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OctOber 2013 tex AppeAl

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Resident mom

Fitzwater relishes role at UMHB

Resident Director Wendi Fitzwater greets some of her student residents in the foyer of McLane Hall for Men on the campus of the University of Mary HardinBaylor. The foyer doubles as a common recreation area where residents receive visitors, play pool, foosball and ping pong. No one was playing pool, but the hollow sound of a ping pong ball striking paddles is heard from around the corner. There is a friendly competitive game being played by some of the residents and Fitzwater is invited to join in the fun. By CATHERINE HOSMAN




Firm foundation

International journey for family In 2012, Cheri and Chad Strange flew to Ethiopia to adopt four orphaned siblings, ages 5 to 9, and bring them home to Temple. But on the return flight, the family almost didn’t get out of the airport. It wasn’t a problem with passports, customs or immigration that caused the snafu; it was a strange beast unlike anything the young Africans had ever confronted — a moving staircase. By FRED AFFLERBACH 


Couples create safe place for children in East African village

An African proverb maintains it takes a village to raise a child. But what if the village itself needs rescuing? What if the village has no clean water, no opportunity for employment, no schools, no way to break the chains of poverty that have shackled generations. In the East African republic of Tanzania, one of every 16 children is an orphaned child, according to UNICEF. Three million orphans live in Tanzania today. So who saves these children when the proverbial village can’t? A retired couple from Temple, Michael and Dorris Fortson, have built a beacon of hope and love at a baby rescue center called Neema House. By FRED AFFLERBACH


Keeping moms fit Killeen woman helps women stay in shape

On a nearly cloudless Central Texas spring day, a group of mothers and mothers-to-be meet up at the basketball court in Lions Club Park in Killeen. They are not alone. Along for the outing are toddlers and infants in strollers who will join their moms in a morning exercise routine called Stroller Stride. By CATHERINE HOSMAN





TexTalk Neighbors Rachel Peterson and Family Promise


TexTalk FLAVOURS Restaurant dishes up authentic tastes of Italy


TexTalk BEAUTY Wendi Fitzwater opens her bag


TexTalk SCENE KNCT Wine Classic


TexTalk CALENDAR Upcoming events in May





OctOber 2013 tex AppeAl

ON the COVER Dr. Chad and Cheri Strange and their international family. 33 Photograph by JULIE NABOURS


TexTalk WELL-FED HEAD Becky Wade’s “Her One and Only”




Fit4Mom gets mothers and mothers-to-be in shape



Contributors 1


Gift guide



Explore Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center




From the Editor Dear Readers, How many times have you heard someone say, “You can’t change the world?” Exactly what does that mean? Does it mean one or more people can’t change the course of the world as it is today, or they can’t change any portion of the world, as we know it? Over the years, I’ve been privileged to meet and write about people whose actions contradict this statement. Although they may have not changed the world, overall, I’ve watched individuals change the world of individuals or groups, both domestically and overseas. In this month’s issue, we celebrate mothers who go beyond the traditional family to help others. Rachel Peterson helps change the world of homeless mothers who need a hand up, not a hand out. Through Family Promise, a partnering agency with the United Way, Peterson helps families who are willing to do the work and make the sacrifices required to improve the quality of their lives, Page 11. In Arusha, Tanzania, the Neema House welcomes and cares for abandoned, orphaned and unwanted children. Founded by Temple residents Michael and Dorris Fortson, this tireless couple and its international army of volunteers help these children to heal and thrive, find their way home to a family member, or be adopted into a new loving family, Page 41. Two children weren’t enough for Dr. Chad Strange and Cheri Strange, Ph.D. So they decided to adopt two children from China and four siblings from Ethiopia, including twin boys, making Cheri a mom to an international brood, Page 33. And if eight children aren’t enough, follow in Wendi Fitzwater’s footsteps. She is the resident director of an all-male dormitory at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor where she has served for 16 years. She and her husband, Mark, raised their family in a dorm apartment, while watching out for 192 young men each year, Page 26. Whether a mom is expecting or already has three children, she can keep herself fit with Fit4Mom. Meet Erin Laker as she takes a group of moms through a morning exercise routine, toddlers in tow, at Lions Club Park in Killeen, Page 52. For a more restful excursion, take mom on a day trip to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin and enjoy a day in nature. The center offers walking trails, educational and kids’ activities, a gift shop, cafe and so much more, Page 59. Wherever you might be in your busy day, take a break, pour yourself a glass or cup of your favorite beverage and celebrate moms with this month’s issue of Tex Appeal.

