Taekwondo Club: Steppin’ out to make a difference

Students work in the yard of Winona Nawara during Steppin’ Out Saturday. Nawara is a legally blind, home-bound widow.
Meagan Downing | Lariat Photographer

By Grace Gaddy

Winona Nawara, 84, sits outside in a white lawn chair facing the street. She doesn’t like the cold, so she keeps snug in a pair of cherry-red pants, a warm cream sweatshirt and an even warmer smile.

Today, not even the chilly temperatures can make her go back inside. She is there to show her appreciation — and to periodically shout, “Get some snacks!” to her newest friends in the yard.

She motions to a table on her left, covered with baskets of cookies, crackers and chips. The goodies are meant for the hands cleaning up, stuffing trash bags and carrying branches across her yard.

Those hands belonged to a group of students who participated Saturday in Baylor’s universitywide day of service, Steppin’ Out. The event marked a Baylor calendar highlight, as it does each semester, in which students “stepped out” for a day to serve their community.

Cars driving down Waco streets Saturday witnessed teams of busy college students painting houses, planting gardens and spreading mulch, among various other acts of service — like clearing the yard for Nawara.

A legally blind, home-bound widow since 2000, Nawara has had little ability to keep up her yard. Scattered rubble and weeds wove densely between tangles of strewn tree limbs — an “atrocious” sight according to Lynn Hoffman, a friend from church.

Hoffman observed her elderly friend’s needs each week, when she would give her a ride to church. One day, Hoffman had the idea to “call Baylor” after hearing about the service that Steppin’ Out provides. And she is so glad she did.

A few weeks after her call, someone called back to say that “they were coming out.” To this, Hoffman described her excitement with hands up and a triumphant “WAAHHHH!”

But not even a yell could measure the gratitude of a student perched smiling in her yard.

“I appreciate this — you don’t know how much,” Nawara said. “Because I used to do everything, but I just can’t do it anymore. It’s hard to see, and it’s hard to walk. I just appreciate all they’re doing.”

Houston sophomore Kristin Gaston said she was glad to “not waste” her Saturday and “benefit someone else when they’re having some trouble.”

“Because I always want to help any way I can,” she said.

Gaston came with nine others from Baylor’s Taekwondo Club, one of 103 campus organizations and groups that participated in Steppin’ Out.

The club’s president, Waco senior Daniel Jang, said he saw the event as a great opportunity to help his hometown.

“I think it’s really important that we do something for the community just because, especially in Waco, there are so many needs to fill,” he said.

So Baylor did a worthy deed by setting aside a day to help, he added.

“I think that this is a good way for us to represent Baylor, as well as show our commitment to making the community better,” he said.

Nawara also shared memories of that community over the years. She has lived in the same house since 1950, when Waco had a population about two-thirds of what it is today.

“When we moved here, 35th there, beyond that was all cotton patches,” she said, pointing to a street about a mile away. “And now, it’s nothing but houses as far as you can see and then some.”

In the backyard, students were just as busy, clearing excess foliage to “make it how she remembered it in her mind,” Gaston said.

As the minutes ticked by, Hoffman said she was thrilled to watch the progress of the yard.

“I’m just really excited,” Hoffman said. “[Winona] is a wonderful lady. She always comes to church as long as she can get someone to pick her up. She’s always so thankful for anything and everything. She’s always so happy never complaining.”

Hoffman called the opportunity a “blessing” for both Nawara and the workers, some of which included deacons from Highland Baptist Church in Waco. Bill Rains, one of the deacons, supplied his trailer for hauling away the rubble.

“The good Lord’s blessed me with the tools and trailer,” he said.

And that was the only reason he needed to bring it over.

“We’re blessed to be able to do that for her,” Hoffman said. “I think we’re all going to get a blessing out of this.”

As for 10 Baylor students with shovels, rakes and bags, faces full of smiles seemed to indicate just that.