Person First Outreach

By Nikki Thompson

Last spring break, I went on a trip in partnership with the Texas Hunger Initiative and Baylor Missions. The purpose of the trip was simply to spend a week with in Lubbock and learn about the lives of the people who struggle with poverty. Our team engaged in a very different type of mission trip with a focus on building relationships rather than meeting a material needEngaging in conversation with people who struggle with homelessness opened my eyes to how complex and intersectional poverty is. Poverty is an international problem, but it occurs at a personal level, thus showing the need for relationships. My experiences and conversations with the people of Lubbock opened my eyes to the importance of good volunteers. This relational approach to volunteering and missions also challenged many assumptions I had about homelessness, food-insecurity, and the people I wanted to help. I realized that volunteers, myself included, are often trained using an unhelpful and potentially unethical model as a result of incorrect beliefs about poverty. Throughout the course of this week, it became very clear to me that the ways I had served in the past were not only ineffective but also harmful.

Why Do Our Beliefs About Poverty Matter?

What volunteers and organizations believe about poverty has a direct correlation to how they choose to work for the alleviation of poverty. Logically, this makes sense. If I believe that poverty is material, the way I attempt to alleviate poverty is by giving material goods (i.e. food, clothes, shelter). If I think that poverty is a socio-political issue, I will lobby for policy reform. Therefore, it is vitally important that we understand what poverty is and why individuals struggle with poverty before we attempt to eradicate it. Otherwise, we risk wasting time, effort, and resources. On a personal level, the way we think about poverty colors the way we will interact with people who struggle with poverty. These thoughts can seem harmless but have a large effect on the outcome of the action. The nature of volunteers’ relationships with those they are helping can either ensure success or failure.

Assumptions I Had (And Why They’re Wrong)

I. Poverty is primarily a material issue. It is easy to think that poverty is simply a lack of money when in reality American poverty is a complex and personal issue. In When Helping Hurts, Stephen Corbett and Brian Fikkert conduct experiments in which they ask people who struggle with poverty what it is and then ask middle class people what poverty is. The differences are astonishing. People more removed from poverty, the middle class, tended to describe poverty in material terms. They said that people who struggled with poverty simply lacked material resources. However, individuals who struggle with poverty described their condition on an emotional, psychological and relational level. They often used words such as “shame,” “inferiority,” and “powerlessness.” This is significant because it demonstrates that poverty is much more than material. Poverty affects the whole person, not just their physical being. Because of this, we must create holistic solutions to poverty, considering each person as an individual.

Through talking to people who struggle with homelessness, I discovered that there is not one problem they all share that led to their homelessness. Some of the people I talked to struggled with drug addiction, others with mental illness or physical health issues that hinder them from holding a job. Others have jail time on their record, which severely limits their job and housing choices. Many women who are homeless are victims of domestic violence who were forced to choose between homelessness or abuse. A large number of the homeless community (approximately 40%) identify as being LGBTQ, and many gay youths are kicked out of their homes due to their sexual orientation. Other factors affect homelessness, such as ethnicity. A 2004 survey shows that in the 27 cities studied, 49% of people who were homeless were African American, 35% were Caucasian, and 13% were Hispanic. To put these numbers in context, in 2000 the U.S. population was made up of 75% of white Americans, 12.3% black Americans and 12.5% Hispanic Americans. Another large demographic within the homeless population are veterans. I write all of this to demonstrate that people who are homeless struggle with various things–many fall under multiple from the list above—which keep them homeless or jobless. These people have very specific and very complex situations that bring them to homelessness. This complexity is exactly why we must take a relational approach to homelessness and poverty. We cannot assume that we know what will help people until we actually talk to people; not many of these problems can be solved by simply giving money.

II. People who struggle with poverty are helpless. This is perhaps the most dangerous and harmful thought I had. Not only does this thought process limit our effectiveness as volunteers, it actually feeds into the cycle of poverty by patronizing (and further debilitating) the poor. Like I mentioned before, one of the main ways people describe their poverty is through words reflecting social condition or psychological state rather than their material lack of resources. They say they feel powerless, unwanted and ashamed. If we treat people as if they are our patient, we justify and perpetuate these feelings.

I was a horrible offender of this before, but I didn’t know it. I don’t think I ever consciously thought “these people need my help.” I would think and say things like, “I want to help people who can’t help themselves,” or “I want to be a voice for the voiceless.” These statements take away all agency these people have. While poverty often involves large influences such as social conditions and privileges, this does not render people who are impoverished as helpless victims. Just because someone has suffered because of poverty, oftentimes it means they are working against a social construct or condition much bigger than them. I think there is an important balance between helping people and creating a dependency on the help. We should seek to empower these people by asking them what they need and how we can help and then by acting accordingly.