Catherine Hosman

Tex Appeal Editor 254-501-7511 


Tex Appeal Life & Style in Central Texas

Published by FRANK MAYBORN ENTERPRISES, INC. KILLEEN DAILY HERALD 1809 Florence Rd., Killeen, TX 76540

TEMPLE DAILY TELEGRAM 10 S. Third St., Temple, TX 76501

Publisher SUE MAYBORN Editor CATHERINE HOSMAN Editorial Director ROSE FITZPATRICK Photographers/Graphic Designers

M. CLARE HAEFNER JULIE NABOURS Contributors FRED AFFLERBACH MITCHEL BARRETT Advertising 254-778-4444 254-501-7500

Tex Appeal Magazine is published monthly by Frank Mayborn Enterprises, Inc. 10 S. Third St., Temple, TX 76501. The cover and content of Tex Appeal Magazine is fully protected by copyright and cannot be reproduced in any manner without prior permission. Subscriptions: For the United States, $24 per year, 12 issues. Mail check to P.O. Box 6114, Temple, TX 76503-6114.

Questions about subscriptions, call 254-778-4444.

Postmaster: Send address changes to: Tex Appeal Magazine, P.O. Box 6114, Temple, TX 76503-6114. How to contact us: Advertising: Call 254-778-4444 or 254-501-7500. Editorial: Contact Catherine Hosman at 254-501-7511 or email edittexappealmagazine@


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You can read back issues of Tex Appeal Magazine at Log on today to find the current issue and older editions of Tex Appeal. TEXAPPEALMAG.COM

Contributors FreD AFFLERBACH is an award-winning writer and novelist, college graduate at age 50, and former long-haul trucker. His stories and columns have been published in daily newspapers across Texas. His novel, “Roll On,� debuted in 2012, and is an interstate odyssey about a man afflicted with an incurable wanderlust despite pressure from family and friends to settle down. Fred lives in Cedar Park with his wife, Diane, and enjoys perusing Central Texas backroads with a keen eye out for roadrunners, old trucks and lipstick sunsets.

MITCHEL BARRETT is an award-winning photographer and owner of Mitchel Barrett Photography. Although originally from the British Virgin Islands, for the past 12 years he has come to call the city of Killeen his home. He developed his love of photography while attending high school and the KISD Career Center, and has enjoyed life behind the lens ever since. When not busy taking photos, you can probably find him at the movies with friends or at home with his family and two dogs.

Tex Appeal Magazine is looking for photographers and freelance writers with experience photographing and/or writing features for a newspaper or magazine. We are seeking candidates from the Central Texas area. Candidates must be detail- and deadlineoriented and good storytellers, and must be familiar with AP style. Ability for writers to take photos is a plus, but not required. Interested candidates may send their resumes and three to five recent stories and/or photographs for consideration to



neighbors 13

flavours 16

beauty 18

scene 20


calendar 23

well-fed head 24

Keeping a promise

Rachel Peterson works with a guest at Family Promise.



TexTalk neighbors

Rachel Peterson helps homeless moms get back on their feet

Story and photo by CATHERINE HOSMAN Additional photos contributed by Family Promise


elping homeless moms and families find their way back to self-sufficiency is Rachel Peterson’s life work. As executive director of Family Promise of East Bell County, Peterson, a devout Christian, said she always had the desire to minister to people. “Getting to help people who are hurting has always been a part of me,” she said. “I didn’t know that until I took classes in social work and found that would be a good way to do that.” Under Peterson’s direction, homeless children and their families can learn how to reverse their life situation. Its dedicated program helps homeless mothers, and families, find their way to selfsustainability. It is not a homeless shelter, and it has strict rules of behavior, but the program, if worked successfully, gets homeless mothers and families off the streets and trained to live independently. Peterson and her assistant, Christy Dilligard are salaried staff, but it takes an army of volunteers in different locales to help their mission.

