Committed to a brighter future for children, neighbors and communities.

We consider a healthy neighborhood to be one that is safe, clean, and diverse; one in which it makes economic sense for people to invest and one where neighbors manage change successfully.

We consider a healthy neighborhood to be one that is safe, clean, and diverse; one in which it makes economic sense for people to invest and one where neighbors manage change successfully.

Better Together: Lessons Learned from my Communities Past and Present

Community-Grassroots-Waco

By: Elise Jones

“Relationships, relationships, relationships. These are what are important.”

I can still hear the words of my summer camp director echoing in my head as they continue to ring true. They were true during summer camp when developing warm and welcoming relationships with campers could make the difference between them feeling accepted and part of the camp family. This continued to be true in my social work program in which the importance of establishing rapport with clients was regularly stressed. And, it is still just as important in my work as a community organizer at Grassroots where establishing trusting relationships with community members makes the difference between working with or even working for communities rather than working on them.

As a community organizer, the work I do is relational. I begin by developing relationships with community members connected to schools, neighborhood associations, churches and local businesses. I get to meet community members and listen to their passions and their interests, learning about their vision for their community, school or neighborhood. I then work alongside them to turn their vision into a reality. For my work as a community organizer, relationships matter.

For this reason, when I began thinking about what brought me to my role at Grassroots and to who I am today, all I could think about were the relationships that have shaped me along the way. So, I am going to bring you greetings from these people whose relationship with me have impacted the way I work as a community organizer.

First, I bring you greetings from my mom, Elaine, who taught me about the gift of listening to others. My mom is a walker. While training for the Avon 39 (a two-day event where participants walk a marathon the first day and a half-marathon the second day, totaling 39 miles) and then actually walking the 39 miles together, I learned that my mom’s practice of walking and listening went hand in hand. While she was walking alongside me, she was asking questions and intently listening to me. My mom made me feel heard. She continues to teach me the power of someone walking beside you and the value of being heard.

I next bring you greetings from my dad, Mike, who taught me the importance of being passionate. If you spend any time with my dad, you quickly will learn that he has a passion for Kansas University and more specifically for Kansas Jayhawk basketball. Growing up some of my favorite times were getting to travel with my dad to Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas to watch the men’s basketball team play. We would cheer along with thousands of other fans until we were both hoarse. Although some might think having a deep passion for a sports team is silly, my dad showed me the beauty of being passionate and inspired me to search for work that I could find meaning in.

 

I bring you greetings from my babysitter, Nina, who first introduced me to learning from other cultures while my family lived in Norway when I was a small child. Nina was my dagmamma, which literally translates to “day mother” in English. I would spend my days with Nina’s daughters who primarily spoke Norwegian. Although I was young while Nina cared for me, she exposed me to food, language, and a daily rhythm that was different from my own. My family’s relationship with Nina allowed me to fearlessly engage with another culture as a 4-year-old in a way that my adult self could learn a lot from today.

Next, I bring you greetings from Allene, a family friend, who taught me about the gift of hospitality. Growing up, Allene seemed to regularly have kids from the neighborhood or a foster dog or a litter of freshly born kittens that she was caring for at her house. No matter who you were (whether human or animal), Allene welcomed you into her house and made sure that you had something to eat. Allene was the first to teach me how food can bring people together and how you yourself can be a welcoming presence to both friends and strangers you meet.

I bring you greeting from my former co-worker, MiLisa, who taught me about unconditional support. Every Friday I worked at camp, the female camp staff would gather together for coffee, breakfast, and good conversations at the local coffee shop. This was valued time together as our week slowed down for an hour. Although each new year brought steady turnover to who was working at camp, MiLisa was the constant. She was always there, every Friday morning, reserving a table for us. MiLisa taught me more than anything that support is about being consistent. It is about being the person that others can count on to show up.

Lastly, I bring you greetings from the staff and interns of World Hunger Relief who taught me about collaboration. I am by no means a farmer so the time I spent getting to know the day-to-day workings of the farm during my social work internship were outside of my comfort zone. As I spent time out in the fields picking okra and transplanting, I realized the power of working alongside others. World Hunger Relief taught me how working together on something, in this case digging through the dirt and pulling weeds, breaks down barriers and fosters deep conversation. I learned that it is through doing together that stronger partnerships and relationships are formed.

Listening to others, passion, learning from other cultures, hospitality, unconditional support, and collaboration: these are just some of the many lessons I have learned from the individuals who make up my past communities. These lessons shaped and molded me into who I am today and prepared me for my role as a Community Organizer at Grassroots.

