By Taylor Wolf | Social Media Editor
Act Locally Waco, a web-run nonprofit currently affiliated with Prosper Waco, is a Wacoan’s key to getting involved and engaging with the Waco community, and now it is easier and bigger than ever before.
With a new website design, a developing idea of becoming a separate nonprofit, a new spinoff organization and a story to inspire, Act Locally Waco’s goal is to get neighbors connected and involved together in making Waco a true home for everyone.
After living in Waco for 10 years, founder of Act Locally Waco and Baylor alumna Ashley Bean Thornton, along with her husband, accompanied their church youth group to Louisiana for mission work the summer after Hurricane Katrina.
Having grown up relatively unengaged with community in the past, Thornton said the trip was life-changing.
“In the destruction of the hurricane, what you could really see in New Orleans was the systems laid bare… how those systems connected or didn’t connect,” Thornton said. “And so, when I got back to Waco, I was very curious about how that worked here, and it just kind of grew from there.”
Thornton wanted to learn about all the nonprofits, what they were doing, how they connected and if there was really information about them that were getting shared.
“One of the things that seemed like we needed, and that I could help with, was just sharing information,” Thornton said.
What started out as a small, church-centered email group about local food pantries in 2008, has since grown into a multi-faceted weekly newsletter email with about 3,000 subscribers and a Facebook community of over 8,000.
The weekly newsletter, appropriately named “The Whole Enchilada,”is emailed out every Friday morning and details upcoming local events, recent community blog posts, related news clips, general announcements, job/volunteer listings and a book club.
You can now navigate to the website from the newsletter and vice versa. The website houses a donation portal, the full community calendar where nonprofits can submit events, the community blog page and more.
The blogs, written by community members and managed by Thornton, are on topics encompassed by Act Locally Waco’s 12 aspirations for Waco including everything from mental health to living in Texas to social justice to local art. Thornton said that what makes the blog so special is that it’s become a channel for community voices to be heard and amplified.
Additionally, for the last two years, Act Locally Waco has run a spin-off monthly program called Waco Walks. Themes have included a museum walk, river walk, historical neighborhood walk, Greenwood cemetery walk, tornado history walk and Waco creek walk, sometimes with special guests or experts on the venues of the day.
“The purpose of Waco Walks is to get people out and enjoy Waco walking, and to advocate for making Waco more walkable,” Thornton said. “It’s just a way to enjoy their community and learn something about it with the goal in mind that we are working together to make the kind of place we want to live.”
With its various programs, platforms and opportunities, even including KWBU radio on Friday mornings and special “Big Orange Frame” photo-ops, Act Locally Waco is reaching and engaging more community members than ever.
“I’ve been really proud that ‘Act Locally’ now really starts to reach all sorts of audiences,” Holly Tate, assistant director for global missions-student engagement at Baylor and Act Locally Waco volunteer, said. “It’s helped me realize there’s a lot going on in my community that I can be a part of. Act Locally Waco gives you no excuses to not go do something.”
Founder Thornton said she has experienced a shift in Waco’s self-esteem in that people used to complain about nothing going on in Waco and no one wanting to engage, but that’s changed.
“That’s the rewarding thing,” Thornton said. “To see how after all these years, watching this for all this time and being on all these committees and remembering the way it used to be, and now being able to go, ‘Ta da!’”
Even though there’s still a lot of work to be done, Thornton is proud to feel like she’s played even just a small part in a growing Waco community.
Asa new goal, Thornton wants work toward alleviating the tension of information overload in the digital age to continue making it easier and easier to actually get involved and get engaged with the community.
“I want people to feel like [Act Locally Waco] belongs to them,” Thornton said.
Submit blogs and subscribe to “The Whole Enchilada” here to get involved!