How it works Because of the specialized nature of the organization, and space restrictions, Family Promise can only assist up to four families at a time. As one family successfully leaves the program, a new family can enter. Each family must meet or exceed the goals lined out in the initial meeting. Those goals include personal and family, employment, housing, finances, education, child care and health care. “In 2016, three families exited the program successfully,” said Peterson. “All three are receiving after care services. Two of the families are getting car donations. We keep an eye on them to make sure they are financially able to maintain a big responsibility like a car.” The Family Promise day center is housed in an old fire station that the 12


Family Promise held its 2016 Bed Race fundraiser at the United Methodist Church in Belton.

city rents back to the organization for a nominal amount. It is a place where mothers can come to during the day to learn computer skills, search for work, learn about handling money and possibly a new trade. The facility offers nap rooms for children, two family rooms, one with DVD capability, two bathrooms (one with two showers, sinks and commodes, and one with a bathtub); and the computer room for adults. Each family gets their own storage locker at the center and their own kitchen cupboard, both can be locked. The full kitchen also has a community cupboard filled with foods for guests who might be in between stocking up. Local churches partner with Family Promise to host families for one week; volunteers convert Sunday school rooms into guest rooms to insure that each family has their own space. Martha Carrell, a Family Promise board member, is a member of Meadow Oaks Baptist Church, one of the host churches. She said there isn’t a more “marginalized group of people than the homeless.”

“For homeless families, this gives them a break to be safe, dry, and have the opportunity to learn how to get from homelessness back into having homes,” she said, adding that each host church has its own house rules. “You have to have structure, rules to follow, mainly curfew,” she said. Volunteer shepherds come in shifts to be present for the overnight families. Some bring in the evening meal, others come to entertain the children and visit with adults, and others spend the night, watching over the guests. “Opening church doors is opening our hearts to Christ,” she said. “We see Christ in these people and we want to embrace them as they come to our door, giving them the opportunity to go from homelessness to homes.” Morning comes quickly, however, and the families are awakened at 5:15 a.m. to be transported back to the Family Promise day center to prepare for a new day. Parents with jobs, some have their own vehicles, head off to work while the children wait for their respective school

Family Promise Executive Director Rachel Peterson and her assistant, Christy Dilligard inspect one of the donated cars that was given to a family who completed the program.

busses to pick them up. Parents without jobs, but searching, and with children younger than school age, stay behind at the center to learn new skills and to job hunt. How long a family stays in the program depends on their progress. “Every 30 days a family goes through an assessment,” said Peterson. “We look for different things. Does the family still have a need? Are they making progress on their goals? Are they abiding by the guidelines of the program?” Peterson said there is a list of expectations regarding behavior, keeping their environment clean and orderly, working on their financial literacy and staying drug and alcohol free. Also, since most families don’t have transportation, the Family Promise van transports families between the host church and day center.

A heart for children When Peterson graduated from Union University in Jackson, Tenn., in Continued

Mary Ann Nickolai, Zue Irizarry and Lee Ann Smith were the “Walking Bed” team at this year’s Family Promise bed races to benefit the center. TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


Marlene Brown, Jen Sandlin, Tommi Fettig and Donna Perry raced the Lions Pride bed in the 2016 Family Promise Bed Races. In the background is Rucker Preston, executive director of Helping Hands Ministry.

2006, with a bachelor of social work, Peterson worked as a Child Protective Services case manager and skilled facilitator for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. But she found the job to be traumatic. “It’s really hard to only see people on their worst day, at their most dramatic juncture,” she said. In that position she explained that once CPS became involved, her role was to try and discover what was wrong, but she was unable to be a part of the solution. “Working with child abuse daily was a hard environment,” she admitted. She left CPS after only two years and took a job at her alma mater where she worked as an administrative assistant for University Relations. The work was satisfying, but she knew she had to have a career that supported her mission in life. Since the university offered tuition assistance, as long as the course of study was beneficial to her job, she enrolled as a graduate student and earned a master of business administration. Along with tuition assistance, however, was a commitment to work at the university for two years. When her two years were coming to an end, it was 14


time to find a career that matched her desire to not only help people in need, but to also be a part of the solution. While working at Union University, Peterson volunteered for a women and children’s center that gave her the positive experience she was looking for. “It helped me to get back into a role of helping other people; to get to know families. I have the heart to help people, but in a meaningful way.” Her goal became to find an opportunity in which she could get to know families on a deeper level. “Not just seeing them once a month, but connecting with them; get to see them several times a week and get to know their stories, see their struggles, and help them rise above their struggles.” She asked herself what she would like to be doing. “I let people in my life know,” she said, including, her friend Landon Preston, the brother of Rucker Preston who is the executive director of Helping Hands in Temple. “My brother, Landon, said if I ever needed anyone in our area that he had an excellent candidate,” said Rucker Preston. “I talked with her a few times on the