However, never did I imagine that the individuals in South Waco, my present community, would continue to teach me these very same lessons. Re-shaping and re-molding my understanding of what listening to others, exercising passion, learning from other cultures, practicing hospitality, giving unconditional support, and working towards collaboration looks like.

Listening to others now brings to mind Pastor Greg, who is a long-time South Waco pastor who has lived in the community for several decades. Over the years, he has served as a PTA president and on the board of his neighborhood association. He could easily consider himself a neighborhood expert, but instead, he regularly approaches other residents with humility, ready to listen and learn from them. Pastor Greg is showing me how listening and learning from others is a lifelong process and that we always have something to gain from hearing another person’s story.

Passion now looks like city council member Hector, who has a deep desire to serve his South Waco community. Passion looks like Hector responding to community concerns about rising property values with action by hosting a property tax workshop for his community prior to actually beginning his city council term. Hector is illustrating the energy that passion can bring and how it can be a spark that ignites a community. He is also teaching me the careful balancing act that must come along with passion as he intentionally makes spaces for those things that are meaningful in his life, including his family, his work, and his community.

 

Learning from other cultures now looks like a bilingual principal who creates safe spaces for parents who are both Spanish and English speaking to connect with their child’s school. Just like my dagmamma Nina, Principal Lozano cultivates spaces for cultural exchange to happen. Parents who speak different languages are able to learn from one another and to all provide feedback to the school. Principal Lozano is showing me the way in which shared experiences and shared language breaks down barriers so that learning from other cultures can even occur.

Photo Credit Waco ISD

Hospitality now makes me think of Amber, a longtime South Waco resident making her neighborhood a more welcoming place to call home. She coordinated a celebration for the re-opening of a beloved neighborhood park gathering donations for drinks, food, and even a mechanical bull that over 350 community members came out to enjoy. And, she has not stopped there. She is already planning a welcoming gift of homemade tamales for a new fire station that is moving into the neighborhood. Amber is showing me how hospitality does not have to be contained to a singular home or location but can be part of the DNA and culture of an entire neighborhood.

Photo Credit AALDA Photography

Unconditional support now looks like Cindy, a parent from a South Waco elementary school who has committed to working with teachers this summer to strengthen family engagement at her child’s school. She has said yes to sharing her time with the school over this next summer and school year. She has said yes to boldly voicing her ideas and concerns as a parent. And, she has said yes to showing up. Cindy is teaching me that unconditional support for your child can go beyond solely impacting your own flesh and blood. Her support is a commitment to work towards making her child’s school a more welcoming place for all children and families.

Collaboration now makes me think of my fellow community organizers, Cuevas and Josh, who work alongside communities in East and North Waco. Collaboration now looks like Cuevas joining parents at JH Hines as they persevered through establishing a PTA on campus. Despite challenges, parents were motivated to continue working together because of the shared importance they felt for having this organization on campus. Collaboration also looks like Josh meeting regularly with business owners along 25th as they develop a shared vision of what safety, success, and preservation of their Latino culture could look like for their business corridor.

The work of my colleagues and those within the North, South, and East Waco communities is constantly showing me we truly are better together. There is a saying at Grassroots that is regularly repeated, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” This is our role as community organizers. We build bridges, establish connections, and foster relationships. So, communities can move forward TOGETHER addressing concerns that THEY have defined with solutions that THEY have developed.

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Grassroots Community Development
Grassroots Community Development4 days ago
Come and Learn about Telehealth
Get ready for an evening of fun and learning! We are calling all Brook Avenue Elementary families to join us on Tuesday, April 23rd, to learn how to access telehealth on your campus from Waco Family Medicine doctors and school nurses. This incredible program can be beneficial and cost-efficient for your family! We will meet at the Brook Avenue cafeteria from 5-6:30 pm and enjoy exciting activities, learn about telehealth, and savor a delicious meal provided by Pastor Fu & Son BBQ -Relief Kitchen, You do not want to miss out on the delicious brisket burgers they will provide; there is enough for your whole family.

We will also raffle two main event gift cards for two lucky students who attend with their families. Don't miss your chance to win!

For more information and to register, please get in touch with Sarai at sarai@grassrootswaco.org or Mrs. Michael at holly.michael@wacoisd.org.

Ven y Aprende de Salud via Telecomunicación
¡Prepárate para una noche de diversión y aprendizaje! Invitamos a todas las familias de Brook Avenue Elementary para que se unan a nosotros el martes 23 de abril para aprender cómo acceder a la Salud via Telecomunicación en su campus de los médicos de Waco Family Medicine y enfermeras escolares. ¡Este increíble programa puede ser beneficioso y economico para su familia! Nos reuniremos en la cafetería de Brook Avenue de 5 a 6:30 pm y disfrutaremos de actividades emocionantes, aprenderemos sobre la telesalud y saborearemos una deliciosa comida proporcionada por Pastor Fu & Son BBQ - Relief Kitchen! No querrás perderte las deliciosas hamburguesas de brisket que te proporcionarán; hay suficiente para toda la familia.

