Here are a few of my favorite published stories!

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Published for the Baylor Lariat, 11-15-18

Small businesses grow social through Instagram and other media accounts

In a city like Waco, with a variety of new small businesses, social media can often be a beneficial way to promote a company’s brand and products.

Jed Cole is the co-founder and owner of Waco Hat Co., a nonprofit benefiting Mission Waco that sells a variety of hat styles promoting growth in the community. Many of their hats read “Waco” or depict images like a Waco skyline or the Waco Suspension Bridge.

“We started a little less than a year ago,” Cole said. “The goal behind it was to provide something cool for Waco residents or visitors to have that represents or is good marketing for the city. We also hope to do something good for the community — it’s 100 percent a nonprofit for Mission Waco and we work with other small businesses via social media partnerships. It’s also just something fun for my mom and I to work on together.”

Waco Hat Co. has been particularly successful in promoting its brand over social media, with nearly 500 Facebook followers and over 7,500 Instagram followers.

“Social media creates brand awareness and is a way for people to interact with the brand for the first time,” Cole said. “We don’t have a specific retail location, so we’re dependent on local places in Waco selling our products and social media. Another benefit is that it allows us to promote other businesses and what Waco does — it helps make a sale, but also increases awareness of other partnerships that benefit from exposure.”

Waco Hat Co. has sold 3,000 hats so far in its first year, primarily through their online website and partnerships in five locations — Bolt Boutique, Tradinghouse Design Co., World Cup Café, Morrison’s Gifts and Pinewood Coffee Roasters. Cole believes Instagram promotion has played an important role in the nonprofit’s growth.

“Instagram for us has brought the most social media engagement,” Cole said. “Our goal is to frame our brand as both welcoming and fun. When we look at photos to post, we make sure they check those two boxes.”

Specifically, Cole believes that high-quality photos and creating a welcoming atmosphere via social media are helpful in brand promotion.

“I think people associate the quality of photos with the professionalism of the brand,” Cole said. “It’s important to make sure that the photos and captions align with the company — if someone ever only looks at one post, we hope they take from it what we hope they take about the company as a whole. With professional brands like North Face, you see their Instagram account and their photos make you want to be there. If we can also do that with photos from Waco, that would be awesome.”

Waco Hat Co. has been a featured vendor at both Magnolia’s Spring at the Silos and Silobration events. Cole is originally from Waco and appreciates the community’s willingness to support local brands and small businesses.

“There’s a great appreciation for startups here,” Cole said. “People have welcomed this company with open arms and our success has more than met my expectations. We hope to extend an avenue through which people can support Mission Waco while also getting a cool hat out of it.”

Another small business in Waco that has successfully used social media to promote their brand is Linen and Cake, a home decor shop located on Austin Avenue. The shop is owned by couple Theresa and Bret Emry, and is linked to an Instagram account with over 16,000 followers.

“Social media has been a huge part of our promotion,” Theresa Emry said. “We have lots of people come by the shop saying they found our business on Instagram.”

Theresa Emry believes Instagram provides a visual representation of the brand for customers and an interactive experience to engage with the shop.

“People are visual, and when they can see you and what you’re doing, they respond well to the brand,” Theresa Emry said. “Instagram has definitely been the most successful for us in terms of social media. People enjoy pictures of Bret and I together or me engaging in creative activities.”

Theresa Emry believes some elements leading to Linen and Cake’s social media success include engaging with customers and creating a consistent feel through Instagram photos.

“We really care about people, and by answering comments and responding to messages on the account, the interaction provides value for others in our social media account,” Theresa Emry said. “Consistency is also key — it’s important to keep going even when numbers aren’t growing. Considering the look of an Instagram and putting together an overall feel in the photos helps as well.”

Linen and Cake recently launched an online store and received a shop visit from “Fixer Upper” design star Joanna Gaines. Theresa said she and her husband hope to continue valuing the Waco community in the future and appreciate the support for the city’s startups and local businesses.

“We opened up this shop for community and to create an interactive way for customers to enjoy creative displays and provide inspiration for their own homes,” Emry said. “We’ve loved seeing the growth of Waco and standing alongside other local businesses in the city.” 


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Published for the Baylor Lariat, 11-12-18

Pre-health partnership leads to drive benefitting Waco’s homeless population

Upon volunteering and witnessing the effects of homelessness on the Waco community, San Antonio junior Aleena Huerta decided she wanted to use her role at Baylor to make a difference.

Huerta’s idea led to a campuswide blanket and jacket drive, organized through a partnership between Baylor’s Multicultural Association of Pre-Health Students (MAPS), American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) and Latino Pre-Health Student Association (LPHSA). Huerta serves as the pre-dental chair for LPHSA.

