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Kicking Up Some Dust as We Move in Downtown

Dec. 13, 2010

By Diana Garland, Guest columnist

(Full story in Waco Tribune Herald. Subscription required to access wacotrib.com)

Sunday December 12, 2010

What will it look like to have a sudden influx of almost 300 people working in downtown Waco? We're not sure, but we're eager to find out!

Tomorrow through Wednesday, the Baylor University School of Social Work will move into beautifully renovated facilities at 811 Washington Ave., home most recently to Wells Fargo bank.

When spring semester begins in January, our 250 students will return to join the 17 full-time faculty and 17 full-time staff already settling in. That's a bunch of us, and we come expectantly, intent upon being good neighbors.

To many of you, we will be the same faces in new places. The school already collaborates with more than 100 nonprofit social service agencies in our community.

These agencies provide opportunities for our students to obtain invaluable experience in field internships, amounting to more than 68,000 hours of free professional services annually to Central Texans. More than 25 professionals from Waco teach part-time in our programs, linking community service and classroom learning. 

In the immediate downtown area, we work closely with Doug McDurham and Communities In Schools-Heart of Texas, Sheriff Larry Lynch and the McLennan County Jail system, Jeff Wall with Waco's Housing and Community Development department, and many others.

Last week our advanced community practice class for graduate students presented its semester-long research project on poverty reduction to the city of Waco. Two of our graduate students will continue their field placements with the city this spring.

The school's Texas Hunger Initiative is a collaboration of private and public social service agencies, governments and religious congregations.

The initiative vows to end hunger in the state by 2015 by making sure every Texan has three healthy meals a day, seven days a week. For example, children who receive a free lunch at school go hungry in the summertime.

Because of this collaboration, those children received 2 million more meals during this past summer than they did the previous summer. And the initiative is just getting started.

I could list other examples, but my point is that strengthening communities is one of the bedrock principles of social work. We teach it to our students, and we try to model it in our personal and professional lives. All 17 members of our faculty serve on agency boards and in other leadership positions in Waco, and our staff members and adjunct faculty also are actively engaged in civic leadership.

Because the Baylor School of Social Work provides education that integrates faith and practice, we try to live by the commandment to "love your neighbor."

We believe it's how we express love for one another, a love first shown to us by our Creator. The short version of the school's mission statement is "believing, caring, serving." That's not just a tagline to us; it's a call upon our hearts and consciences.

Yes, there's a bunch of us who will be working in downtown Waco soon, as well as eating and shopping there more often. But we also will be listening. Nobody appreciates a neighbor who's always talking about himself.

We are fortunate to have this beautiful facility, and we want to share it with others. In this new place, we'll have meeting spaces and hospitality amenities that we want to make available to our neighbors. What would that look like to you?

We've developed an art task force for the building and hope to display works by local artisans to reflect the cultural diversity and richness of our community. How might you be involved?

As school dean, I'm so pleased Baylor has taken this initiative. I believe our relocation is another step that Baylor and Waco have taken to collaborate for the good of our community.

To co-opt a slogan Baylor prints on T-shirts for its incoming students: "We Know Where We're Going." The Baylor School of Social Work is going downtown to Washington Avenue. Drop in and see us. We'll have the coffee pot on!

Diana Garland, dean of Baylor University's School of Social Work, has pioneered research in the integration of faith and service in congregations and in religiously affiliated organizations.