También sortearemos dos tarjetas de Main Event para dos afortunados estudiantes que asistan con sus familias. ¡No pierdas la oportunidad de ganar!

Para obtener más información y registrarse, póngase en contacto con Sarai en sarai@grassrootswaco.org o con la Sra. Michael en holly.michael@wacoisd.org.
Grassroots Community Development
Grassroots Community Development4 days ago
Join us for this workshop in English and Spanish to learn how to protest your property taxes. Bring your tax appraisal letter. The first workshop is tonight!

We hope to see you there!

You can get the details for these workshops in our Facebook Events!
Grassroots Community Development
Grassroots Community Development4 days ago
We're only 2 weeks away! We are excited to celebrate our community with you!

Visit our website to grab your tickets!
Grassroots Community Development
Grassroots Community Development6 days ago
“My friend, My friend” are the words you’ll most likely hear when you enter Rene’s Restaurant, located at 1912 Speight Ave.

This year, owners Maria C. Hernandez and Emanuel Hernandez celebrated the 24th year of Rene’s operation as a family-owned business. Maria reflected with us about the experiences that led them to open their business: “I’m originally from Mexico. I would have never thought that I’d have a business in the United States. In Mexico, I had studied and graduated from university and worked in HR. But I had a dream to learn English and decided I wanted to learn English in the U.S. So, I had permission to be here 6 months and enrolled in school in Waco. I really liked Waco because it was calm. I felt peace here.”

“More than anything, it was God putting angels in my path – in our paths. God has also opened doors for us that we didn’t know at the time we would be walking into. I worked for a year and a half at Lolita’s, where I first met my husband. My husband has always had a talent in the kitchen and is a good leader. Because I like to have relationships with people and build community, it made sense for us to open a restaurant. However, it took us several steps to get there.”

“Before Rene’s, I worked at El Charro Café for 8 years. That was where I encountered an angel. The owner of El Charro Café helped me work on my documents and began my journey to becoming a resident. That’s what I love about South Waco – people feel like family; when someone grieves, we all grieve; when someone celebrates, we are all in celebration.”

“After those 8 years, we really were excited to start our own business and use our God-given talents. That’s where we met another angel - Mr. Neuman. He owned the entire strip; his business, where we currently operate, and the bus terminal next door. But we asked if we could rent out the space, and he let us know that if we could fix it up, he wanted us to have it."

"And then there came another angel at Community Bank and Trust – Gary. We weren’t sure if we could get a loan, but he walked us through the entire process and was there for any questions we had. Mr. Neuman sold us the lot and was always a great neighbor. To this day, we have good relationships with the people around us. And there’s so much more; COVID, the construction and widening of 1-35, and so many other experiences – but we’ve seen God’s hand in everything.”

“We want Rene’s to be a place of peace where people can come, build relationships with each other, get great service, and great food. We have regulars and new people, with many coming through our doors. We’re grateful to them. And we love to show that gratitude through support for the community, whether that be helping schools or churches, donating plates, sweet bread, coupons, and more when we can. If there’s a need, we will try to help.”

Rene’s is open Monday through Saturday from 6am-3pm. With friendly faces, great service, and delicious food, Rene’s is the place to be!
Grassroots Community Development
Grassroots Community Development1 week ago
We will be hosting our workshops again this year. Check out our website or our Facebook Events for more information!

https://grassrootswaco.org/blog/upcoming-property-tax-workshops-2024/
Grassroots Community Development
Grassroots Community Development2 weeks ago
Let’s Celebrate!
Thank you to everyone who came to our 3rd PACTT meeting at Brook Avenue Elementary. We appreciate the 5 families who made it out to learn about how to care for Mental Health.
We want to give a big thanks to Vince Erickson at the Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network who gave an awesome and informative presentation on how to care for your mental health and what resources the HOTBHN offers.
We are also grateful for Columbus Avenue Baptist Church staff and members who provided a delicious baked potato dinner!
All Brook Avenue families are invited to the next PACTT meeting on April 23 from 5-6:30 pm to learn about Telehealth and eat a delicious meal from Pastor Fu & Son BBQ -Relief Kitchen!

For more information please reach out to Saraí at sarai@grassrootswaco.org or Mrs. Holly Michaels at holly.michael@wacoisd.org.