III. People become homeless because of their choices. During the week I was in Lubbock, my team did a privilege exercise with the people we met in a local homeless outreach center. The exercise consisted of every one of us lining up horizontally and taking a step forward or backward based on our responses to questions related to privilege. The questions covered a multitude of things, from race to socio-economic class to sexuality to gender and the opportunities associated with these things. Each question had a common theme, though, and that was that our experiences were largely unrelated to any choices we made as individuals. They are all circumstances we inherited at birth. For example, a few of the questions were: do one or both of your parents have a college degree? Does your household employ people of color as servants, gardeners, etc.? Have you ever been made fun of or bullied for something beyond your control? It was shocking to see so clearly the privilege that is so pervasive in our society for the middle class, straight white male. There are so many factors which affect our lives that we have no say in. I did not choose to be born a white, middle class female, but because of these things I am able to attend a good university and do not fear that I will struggle with homelessness. However, others were not born with the same luxuries.

A vast majority of the people I talked to over the week did not choose to become homeless, rather it was a circumstance of their life. Heather, one woman I got to know at Carpenter’s church, grew up in a split household with her alcoholic mother. She was molested and raped by her stepfather and became addicted to drugs at a young age. Her drug addiction eventually cost her her children, her job, and her home. After getting clean, Heather found out that she had been living with a mental illness. Another man we met, Sam, was introduced to drugs at age thirteen by his mother, which led to his eventual addiction and involvement in gangs, which subsequently led to jail time. The common factor here is that both Sam and Heather’s poverty can be traced back to factors they had little or no control over.

Positive Habits for Volunteers to Cultivate

I. People-first language. People-first language is probably the hardest but most practical thing I learned in Lubbock. People-first language is a way of speaking that focuses on someone’s personhood instead of their situation. It is very simple. For example, instead of saying “a homeless person,” it is better to say “a person who is homeless” or “a person who struggles with homelessness.” This is very effective in changing both the speaker and the listener’s perception of the individual. The idea behind it is that describing words used often enough become defining words. Our trip leader told us about a study where a professor used regular language to describe a person versus people-first language. The reception was significantly different. The professor asked her students to say the first thing they thought of when she said “homeless person.” The students responded with things such as “drug addiction,” “dirty,” and “lazy.” However, when the professor said “a person without a home,” her students responded with scenarios in which the person lost their job or had a bad relationship with their family and got kicked out. When presented with the normal, dehumanizing language, one is much more likely to believe and ascribe to certain stereotypes. However, when the personhood of a person is the focal point of the phrase, rather than a description of them, we are far more likely to think about them as an individual and consider their situation.

These example make clear the effect language has on the way we see people. When we characterize someone as their situation, we make their situation the most important thing about them and subconsciously apply stereotypes to them. However, when we first acknowledge that this is, first and foremost, a person, we are more aware of them as an individual and tend to think of what could have brought them to this situation. This simple change can alter the way we think about people and communicate respect and regard for the individual. However, regular speaking is a very hard habit to break because it is something we do without thinking. It is a challenge to change the way you speak about people, but the result is well worth it.

II. Relational care. Perhaps the most valuable and applicable thing I learned during my week in Lubbock was the importance of relationships. I don’t often think about what life is like for those who struggle with homelessness, but a main theme in the stories I heard was loneliness. People told me about how, on the streets, you do not usually have friendships or companions. Everyone is fending for themselves so they cannot trust anyone else. I think I had this romantic idea of people banding together to “beat homelessness” that I’ve seen in movies, but this is not the reality. Many of the people I talked to were more than eager to share their stories because it was rare that someone wanted to listen to them. This was something I had to get used to quickly, because coming into the trip I was expecting people to be hesitant to tell me the details of their life. However, the majority of people I talked to unashamedly told me their life story within the first five minutes of meeting them.

One of the men I met, Sam, told a large group of us about his life in great detail. He would interrupt himself, saying “I’m just being honest, I just want to tell you what happened.” His openness about his history with gangs and crimes he committed made me wonder how many people know this about him and how often people take the time to find out about his life. It scares me to think about how easy it is for people to slip through the cracks. A volunteer I talked to told me about a man he used to serve. The man (they never learned his name) stood across the street from the place they served dinner every week, and they eventually started taking dinner out to him. He didn’t say anything other than “thank you,” so they did not find out anything about him until one day when he did not show up. They went out to look for him and he was hospitalized. It turns out, he had gone to college but suffered an anxiety attack and developed schizophrenia following the death of his father. He did not have insurance and was not able to get his medication, so his condition had worsened over the years to this state. Thankfully, the volunteers knew who he was and knew to look for him. It is scary to think about what could have happened if no one had taken the time to notice him.

