A dear friend of mine moved to Waco, Texas, three years ago. I really did not know much about Waco except for a vague recollection that there had been an odd cult there, a factory explosion and perhaps some UFOs. (Wait, maybe that was in New Mexico.)
My interest in Texas increased in February when my son moved to Dallas to begin a new career. While looking for ways to learn more about Texas, I came across the HDTV show Fixer Upper. In the show, Chip and Joanna Gains help people choose a house, and then they help them fix it up into a lovely, welcoming home. In addition to home design, they have opened a community gathering spot in downtown Waco that includes a store, bakery and gourmet food trucks. They have created a historic Bed and Breakfast and have a restaurant opening soon.
I visited Waco last month, and the “Can Do” mentality of the people there surprised me. I live in California where the prevalent culture is that everyone is entitled to more and more from the government, schools and community. But here, I witnessed individuals counting on themselves to make the difference.
Walking along the river that runs through town one sunny morning, I discovered that it used to be a place filled with crime and drug deals, but through a concerted effort of the community to clean up the area, along with the partnership of the local law enforcement, the river trail is now full of walking mothers, biking teens and jogging athletes enjoying the shady paths. As we took our walk, we came across a Waco police officer – on horseback! He greeted us with his slow, Texas drawl, spoke with us a moment and then plodded along to make sure all was well and safe.
I visited Antioch Church while in Waco and discovered that members of the church go out into the schools each week to read with the students. This has caused a significant improvement in testing scores in the Waco schools while providing the students with friendship and mentorship too.
We went to breakfast in the worst part of town one morning and ate at Lula Jane’s. The bakery is owned and operated by Nancy Grayson, whom I had the delightful opportunity to meet. She excitedly told us that she was building small, ecologically sound homes in the depressed neighborhood surrounding the bakery and selling them for what they cost her so that she can take the money and build more, providing improved housing in the neighborhood which encourages others to fix up the area too. While she is not busy cooking, baking and building homes, she works with the students Rapoport Academy Charter School which she founded.
My friend told me that a longtime Waco resident she knows has observed the positive influence of a community coming together to transform Texas into a better place, and she said, “I can finally say I am proud to be from Waco.”
My son wants us to move to Texas. With two daughters and many friends still in California, I am not sure I am ready to consider that possibility yet. However, it was exciting to visit a community that believes that the Waco citizens have the power and resources to transform their own community for the better.