Good eats made with love so sweet

Lula Jane's_HH 4/27/15Behind the counter of Lula Jane’s, whisking eggs into a meringue or slicing up a decadent layer cake, you’ll find a woman in flour-dusted overalls named Nancy Grayson.

If you get the chance to get her off her feet, asking about her life experience may get her right back up on them.

“Life is there to experience,” Grayson said. “And I think in daily life there are ups and downs, but it all helps build character. It’s something I embrace, something I enjoy rather than see as hurdles or disappointments.”

Grayson earned a master’s from Baylor and a Ph.D. in psychology from Texas A&M. Soon after, she was asked to be one of six people nationwide to write the Advanced Placement exam in psychology.

Lula Jane's_HH 4/27/15“Academically, that was extraordinary and a very rare opportunity,” Grayson said. “I worked for 10 years after that with the AP program. I continued writing some questions, but also training people to read. I was always on-site doing the grading of the psychology AP exam.”

During the same time, Grayson was in the process of developing what would become Rapoport Academy in Waco. The desire to start the charter school grew out of her passion for and belief in East Waco.

“There were two of us, and we opened the Rapoport Academy in 1998,” Grayson said. “I did that as community service, so there was no salary. I didn’t do it to make a living; I did it to make a difference. We certainly did that and did some extraordinary things along the way. It’s listed among the top high schools in the nation.”

Grayson said test scores in East Waco were dismal before beginning Rapoport. She said 30 percent of third graders in East Waco could pass state testing and only 10 percent of fifth graders could pass.

Lula Jane's_HH 4/27/15“I knew that something unhealthy, education wise, was going on in East Waco,” Grayson said. “Children’s scores should not go down, and they should never be as low as a 30 percent pass rate.”

In the midst of her anger about the test scores, Grayson said she knew education was the only way things were going to be able to change for their community. The academy opened as a public charter school in the fall of 1998 with 16 students, according to the school’s website.

“To say that an equal education cannot be provided and made use of is certainly an inappropriate thought about education and children,” Grayson said. “I’m a firm believer that education is the great equalizer across all people.”

Gaylene Reed, director of community relations for Rapoprt Academy, said Grayson’s grassroots efforts starting the academy give an in-depth look to the person she is. Reed said by opening the school, Grayson and her co-founder, Willa Jones, created a catalyst for change in their community.

“Her vision is continuing to bear fruit every year as the academy flourishes and offers Waco area children an excellent choice in public education,” Reed said. “Further, she’s always loved East Waco and is committed to helping fulfill its potential–to come alive.”

Grayson’s love for East Waco runs deeper still as proven in her dedication to her business and local food haven, Lula Jane’s. She said through the work she puts in there, she is able to give back and rejuvenate the community.

Lula Jane's_HH 4/27/15“[My husband and I] very much believe that when you live in a community, you use the resources of the community. And you can make two choices: you can choose to use up the resources and not refill them, or you can choose to refill them,” Grayson said.

That love runs deep for Grayson and is shown in her life at Lula Jane’s. What is a quaint, quiet study spot for some is also an incredible means of outreach for others.

“This community helped us raise our children, they’ve helped us make livings, they’ve helped us be the family that we are and we’re very indebted to Waco for that,” Grayson said. “We have a deep love for the community here.”

Grayson continues to live out her passion, continues to grow her community and continues to believe in giving back. She and her co-workers foster a sense of belonging in an area where some wouldn’t have felt that way otherwise. Her fervor for living is evident through her daily hard work.

“What fun to wake up every morning and get to be. And it’s our choice how we face how we want to be. It’s our choice,” Grayson said.

Lula Jane's_HH 4/27/15Before going back to a regular day’s work, Grayson spoke to the opportunities presented to every person throughout their life.

“There are possibilities out there for everyone. There are pathways,” Grayson said. “And sometimes you do things that you think will lead nowhere, but it actually prepares you for a different path as well.”

If there was anything Grayson wanted to get across about living life, it was to know the importance of each person’s worth.

“Every individual, regardless if they’re male, female, a child or adult, they are valued,” Grayson said. “For anyone to lessen the notion of value is just wrong.”

Story by: Rebecca Flannery | Staff Writer
Photos by: Hannah Haseloff | Lariat Photographer