Heather, one of the women I interviewed, told me how important her relationships with the staff at Carpenter’s Church outreach were to her. She is an active member in the community at Carpenter’s and regularly teaches classes and helps in the kitchen. Though she loves everyone who comes to Carpenter’s, she emphasized that her relationships with staff members played a most crucial role in her recovery and growth. The stability offered Heather in these relationships made it possible for her to get clean and escape an abusive marriage. When we talked, she drew a clear distinction between relationships with staff members to relationships with others who come to Carpenter’s. Heather was a heroin addict, so being around others who struggle with drugs puts her at risk to relapse. Furthermore, she is bipolar and she told me that being around the people’s “drama” was not good for her, either. The stability and consistency of the staff at Carpenter’s allowed her a place to grow and thrive. Relational care is important to restore a feeling of dignity and worth in people who struggle with poverty, to recognize and properly address each individual’s problems and to encourage consistent growth.

III. Creative, personalized solutions and collaboration. A holistic, relational approach to outreach is important in order to effectively help people. For example, If we simply give people food, we risk creating a system in which people become dependent on us for food. Instead, we can use food as a way to attract people and then form relationships with them to actually ask what they need and continue to walk with them as they grow. In Lubbock, my team talked to the Homeless Outreach Team (H.O.T.) of the Lubbock P.D. I think they fulfill the balance between helping and hurting by creating relationships with people and then helping where they can. For instance, the policemen will help people by giving them rides to work or the doctor or helping them move furniture. One of the policemen told us about how he works with panhandlers. He often gets calls about them and has gotten to know a few of them. He knows that panhandling is not a good thing, because it is an easy way for addicts to get money to spend on alcohol or drugs, so he encourages them not to do so. He, instead, helps these people get jobs and helps them get to their job so they can keep it instead of being dependent on handouts.

When we acknowledge that poverty is an issue that affects individualizes specifically, according to their personal context, we become aware that this means there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each individual is different and struggles with different things, so there is no one solution for poverty or hunger or homelessness. These issues are intersectional and complex, which can seem discouraging, but this really just means that we need every type of person to help. You don’t have to be a social worker or a “social justice warrior” to help end poverty. Each person’s skills and talents are needed to create solutions. We must nurture a spirit of collaboration and creativity in the way we approach such large issues because there is not one right answer. As we focus on people and forming relationships, it becomes clear that everyone is needed. On a large scale, organizations should collaborate with their areas of expertise to improve the lives of those around them. Personally, volunteers should utilize their unique skills and interests to creatively solve issues they encounter and discover through relationships with those they desire to help.

Spring Break 2018

Next year, I will be a student leader on this trip through Baylor Missions. We have the same goal of listening to people’s stories and confronting our assumptions about poverty. We will continue to engage the people of Lubbock, Texas and learn about creative, interdisciplinary ways to help alleviate poverty. It is not a conventional “mission trip” in that we will be providing a service. We will be conducting interviews and learning about story-based advocacy and what it means to make room for other’s voices instead of speaking on their behalf. It is an incredible experience through which you will certainly be challenged and I could not recommend it highly enough. The trip application is available online here.

Nikki is a junior majoring in professional writing and rhetoric.

Combating Hunger in Waco

By Nikki Thompson

(Image courtesy of World Hunger Relief, Inc.)

Waco is a hotspot for hunger-related issues. Residents who struggle with poverty often deal with food insecurity. That, paired with the food deserts in Waco, results in a vicious cycle of eating unhealthy foods because they are the most readily available, getting sick, and being unable to pay for healthcare. Furthermore, research shows that nutrition directly affects performance in school. In Waco, food deserts correlate with underperforming and even failing schools. These circumstances reduce the student’s probability of getting a high-paying job, which then reduces options for the next generation. This cycle of poverty is connected to a lack of nutritional produce.

World Hunger Relief, Inc. attempts to address hunger on both a global and a local scale. Its involvement in the Waco community has seen a significant increase in healthy eating. WHRI partners with the Waco government and local nonprofits in various projects to promote policy reform and to increase wellness within the community. Two of their most successful projects are the Veggie Van and the school gardening initiative.