The drive accepts blankets and jackets for donation and lasts until Friday, with the groups distributing the donations at Street Ministries’ Thanksgiving meal to benefit Waco’s homeless population. The easiest way to donate is to reach out to Huerta, Grimes, Iowa junior Therese Riesberg or Austin junior Betty Mekonnen via Baylor email to set up a dropoff time.

Huerta’s inspiration for the drive came when she realized the difficulty that results from being homeless during times of particularly cold weather.

“The idea for the drive came about a few weeks ago during my shift at the Meyer Center homeless shelter,” Huerta said. “A cold front had come in, and it was 35 to 40 degrees and rainy for several days. Multiple people had come into the shelter freezing cold, asking for any type of jacket or blanket to keep them warm, and most of them had been outside all day and even slept in that weather with nothing. Having to turn people away and not having anything to give was a terrible feeling. After this experience, I went to Walmart and bought as many blankets, hand warmers, socks and gloves as I could and drove around Waco handing them out.”

Huerta appreciates the opportunity to reach out to the homeless population in Waco and hopes the drive will make a difference in people’s lives.

“Before I went home for fall break, I posted in my community Facebook page asking if anyone had any items that they’d be willing to donate, used or unused, and came home from break with 60 blankets and 30 jackets,” Huerta said. “At this point it was a lot to hand out on my own so I contacted my friends who also have leadership roles in pre-health organizations and together we put together the drive.”

Riesberg serves as vice president of AMWA and hopes the drive causes students to reflect on the role of homelessness in the Waco community and how they can best help.

“I hope Baylor students realize how much of an impact this drive will make on the homeless population of Waco,” Riesberg said. “Since it’s such a prominent population and the weather is starting to get colder, there’s more of a need than ever for a cause like this, and I hope people are able to see the difference they have the opportunity to make. Homeless people are presented with all kinds of difficulties each and every day, and it’s only amplified when it’s cold outside and they don’t have the means to stay warm.”

Houston senior Giana Rodriguez serves as the founder and president of LPHSA and is glad the drive provided an opportunity for three pre-health groups on campus to partner up and make a difference in the community.

“All these groups came together because of Aleena [Huerta] reaching out and wanting this to be as successful as possible,” Rodriguez said. “It was easy to say yes and come together for this great cause. I hope this becomes a tradition and that Baylor students continue to give with generosity and love.”

Rodriguez said this year is LPHSA’s first as a charted campus organization, but the group already has over 100 members and hopes to provide academic opportunities for those involved, as well as a sense of diversity and the ability to form relationships through social events.

“We mix medicine and Latino culture together by educating our students on how we can better help our Latino community once we’re practicing professionals and today as undergraduate students,” Rodriguez said. “We do service at Carnet Clinic, Fuzzy Friends, and have opportunities to shadow surgeries, doctors and go to elderly homes. We want to impact our Waco community and help it form us into better people and future professionals in medicine.”

Rodriguez hopes LPHSA continues to grow in the future and mentioned how more events and activities are planned for the upcoming semester. She said a good way to stay up to date with the group is to follow @lphsabaylor on social media.

“Next semester, starting in January, we’ll be starting a huge fundraiser for used shoes that people don’t want anymore — our goal is to fill 100 bags with 25 pairs of shoes in each, and I definitely think we can do it,” Rodriguez said. “We’re also working on planning a dance-a-thon, a professor and student mixer and more, so definitely keep an eye out for us.”

AMWA promotes equality in the pre-health field through various group events, and Riesberg said she hopes students will look out for an upcoming event for awareness for sexual abuse.

“We’re a group of pre-health women and men geared toward promoting gender equality in the healthcare field, as well as empowering each other to reach our goals,” Riesberg said. “Look out for our big #MeToo event next semester — it’s next semester’s biggest meeting, and it’s all about awareness of sexual assault and abuse. Survivors will tell their stories, the counseling center will be there for support, and we’ll talk about this as an issue that needs attention.”

Huerta sees the partnership of MAPS, AMWA and LPHSA as a positive step for the pre-health groups and hopes Baylor students take the time to offer a donation and consider how they can help end homelessness in Waco.

“The homeless population seems to get overlooked a lot, but they are truly grateful for anything given to them, and I’ve met so many great people while working at the shelter,” Huerta said. “I hope the drive encourages Baylor students to spend some time focusing on giving to the homeless population here.”


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Published for the Baylor Lariat, 11-5-18

Baylor’s class of 1958 celebrates their 60th reunion

Homecoming weekend is an important moment for many in the Baylor community, but proved to be particularly special this year for the Baylor class of 1958, who celebrated their 60th class anniversary.