phone and she just stood out.“ Preston directed her to Family Promise to apply for her current position. This was the draw that brought her to Temple to work as the executive director of Family Promise, a partnering agency of United Way of Central Texas. In her current position, not only does she meet and counsel with “guests,” she gets to be part of their solution by teaching them life skills so that they can once again become self-sustaining and independent. “One parent went to school to become a medical assistant,” Peterson said. “She got her certification and a better paying job. Most people who come to us have less than a high school diploma or no GED. Some have beyond a high school education.” Unlike CPS, where she wasn’t part of the solution, Peterson now gets to see her guests go from being homeless to contributing citizens. When a family leaves the program to move into their own home, Peterson said that is her “favorite day ever.” “To go from homelessness, with nowhere to go, to helping them move furniture upstairs, it’s a pretty incredible transformation you get to see,” she said.

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TexTalk flavours

Couple brings a taste of northern Italy to Central Texas Story by CATHERINE HOSMAN Photos by MITCHEL BARRETT


rive south on Stan Schlueter Loop until it dead-ends into State Highway 201, turn left and then make an immediate right into a threestorefront center that houses Killeen’s newest Italian eatery, the Italian Cuisine Restaurant. Owned and operated by native Italians Gordon and Natascia Basso, this 22-seat restaurant (with additional seating for four outside) serves an assortment of pastas, sandwiches and delectable desserts, such as homemade tiramisu that is light and fluffy. Their specialty is thin-crust pizzas with toppings that are not usually seen on American pizza. Some of those toppings include artichokes, prosciutto, arugula and one with hot dogs and French fries. Alcohol is not served in the restaurant; however, adult patrons are allowed to bring in their own beer or wine. Corkscrews are available and there is no corking fee. The Bassos are originally from a small town in northern Italy called Fontanelle, just 30 minutes from the U.S. Air Force Base Aviano. It was during a visit to Killeen in 2013, the same year they married, that they knew they wanted to make Killeen their new home and start a restaurant. “We stayed in Killeen for three months, and during that time we met a family with whom we became fast friends,” said Natascia Basso, speaking with the help of her employee and interpreter, Jennifer Coolidge. “They took us to an Italian restaurant, and we felt it wasn’t as authentic as it could be. When we returned to Italy in September (of that year), it took us almost two years to decide to pack up and move our household to Killeen to open up our little restaurant. We felt we had a lot to offer this little town we became so fond of.” In addition to Italian cuisine, the restaurant offers imported Italian meats, cheeses, olive oil, artichokes, tuna, olives and pastas for sale. 16


Italian Cuisine opened its doors Jan. 30, 2016. Diners can eat in or call ahead for pickup. Reservations are accepted, and encouraged for large groups. Catering is also available.

If you go Italian Cuisine 5201 S. Clear Creek Road, Suite B, Killeen 254-768-2142 Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed Sunday

With so many freshly made pasta items on their menus, the Bassos are sharing their recipe for Carbonara that is easily prepared at home.

CARBONARA Serves: 4 5½ ounces bacon, cut in small pieces 4 egg yolks 1 whole egg Grated grana or parmesean cheese Black pepper ½ pound of cooked spaghetti

While the bacon is cooking, boil the spaghetti. In a separate bowl, scramble egg yolks and whole eggs with salt and pepper to taste After the bacon is cooked, mix in the pasta with the bacon and bacon grease. Add the egg mixture and cook just until the egg is firm. Plate equal amounts of pasta onto four dishes and top with grated cheese and pepper. Garnish with a sprig of basil or arugula. Enjoy. TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


Beauty in the Bag

beauty TexTalk


How do you stay beautiful on the go?

Each month Tex Appeal peeks inside the bag of one busy woman to reveal her best beauty secrets and must-have essentials.

Wendi Fitzwater

Resident Director, McLane Hall for Men University of Mary Hardin-Baylor

The ESSENTIALS she CARRIES COVERGIRL COLORSTAY TOP COAT: I love lipstick that stays all day. This is an easy refresher that I can quickly put on without a mirror. BATH & BODY, TRUE BLUE MINI PARAFFIN HAND LOTION: Between the weather and working with paper, my hands can be pretty dry. I love the feel of this lotion on my hands. BEAUTIFUL PERFUME STICK BY ESTEE LAUDER: One of my bridesmaids gave me a bottle on my wedding day. It has a light, fresh floral fragrance that is perfect for me. BIG RED GUM: It’s a nice kick when I need a refresher. I love the spice of cinnamon.