The Veggie Van was launched in June of 2015 as a mobile market system to bring fresh produce to food deserts throughout Waco. This makes it possible for those people who do not live within a two-mile radius of a grocery store and do not have a car to have access to food with nutritional value. The van sells fresh and locally grown produce at affordable prices. Each sale also includes a recipe, so the buyer can know how to cook the produce, thus making it more likely that they will eat it and continue to come back. The van not only makes healthy food available to the community, it sparks conversation about healthy living and why it is important.

Another way WHRI addresses hunger and health in Waco is through their school gardening program. WHRI supports the Heart of Texas Urban Gardening Coalition in many community-wide initiatives. The mission of this program is to partner with schools and develop sustainable communities by teaching students how to grow a sustainable food system and why it is important. Volunteers with WHRI teach students how to grow ornamental plants and food crops. Students are involved in the planting and maintenance of the gardens and as a result, they learn about plants and healthy diets. WHRI is currently partnered with Indian Springs middle school and J.H. Hines elementary.

These two programs are examples of creative ways WHRI addresses hunger in Waco. These are the kinds of solutions we should be seeking for community-wide problems instead of just focusing on legislation. By getting the community involved and making them aware of the problem, WHRI has seen a significant increase in the overall health of Waco. Understanding that communal problems are complex and affect multiple aspects of life is key to change.


Nikki is a junior majoring in professional writing and rhetoric.

Infamous Westboro Baptist Church Comes to Waco

Image courtesy of Pablo Gonzales


As some of you may already know, Westboro Baptist Church visited Waco last Sunday, September 10. Westboro Baptist Church is based out of Topeka, Kansas and has been widely denounced by Christian organizations (such as World Baptist Alliance, the Southern Baptist Convention, and others) for their hateful ideologies. A central part of WBC’s doctrine is the idea that “God hates f*gs” (see their website name, The way they spread this “theology” is by protesting at soldier’s funerals, spreading hate through speech, and attributing tragedies (such as 9/11 or Hurricane Harvey) to God’s hate and punishment for sin. They regularly travel the country to protest, saying that they wish to spread the message of God’s hate and condemnation.


On Sunday morning, Westboro Baptist Church protested outside of Antioch Community Church and St. Louis Catholic Church. They posted a press release online explaining their reasons for protesting, though its message is embedded in deeply religious phrases and seemingly obscure Bible verses (link: The document first asserts that Waco churches are enemies of God because they are not facing persecution. Furthermore, WBC says that the churches of Waco “gladly and greedily justify their sisters Sodom and Samaria,” which is presumably in reference to allowing homosexuality. The press release states that Waco churches have succumbed to the fear of men and thus abandoned all talk of “Sodom.” The document pronounces a “double woe” to the churches, as they have also exhibited pride in committing these sins. Essentially, it seems they are saying that Waco churches are cursed for not preaching the same idea of God’s anger that Westboro Baptist holds so dear.


The protesters were toting numerous signs boasting different slogans, such as “Obey and Seek Mercy” and “God Sent [Hurricane] Harvey.” Each sign was accompanied by a Scripture verse, which is what I wish to draw attention to. Westboro Baptist claims to be doing God’s work by “spreading God’s hate,” and a large part of this perceived power comes from their use of the Biblical narrative. It seems as if Scripture justifies and even encourages their ideas. Rather, I argue that they are taking verses out of context and therefore misrepresenting Scripture and the message of the Gospel.


Obey and Seek Mercy – Proverbs 14:22, Nehemiah 9:17

 A sign which read “Obey and Seek Mercy” cited both Proverbs 14:22 and Nehemiah 9:17. Proverbs 14:22 reads, “Do they not go astray who devise evil? Those who devise good meet steadfast love and faithfulness.” By itself, this verse can be used as a vague condemnation for evil, though when it is put into context it becomes clear the kind of evil to which the verse refers. Proverbs 14:21 says that “whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.” So, if we are to obey these verses, we are to love our neighbor and care for those around us, which logically would include people in LGBTQ communities.


The same sign references Nehemiah 9:17. In Nehemiah 9, Israel is confessing and repenting of their sins following a period of rebellion. Nehemiah 9:17 states, “They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.” I think the second part of this verse is particularly interesting, as it clearly states that God is ready to forgive and merciful. This idea of God as loving and slow to anger is in direct opposition to the God WBC presents.


God Sent Harvey/Irma – Psalm 126:6, Nahum 1:3

Westboro had a few signs attributing Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma to God as well. WBC cites Psalm 126:6 in the sign, which says: “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126 is a psalm of lament, in which the community is asking God to show mercy on His people. The psalmist remembers the good things God has done and asks Him to “restore [their] fortunes.” Presumably, Westboro added this onto the sign as a way of asking God for mercy on behalf of the nation. Though, this does not explain why they believe God sent the hurricanes.


