketing and publicity, and she also coordinates the classes and camps.
“We’re a very small staff, so I do a little bit of everything. There are no silos here. We do what needs to be done,” she said.
For more than 40 years, The Art Center made its home in the historic William Cameron summer house on the McLennan Community College campus. The center is now in the process of moving to a brand-new location at 701 South Eighth Street. While construction is completed, it’s in a temporary location downtown next to the Waco Hippodrome. The new venue will offer a lot of opportunity for growth in regard to classes and exhibitions.
“A big change will be accessibility,” Sexton said. “The old Art Center you didn’t stumble across. You had to be intentionally going there. Now we’re downtown.”
Another recent addition is The Art Center’s mobile art gallery, Art Expedition, a racecar trailer that’s been retrofitted to be a white box gallery. The mobile gallery is taken to various public events and local schools “as kind of a ‘bring the field trip to the students’ rather than having them come to the center,” Sexton said.
Coming from the big city to Waco can always be a bit of a cultural shock, but to come from such a vibrant arts community like the one found in New York City, one might expect it to be even more so. However, Sexton has only positive things to say about Waco’s budding arts culture.
“It’s such a smaller community than I was accustomed to, and it’s nice to come across the same faces and know their energy and feelings about the arts,” she said. “I came at a time when [the arts community] was really opening up. It’s a community of people trying to lift up the arts in general, so we can all benefit from the rising tide.”
Community organizer (North Waco), Grassroots Community Development
Formerly Waco Community Development, Grassroots Community Development began in 2001 with the goal of enriching Waco’s neighborhoods, specifically through homeownership. GCD began renovating homes in North Waco and built its first home in 2002. Recognizing a few of the barriers that keep some families from becoming homeowners, GCD started offering financial literacy and homebuyer education classes. Since then, GCD has expanded into East Waco, built more than 60 homes and had more than 2,000 people complete its housing classes — of those, about 300 families have gone on to purchase a home in Waco.
As a community organizer for the North Waco area, Josh Caballero works to “build relationships with people in the community. [He] listens to their story, hears their vision for their community and comes alongside them to turn that vision into reality.”
Originally from a small town in the Texas Panhandle, Caballero came to Waco 13 years ago. He has a lot of experience in the nonprofit sector, specifically with drug and alcohol prevention in schools. He first came to Grassroots Community Development as a volunteer and also served on its board of directors.
“I grew a passion for the work that was done at the grassroots level — getting neighbors involved in different efforts, really seeking to find community solutions to community problems,” he said.
When the opportunity for a full-time staff position became available, Caballero jumped at the chance.
“It matches my passion as a community member and as a resident of North Waco, but also with the way I view my Christian faith and how those two align,” he said.
In addition to homeownership and counseling, GCD also focuses on community and school engagement.
“We start our work with four institutions: schools, churches, local businesses and with neighborhood associates. They’re the life blood of a community,” Caballero said.
In schools, GCD’s work revolves around its leadership development program, which encourages parent engagement on campus and helps the parents view themselves as leaders. This past school year, Brook Avenue Elementary School established an outdoor classroom and garden thanks to the vision of a parent who went through the leadership development program.
“We already have the resources and the people to make Waco great,” Caballero said. “And this gives me an opportunity to really tap into that.”
Co-founder, Waco GoodFellas
Just two guys and 200 bucks. That’s how Waco GoodFellas got its start.
Around Christmastime back in 1994, Randy Crook was sitting around with his friend, the late Dwayne Densman, and the two men got to talking about children in need.
“We both put in $100 apiece and just went to the store and bought toys,” Crook said.
After that, the men drove around passing out candy canes, footballs and even a bicycle to neighborhood children.
Now, more than 20 years later, Waco GoodFellas has more than 50 members, and it provides gifts and Christmas cheer to 250-400 children every holiday season.
“We do anything from giving them toys to put under the Christmas tree to giving them the actual Christmas tree. A lot of people don’t even have a tree,” Crook said. “Our main goal is just to help people out and make sure kids get a chance to have Christmas.”
Through partnerships with local churches and schools, as well as the community nominations submitted through its website, the organization selects the children and families it gives back to each year. It also hosts a Christmas party for the children, and on the Sunday before Christmas, Santa Claus loads up a Waco Transit bus with lots of toys and drives all through the town handing out gifts with the GoodFellas.
“We just drive through neighborhoods and start throwing candy canes out the bus with Santy Claus,” Crook said.
The Waco GoodFellas also spread holiday cheer during the summer each year at its annual fundraiser, Christmas in July. This year’s event will take place July 28 at the Waco Convention Center.
The Problem Solver
Clinic manager, Animal Birth Control Clinic
Sarah Moran has always loved animals.
“I was one of those kids that would bring home all the animals, and my mom would tell me to go put them back.”
When she was just 9, she used a laundry basket, a stick and tuna fish to successfully catch three feral kittens.
“I was going to tame those kittens and keep them,” Moran said. “My mom ended up making me release them, but it was a battle.”
At 18, Moran started working for a veterinary clinic in Houston as a receptionist. She later worked her way up to be a technician and then a manager. Now Moran works as a clinic manager for Animal Birth Control Clinic, a clinic that’s dedicated to providing quality, low-cost veterinary services to the Greater Waco community.
The clinic’s affordable services are available to all McLennan County residents and include spay-neuter, vaccinations, microchipping, and heartworm and flea prevention. Based on need, some residents can further qualify for free surgeries or services.
ABC has three clinic managers, each with a different focus. In her role, one thing that Moran is responsible for is human resources.
“I work very closely with all the technicians — hiring them, getting them trained,” Moran said. “I’m big on hiring anyone with a good attitude. I can teach you how to draw blood and hold an animal if you have the right, positive attitude and want to help folks.”
Moran is also responsible for making sure things run smoothly and efficiently at the clinic, including trying to lower the wait times for patients and their owners. She’s often focused on problem-solving issues and thinking of ways the clinic can adapt and change. One of her current initiatives is to have ABC certified as a Fear Free practice.
“What that means is we utilize techniques that keep dogs and cats from being scared to death while they’re here,” Moran said. “I always want to know that whoever’s pets are here, they’re as comfortable as I’d want my own pets to be because they’re like my babies.”