SMARTIES: Not unusual to find some candy in my purse. I keep candy on my desk in my office. When Bethany visits, she throws a piece in my bag for later. HAIR CLIP: I have thick hair and Texas humidity sometimes gets the best of me. By the end of the day, I just want something to pull it up and out of my face. TOKEN COIN: Mark bought me this coin to remind me of his love for me. It’s a simple thing but it makes me smile each time I see or feel it in my purse. KEYS: These are only the keys related to my job and home — kind of the keys to the kingdom — and I keep them with me always.


Most valuable TOOL in her BAG

My cellphone allows me freedom to leave McLane but still be available to my students and staff 24/7. It enables me to be flexible and be both mom and employee. I have a ton of resources in my phone and back it up regularly because I would be lost without it. Do you have a helpful hint you can share with readers? Use the calendar app on your phone — link it to your family if possible so that you don’t accidentally double book. We try to be at all of our kids’ events, but they are busy. The calendar helps my husband and I stay in sync and not miss anything important.



TexTalk scene


KNCT Wine Classic raises funds for Killeen radio, TV stations 2


4 1. Jeff and Shelly Buck have a great time at the eighth annual KNCT Wine Classic at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center. 2. Nina and Rod Rudnick. 3. Rick Wilkins, owner of Big Rock Winery, pours a glass of wine for Robbie Williams. 4. Pat McCray. 5. Sheila and Christian Wohlfahrt. 6. Roberta Gray. 7. Gary and Julie Wood look at silent auction items. 8. Jim Shaves and Anna McGuire. 9. Mark and Terri Baumann. 10. Carol and Frank Hajda. Photos by MITCHEL BARRETT 20


scene TexTalk



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TexTalk calendar

Step Right Up! Behind the Scenes of the Circus Big Top, 1890-1965 Now through May 25 Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to museum required. In an era spanning the early 20th century, through depression ridden times and a dust bowl, one form of revelry thrived — the circus. As one of America’s oldest theatrical traditions, the circus started as a European transplant in the late 1700s and was perfected in the United States by the likes of John Bill Ricketts and P.T. Barnum. By 1900, there were more than 100 circuses crisscrossing the country and they were adept at using all of the advancements of America’s industrial revolution— the railroad, color lithography, and mass marketing strategies. The romanticized imagery, backstage stories, and photographs featured in Step Right Up! reveal both the fantasy and reality of circus life, exploring the illusions that played to the imaginations of so many. Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum 315 W. Avenue B, Temple For more information about exhibits, museum hours, and admission, call 254-298-5172 or visit Tablerock Annual Gospel Festival May 6, 6 to 9 p.m. May 7, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Best singing groups in Texas. Concessions available.



Hagenbeck-Wallace Trained Wild Animal Circus poster, 1934, Erie Litho Company, offset lithograph, collection Tegge Circus Archives. Step Right Up! Behind the Scenes of the Circus Big Top is at the Temple Railroad and Heritage Museum through May 25.

Come and go as you please. Admission: $5 adults, $3 children, age 12 and younger. For more information, call 254-634-4658.

Temple Civic Theatre’s Fourth Annual Mother & Son Dance May 7, 6 to 9 p.m. $15 per person, advance tickets on sale through May 6. $20 at the door, limited availability Ticket price includes admission to the event and a light snack.

A photographer will be on hand to capture memories at the dance. Bid at the silent auction on items for moms and sons. Order tickets online at www. You will receive a receipt for your purchase that is your ticket and serves as your proof of purchase. Bell County Expo Center 301 W. Loop 121, Belton For more information, call 254-778-4761.

calendar TexTalk

Wilderness Family Day Early railroaders spent time building tracks through the wilderness and had to learn special skills in order to survive harsh conditions. We will learn some of these survival skills as we get ready to enjoy the great outdoors this summer. May 7, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Free Railroad & Heritage Museum 315 W. Avenue B, Temple For more information, call 254-298-5172 or visit Sixth Annual Farmer’s Market Saturdays, May 7 through Oct. 29, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Seton Medical Center Harker Heights 850 W. Central Texas Expressway For more information, call 254-953-5493. Fancy Nancy, The Musical May 7, 1 p.m. Tickets: $12 adults, $7 children 12 and younger Presented in conjunction with the Waco Civic Theatre. Nancy’s refined etiquette is not enough to get her the lead role in the upcoming school play. She must summon the strength to forge ahead when a sudden turn of events casts her best friend as the lead. Cultural Activities Center 3011 N. Third St., Temple For more information, call 254-773-9926.