Nahum 1:3 talks about God’s wrath against Nineveh, saying “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” It seems that Westboro has interpreted this verse as evidence that God sent Hurricane Harvey to punish the guilty with His wrath. Westboro has made other, similar claims about 9/11 and natural disasters, saying that God sent these things to condemn America for being sinful or accepting sin. The thing that these claims fail to recognize is that these events do not only affect “sinners,” but they affect Christians, too.


In the Old Testament, wrath was a way in which God showed His people their injustice and sin. The New Testament is very clear that believers are saved from God’s wrath through Jesus. The difference is that in the Old Testament, God’s people entered into a covenant with God through the Law, which led to punishment from God when they (in their sin nature) broke the law. Paul makes it very clear in Romans 7:7-13 that God must punish people for breaking the covenant, which is why Old Testament believers faced His wrath. However, the New Testament and the new covenant do not result in punishment from God, because Jesus took all of God’s wrath when He died on the cross. Romans 1:17 says that the “righteous live by faith,” opposed to living by the Law. This idea is repeated in Galatians 5:18 and Paul says in Romans 5:9 that believers are justified through Christ’s blood and that we are saved from God’s wrath (which is echoed in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 and 5:9). Therefore, believers do not receive God’s wrath for their sin and wrongdoing, because we are saved through Jesus’ death and not by our good works. Because of this, it is false to say that God sent Hurricane Harvey to punish us.


Jesus Will Return in Wrath – 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10

 The verses WBC selected read: “And to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.” In context, Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica, which has endured much persecution but has remained loyal to Christ (verses 3-4). Paul reassures them that when Jesus returns, He will enact justice and repay those who persecute the church with affliction. Paul says that all those who believed in the gospel through the testimonies of the apostles will marvel at Christ and, ultimately, be saved from judgement through His grace. The passage does not depict a wrathful God who is acting out in anger, but a just God who is establishing righteousness.



Westboro Baptist’s message that God hates us and is punishing us is not truth because the authority they derive from the Bible is taken out of context and does not consider the Gospel and Jesus’ earthly ministry. While it is abundantly clear throughout Scripture that God hates sin, He does not hate sin because he is a wrathful God. He hates sin because he is a righteous God who desires righteousness for His people. The message of the Gospel is one of restoration, grace, and forgiveness. However, Westboro Baptist Church uses the Bible as a tool by which to condemn and hate others. It is clear to me that they are simply a hate group which has hijacked the Bible in an attempt to justify their beliefs.


Nikki Thompson is a Junior majoring in Professional Writing and Rhetoric with a minor in Religion. 

Battling Homelessness in Waco

Image courtesy of KWBU

At the end of the 2015-2016 school year, Waco ISD reported that 1,600 students (out of the 15,000 total student population) struggled with homelessness. This number increased by 500 from the previous year. Though economic factors and families moving to Waco from out of town certainly caused a spike in the numbers, Waco ISD has recently begun training teachers on how to determine if a student needs help. Students are technically homeless if they are staying in a hotel or crashing with a friend.

Students can become homeless for many different reasons, though there is a link between homelessness and abusive home situations or parents addicted to alcohol or drugs. Each situation is different, but one thing that remains the same is the toll homelessness has on the student’s education and general well-being. Homeless youth are extremely vulnerable to depression, suicide, prostitution, and other forms of exploitation. These things often occur due to a lack of stability and previous exposure to abuse.

Nationally, less than 25% of homeless students will graduate from high school. When students do not have a consistent place to live, they often end up switching schools multiple times throughout the school year. Others fail out of school due to lack of resources and the added stress of their home life. Whatever the reason, when students do not graduate from high school, they decrease the likelihood that they will find future employment. A lack of education perpetuates the cycle of homelessness for these individuals.

To help combat this issue, Waco ISD began an initiative called Sanctuary House in collaboration with Waco Housing Authority & Affiliates, The City of Waco, Junior League of Waco, and The Salvation Army Waco. Sanctuary House is designed to provide short-term emergency housing to vulnerable Waco families. Families who stay in the Sanctuary House are there for thirty days during which the organization helps them find permanent housing.

However, there are other ways to help Waco’s homeless youth. Programs such as Baylor Buddies, which pair up college students with a Waco ISD student, provide an important mentor relationship to struggling high school and middle school students. This form of stability and accountability proves very helpful to those struggling with homelessness and other forms of material poverty. As Baylor students, we do not have the resources to house homeless families. However, we can sacrifice our time to foster relationships with struggling students.