The alumni celebrated this reunion with a dinner at the Baylor Club at McLane Stadium on Friday evening, as well as with some members who walked and rode in Saturday’s homecoming parade. A few members held a banner with the class motto “We’re the greatest of the great, we’re the class of ’58, and others rode in a 1969 Ford convertible and a golf cart.

Ann March Stricklin has been involved in organizing class reunions for the past 60 years and serves as secretary for the class of 1958 permanent officer position. Stricklin sees the class of 1958 as a particularly close group and one that has stayed connected through the years.

“This has been a thrill,” Stricklin said. “I love seeing and visiting with everybody, as well as renewing old friendships. When we were here, we all lived in dorms, and we didn’t have cars or cellphones. We all stayed on campus and knew each other, which gave us a real feeling of family.”

Baylor has played an important role in Stricklin’s life since she was a child, and she appreciates how Baylor is part of her family history.

“Our grandchildren who were students here are fifth-generation Baylor Bears,” Stricklin said. “My grandfather came, my parents went here, my husband and I met here, our sons went here and now our two grandchildren have graduated and one is a senior. It’s a huge part of our family legacy.”

Stricklin said Baylor introduced her to her husband and many close friendships in her life, and that homecoming weekend holds special meaning for her.

“I wouldn’t have known my husband if it hadn’t been for Baylor,” Stricklin said. “We met here, and the day I graduated from Baylor on May 23, 1958, we got married at First Baptist Church in Waco. I promised my parents I wouldn’t get married until I graduated. There’s so many great traditions at the school — I’ve been coming to homecoming since I was a little girl, as my father taught at the law school here.”

Stricklin serves as a permanent class officer with Calvin McKaig, who serves as president. The two maintain a friendship to this day.

“Our class has always been really good about coming back to reunions,” McKaig said. “It’s good to see everyone and our class is full of wonderful people.”

McKaig appreciates Baylor for its traditions and has been able to reflect on his time at Baylor since returning for the reunion.

“I absolutely love the bonfire,” McKaig said. “I also liked Pigskin and All-University Sing. We used to go up there and just sing, and now it’s progressed to a huge show. There also used to be a lot of rivalry with Texas A&M, which was fun as well.”

Bill Crocker served as student body president at Baylor in 1958 and enjoyed the opportunity to see and reunite with old classmates. He also rode in Saturday’s parade.

“Being elected president was a big surprise to me, but a wonderful experience. I practiced law, and it was a great foundation for that,” Crocker said. “I love seeing old friends here — we had a lot of closeness as a class and Baylor was small enough where most people knew each other.”

Crocker’s oldest grandchild is a freshman at Baylor and is a third-generation Bear within the family.

“I was here when my granddaughter checked in to the dorms, and it brought back lots of old memories,” Crocker said. “My daughter went here as well, so it’s third generation now for us.”

Jerry Marcontell is a member of the Baylor Athletics Hall of Fame, and was co-captain of the 1957 football team that won the Sugar Bowl. He switched his major to pre-med senior year, ultimately working in the medical field for over 30 years.

“I’ve actually been in the parade before twice — once as a distinguished alumnus and the other time as a member of the Hall of Fame,” Marcontell said. “I think the era of our time in college led to the class becoming close. The ’50s was a time when cohesiveness was big, and we all depended on each other.”

Marcontell appreciates how much Baylor has grown and progressed and enjoys seeing new additions made to the campus.

“Over the years, I’ve never ceased to be amazed at Baylor — it continues to get bigger and better,” Marcontell said. “It’s a wonderful school and has so many new buildings and amenities. Two of my granddaughters are here at Baylor as well.”

Sherry Boyd Castello served as editor-in-chief of The Baylor Lariat in 1958, and her husband was a photographer for the Lariat during that time as well.

“I loved being editor of the Lariat for spring quarter,” Castello said. “We were printed at the Baylor press, and our first jobs were as night editors to make sure it got on the press. We stayed until that was finished and copies came out and would be in the dorms by midnight.”

Castello continued her involvement in journalism after graduation, writing for several Baylor-related publications.

“The Lariat was a good paper — it wasn’t big but was very functional, and we did a big homecoming edition,” Castello said. “I taught some journalism, and in 1968, 10 years after graduation, I was editor of the Baylor Line. I did that from 1968 to 1995.”

Castello appreciated the reunion as a chance to reunite with old friends, particularly her college roommate for over a year. She said that events at Baylor united and continue to unite the school community.

“I was surprised at how many people I recognized — it’s been 60 years, which is amazing,” Castello said. “The way Baylor was in our day kept our class connected. We had only around 1,000 in our class, and we had lots of shared events. Baylor was and still is an amazing place.”