Keep Waco Beautiful grows into downtown office

Ashley Millerd, executive director of Keep Waco Beautiful, stands proudly in front of its new office space. MJ Routh | Multimedia Journalist

By Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer

Keep Waco Beautiful, an environmental non-profit, is opening their new office on Austin Ave. On Saturday, Baylor students will be contributing to their efforts by cleaning up the river.

Until recently, Keep Waco Beautiful operated from City Hall out of a tiny office. As the city experiences growth, it needs more office space, so the city manager, Wiley Stem, revamped KWB’s grant agreement to pay for rent elsewhere.

“I was super fortunate and lucky to find a downtown place as cheap as it was,” Ashley Millerd, Keep Waco Beautiful’s executive director, said.

With the new space, Millerd will finally be able to host board meetings, classes and individual workshops without having to find a space to borrow.

Keep Waco Beautiful’s grand opening will be Sept. 7 as a part of First Fridays Downtown.

“First Friday is really just an opportunity for people to explore more options and shops that are more than just for entertainment or restaurants,” Millerd said. “What we’re going to offer this first time around is 25 percent off memberships and first dibs for classes.”

Without their own space, Keep Waco Beautiful’s classes, such as rain water collection and other environmental practices, used to sell out after five days. Now, the classes can be much smaller and Keep Waco Beautiful can schedule them more conveniently, without having to work around a venue’s time restrictions.

Additionally for First Friday, Keep Waco Beautiful will be offering wine (to those over 21) and cookies from the new bakery, Double Batch, which is owned by Amanda Stott, the wife of Keep Waco Beautiful’s president, Kenny Stott.

This Saturday, approximately 500 Baylor students will gather with Keep Waco Beautiful at the Bill Daniel Student Center and spread into groups to help clean up the river.

“Our main area we want to clean up is Waco Creek because it has all the runoff and stuff just floats for days, especially since we just had this hard rain,” Millerd said. “We’re going to try to get [the trash] up and out because we don’t want to contribute to that giant landfill in the ocean.”

Keep Waco Beautiful tries to prevent the necessity for cleanups by putting trashcans everywhere and putting guards on storm drains. According to Anna Dunbar, the environmental program manager for the City of Waco and ex-officio board member for Keep Waco Beautiful, the more people know about waste and the environment, the more they are motivated to help.

“One of Keep Waco Beautiful’s big things is education and outreach, and I really, really love that aspect of it,” Dunbar said. “Because just doing the work is one thing, but to move forward, as a society and realize, ‘Oh, if I throw this water bottle on the ground, it’s going to roll down the street and end up in the storm drain and that’s going to end up in the Brazos River.’ To know that is how behavior changes. Education is key to a cleaner, more beautiful city.”

Dunbar has been a part of Keep Waco Beautiful since 1995. Some of the features of Waco that are results of Keep Waco Beautiful initiatives and fundraisers are Indian Springs Park, on the downtown side of the Suspension Bridge, and Heritage Square, in front of City Hall.

“Heritage Square was a huge fundraising effort by the city and Mrs. Francis Sturgis, who was the founder of Keep Waco Beautiful, lead that effort … It was not the pretty thing it is now. Now, the community, visitors, everyone enjoys it,” Dunbar said.