Nikki Thompson is a sophomore majoring in professional writing and rhetoric.




Jubilee Food Market

Image courtesy of News Channel 25

Before Mission Waco opened the Jubilee Food Market, the North Waco neighborhood qualified as a food desert. This means that the closest grocery store was over two miles away (specifically, 2.2 miles away).

This may not seem like a problem to Baylor students. Most of us have our own cars or roommates and friends who will drive us to get necessities, as well as food plans to eat on campus.

However, many people in the low-income area of North Waco do not have their own vehicles or drivers licenses, so they must rely on the Waco Transit system (which stops running at seven p.m.) or walk to access affordable, healthy food.

The food desert then results in these people buying groceries from convenience stores, which overcharges for very low nutritional content. This explains the phenomenon of obesity and health issues in struggling communities.

Luckily, Mission Waco and executive director Jimmy Dorrell came up with a creative solution to the food desert. In January 2016, the organization began plans to build and operate a nonprofit grocery store at North 15th Street and Colcord Avenue. Since then, they have successfully renovated the space and stocked the store. Jubilee Food Market officially opened on November 21, 2016.

Though the presence of a grocery store satisfies North Waco’s food desert, Dorrell claims that Jubilee Food Market represents much more than that. He hopes that this project will help North Waco residents break the habit of bad eating by presenting them with healthy options. Dorrell also hopes to staff the store with a nutritionist who is equipped to help customers choose healthy options.

Jubilee Food Market welcomes shoppers from anywhere, but Mission Waco implemented an “Oasis Card” system to give discounts to those who live in the area. These cards provide discounts on groceries to ensure affordability.

However, owning and operating a grocery store includes a slim profit margin, and because Jubilee aims to provide an affordable product to those who need it, they sell most products at prices barely above wholesale.

Furthermore, the Oasis Card system, while increasing people’s ability to afford products, decreases the profit. In an effort to save on stocking costs, Mission Waco has plans to build a greenhouse next door to Jubilee, which will facilitate the growing of fresh produce to be sold in the Food Market. Even with this, Mission Waco will be in large part relying on grant money and donations to continue to operate the store.

Jubilee Food Market is more than just a grocery store; it represents a change in the Waco community. If the store continues to operate, it will help North Waco residents change their eating habits and live healthier lives.

Unlike convenience stores, Jubilee Food Market aims to improve the lives of its shoppers by offering fresh produce at low prices and discounts. Baylor students have the ability to support this business. Instead of making large donations or volunteering our time, we can choose Jubilee Food Market over H.E.B. or Walmart. Having students pay full price will help in the effort to stock and operate the store and will help Mission Waco begin similar stores in Waco’s other food deserts.


Nikki Thompson is a sophomore majoring in professional writing and rhetoric.


Food Insecurity

Image courtesy of Data USA

As college students, we may find ourselves perpetuating the myth that we eat nothing but ramen to save cash. While this is certainly true for some students, especially at an expensive institution such as Baylor, much of this can be confidently labeled an urban legend. In college, students certainly must learn to budget their meals and spend as little money on food as possible. However, this struggle is diminished in contrast of the poverty found within the city of Waco.


East Waco stands out as the city’s lowest income area, with a median household income of $15,190. For comparison, the median household income in East Waco is lower than 70% of the median household income throughout all of Texas. In all of Waco, 29.4% of individuals live below the poverty line. This means that 29.4% of people in Waco are not making enough money to afford the necessities of life. Though this negatively affects individual Waco residents, 30.9% of families in Waco also live below the poverty line. One of the many struggles these families face is food insecurity. By definition, food insecurity occurs when a person does not have consistent or reliable access to nutritional food.


In 2015, Texas ranked number two in national food insecurity, following California. According to the national report, many families are forced to prioritize paying for housing, utilities, or medical care over buying groceries. If people cannot afford healthy food, they will continue to succumb to sickness, resulting in more medical bills. Food insecurity and poverty, then, are clearly linked. People can easily find themselves trapped in the cycle with no way to get ahead.


Fortunately, students at Baylor have been blessed with the ability to pay for food, housing, utilities, and education. It is very likely that none of us will ever find ourselves living below the poverty line or suffering from food insecurity. However, this does not mean we should not be concerned for the well-being of our community. Both Baylor University and the city of Waco have multiple resources with which students can volunteer and begin making a difference in the greater Waco area.


The Baylor School of Social Work developed the Texas Hunger Initiative, which aims to end hunger through “policy, education, research, community organizing and community development.” This organization tackles the issue on a broad scale, hoping to have a long-term effect on families struggling with poverty and food insecurity. The McLennan County Hunger Coalition, collaborate with food pantries, churches, businesses, and individuals to help specific families develop food security through donations and helping families sign up for food stamps and other support programs. Other organizations, such as the Food Planning Task Force of McLennan County and the Food Research and Action Center attempt to end the problem through practical ways, planning, and research.


Nikki Thompson is a sophomore majoring in professional writing and rhetoric.

Education in Waco

Image courtesy of Waco Independent School District
Image courtesy of Waco Independent School District

A sense of irony accompanies the fact that Baylor University, a college renowned for its academic excellence, shares a city with a struggling public school system. After the 2013-2014 school year, ten schools within Waco I.S.D. were failing to meet state-mandated accountability ratings. These ratings are based on results of the S.T.A.A.R. standardized test. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems the problem is obvious: the schools need better teachers and leadership to improve test scores. Is this solution too simple?

In reaction to the low scores, Waco I.S.D. proceeded to place new principals in the failing schools. Many of these principals signed a disclaimer stating that if the scores did not increase, they would be demoted. This caused very quick turn-around; Hillcrest PDS Magnet had four different principals over a span of five years.

The new leaders focused on implementing programs which would raise S.T.A.A.R. scores. Crestview Elementary saw such changes when the principal added tutoring sessions and required writing portfolios. This was a great success, as the following year Crestview met standards and has seen improvement even since. Many other schools in the Waco I.S.D. also saw student progress, though they did not improve enough to meet the state-mandated rating. This makes one wonder if low scores can be eradicated with tutoring sessions and writing workshops – perhaps there is more to the problem.

Both J.H. Hines Elementary and Indian Springs Middle School’s scores were in the bottom 5-percentile of scores in Texas, so the two schools qualified for grants from the Texas Education Agency in August of 2014. J.H. Hines received $3.6 million and Indians Springs received $.48 million. J.H. Hines Elementary used this money to hire behavioral counselors and community members to help combat behavioral issues. Waco I.S.D. hopes that this investment will end the problem of students missing school due to behavioral issues, such as suspensions or expulsions.

In fact, in the 2013-2014 school year, Waco I.S.D. had the greatest number of suspensions of any district in the state. Statistically speaking, from pre-k to fifth grade, 22 out of every 100 students miss school because of an out-of-school suspension. Parents accuse Waco teachers of giving up on the students by suspending them rather than disciplining them correctly. These parents also cite a feeling of shame within their children, which makes it much harder for them to return to school following their suspension. Students also learned that they could get out of school by acting out.

Waco High and G.W. Carver Middle School implemented a “Restorative Practices” program which successfully halved the number of suspensions. This initiative focuses on keeping students with behavioral problems in school rather than automatically sending them away. Students are allowed to visit “reset classrooms” in which they can gain their composure and receive instruction on how to resolve the issue. Additionally, both campuses hired a Behavioral Support Aide to better help teachers and students understand the root of the behavioral issues.

These initiatives have seen an incredible amount of progress not only in reducing the number of suspensions at these schools but in the test scores as well. Waco I.S.D. is actively working to implement similar programs in every school. Clearly, students must be in an environment which fosters growth and understanding in order to succeed academically. The more students are encouraged and engaged by their teachers, the more interest they will show in their schools.

Nikki Thompson is a sophomore majoring in English. 








Jesus Said Love

Image courtesy of Jesus Said Love
Image courtesy of Jesus Said Love

Outside the boundaries of Baylor’s extravagant and meticulously groomed campus looms the ever-present poverty of Waco. Though college students often make remarks about their lack of money, few find themselves in the predicaments of their fellow Wacoans. People find themselves working jobs they never anticipated; such is the case for many women who find employment at gentleman’s clubs. Uncommon hours and low pay force these women to a lower standard of life than that which is depicted in the glamorized sex industry of the media.

Finding work in the sex industry is usually not one’s first choice. In big cities like Dallas, dancers make good money and better tips. However, in Waco, the entertainers struggle to live off of their paychecks. The sex industry also leads to further problems. Many dancers find themselves struggling with substance abuse, emotional or physical abuse, criminal records, homelessness, prostitution, and rape. Even if these women find the means to leave the sex industry, their employment history can keep them from getting a better job or pursuing further education. Because of this, many women get caught in the cycle of the sex industry. Once they are in, it is exceedingly difficult to escape. Due to these conditions, it is easy for dancers to feel a sense of hopelessness and despair.

However, Waco locals and Baylor graduates Brett and Emily Mills founded an organization called Jesus Said Love thirteen years ago in an effort to empower, equip, and enable these women to find more stable employment. Their mantra is to “share the revolutionary love of Christ with women in the commercial sex industry by awakening hope and empowering change.” While JSL workers do make an effort to share their faith, the organization takes a “no strings attached” approach to their outreach. This means that the volunteers expect nothing in return from the women and seek only to form relationships with them.

Jesus Said Love is an organization with many different facets. Perhaps their most well-known form of outreach is “club ministry,” in which they send teams of volunteers (who have previously undergone extensive training) into clubs with gifts for the dancers. They arrive early so as to speak with the women as they prepare for the night and hand out things like t-shirts or earrings. The purpose of this is to form relationships with the dancers and show them that they are loved. JSL has a good relationship with three of Waco’s seven clubs.

Jesus Said Love’s ministry reaches much further than just ministering to women at the clubs. The organization helps connect dancers with practical resources. Emily Mills has an account at a clothing store to provide interview appropriate attire to women looking to pursue a better job. In a specific case, Jesus Said Love funded a former dancer in her business idea, creating the popular Luna Juice. JSL also connects women with job training, rehab, counseling, and churches.

Currently, JSL is constructing headquarters in downtown Waco. This building will be a safe place for dancers with an exercise area, locker rooms, childcare, and more. Instead of outsourcing for things like job training and counseling, these services will be offered in the JSL headquarters. There will also be a retail store to help fund the ministry. Though it was founded in Waco, Jesus Said Love has branches in cities across Texas. JSL is also very easy to get involved in; students can donate or volunteer and help spread the word about JSL. It is the perfect place for any Baylor students looking to impact lives in the Waco area and witness God’s love at work.



Nikki Thompson is a sophomore BIC student majoring in English. 


Homelessness Outside of “The Bubble”

Photo courtesy of Ke’Sha Lopez

Photo courtesy of Ke’Sha Lopez

It is easy to forget that a world exists outside of Baylor University. Generally, students spend the majority of their time within the boundaries of Baylor. We go to class, study, and usually live quite close to campus. While Baylor offers a beautiful environment for living and learning, it cultivates something commonly called the “Baylor bubble.” Christian Balaños defines the “Baylor bubble” as a thin sphere which separates Baylor and the residences surrounding the university from the rest of Waco.

Of course, Baylor students do venture out into the greater Waco area, and at these times we become acutely aware of Waco’s homeless population. The strip of restaurants across I-35, affectionately dubbed the “grease pit,” often sees tired looking men and women of all ages asking for money or pushing around all of their belongings in a dingy shopping cart. Other parts of town show signs of Wacoans seeking shelter: if you look closely when you walk through downtown, you will find many alcoves housing dirty, old pillows and beat up shoes. Presumably, people live here. The intersection at New Road and I-35 is another place we often see homelessness in the form of people suffering the heat with their signs. This can be the only interaction a Baylor student has with the homeless population of Waco.

Many current Baylor students do not know that ten years ago, Waco had approximately 600 homeless people. According to city officials, the homeless problem was perpetuated by “chronic homeless”: individuals with a disabling condition who have been continually homeless for more than a year or individuals with a disabling condition who have experienced at least four “episodes of homelessness” in the last four years. In 2006, many of the people suffering from chronic homelessness were veterans suffering from PTSD, substance addiction, or another type of chronic illness or disability.

Due to a ten-year plan implemented by the city of Waco and the efforts of the Waco Veterans’ Assistance program, the number of chronically homeless people in Waco have drastically declined. Waco’s ten-year plan focused on ending chronic homelessness through implementing education, rental assistance, foreclosure prevention, eviction prevention, interim housing, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, training, and eventually employment. The Waco VA has helped veterans by reserving thirty-five vouchers, which allow the veteran to only pay thirty percent of their income towards rent.

While the city of Waco has made great strides towards ending chronic homelessness, there is still more to do. Most sources confirm that Waco will face the issue of chronic homelessness again when soldiers return from war. In 2015, Waco I.S.D. reported that 1,119 students were considered homeless. Baylor students have many opportunities not only to educate themselves on the reality of Waco homelessness but also to help their fellow Wacoans.

Although many Baylor students do not call Waco home, we should not let that stop us from investing in our community. The “Baylor bubble” can fool students into disregarding real life issues until they graduate. However, Baylor and various local organizations offer many ways for students to invest in their community. We’ll be living in Waco for at least four years; why not spend that time helping others and learning about our city?

Nikki Thompson is a sophomore majoring in English.