James Bilberry, right, and his grandson, Isaac Taylor, 4, take a dinner break from swimming during last year’s Harker Heights Family Campout.

Gardeners Education Series Trees of Central Texas May 9, 6 to 7 p.m. From the hardy oaks to the graceful willows, the tree life of Central Texas varies as much as the vast and changing land that hosts it. Learn to differentiate between species in this class as well as what, how, and when to plant trees in your backyard. No RSVP is required. Activities Center, 400 Indian Trail For more information, call 254-953-5466. Go Heights: Family Campout May 14, 1 p.m., check-in

May 15, noon, check-out Registration required. $10 each camper. Ages 5 and younger are free (but still must register) Join us at our Family Campout to spend a night under the stars with family and friends and enjoy outdoor recreation activities, all while getting away from it all, but staying close to home. There will be campfire stories, S’mores, and a variety of outdoor recreational activities. Register online at https://apm.activecommunities. com/HarkerHeightsPR with activity #1078 or in person at the Recreation Center, 307 Miller’s Crossing. Continued



TexTalk calendar

Confederate infantrymen muster and drill in preparation for the re-enactment at the Battle of Temple Junction. This year’s event is May 21-22.

Eighth Annual Battle of Temple Junction Civil War re-enactment May 21, 9 a.m. May 22, 11 a.m. Experience living history, see full scale battles, cavalry competitions, military surgeon demonstrations, artifacts, arts, crafts and food. $5 adults, $3 children, age 12 and younger Tickets available online at Texas Early Day Tractor & Engine Association Show Grounds 1717 Eberhardt Road, Temple For more information, call 254-298-5440. Traditional Craft Workshop – Tin Punch May 21, 1 to 3 p.m. Get hands-on instruction in traditional crafts as we learn the art of tin pinching. Supplies are provided. For children and adults, ages 12 and up. Call 254-298-5172 to pre-register by May 13. Railroad & Heritage Museum 315 W. Avenue B, Temple For more information, call 254-298-5172 or visit Jack Ingram in concert May 21, 7:30 p.m. Tickets $23 advance, $27 door Cultural Activities Center 3011 N. Third St., Temple For more information, call 254-7739926 or visit 24


Temple Farmers’ Market May 24 and 26, 7 a.m. to noon West Temple Park 121 Montpark Road (off West Adams behind Temple Fire Station No. 7) For more information or vendor spaces call Mary Coppin at 254-778-2104. Temple Parks Foundation presents Movies in the Park May 28 – Minions Free and open to the public. Grab your blankets, lawn chairs, family and friends for a family-friendly movie in the park. Pre-movie activities begin at 6:30 p.m.; movie starts at sundown. Miller Park 1919 N. First St. For more information, call 254-298-5440. City of Temple presents Food Truck Frenzy May 28, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Downtown City Square 120 W. Central Ave. For more information, call 254-2985348 or visit Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony Bring the whole family for activities to honor those who gave their lives. May 28, 9 a.m. Parade route from Harker Heights High School to Harker Heights City Hall on Knight’s Way 10:30 a.m. Ceremony, Veteran’s

Monument, 305 Miller’s Crossing For more information, call 254-953-5465.

Schoepf’s BBQ Free Texas Music Series May 5, 6 to 10 p.m. Cory Morrow with Parker McCollum May 12, 6 to 10 p.m. JB & the Moonshine Band with Austin Meade May 19, 6 to 10 p.m. Charlie Robison & Cody Bryan Band May 26, 6 to 10 p.m. Sam Riggs with Aaron Einhouse Schoepf’s BBQ 702 E. Central, Belton For more information, call 254-939-1151.

Johnny’s Steaks and Bar-Be-Que Outback Music Series May 14, 7 p.m. Cody Canada and the Departed General admission $15 May 27, 7 p.m. Kevin Fowler General admission $20 301 Thomas Arnold Road, Salado For more information, call 254-947-4663 or visit Email upcoming events to

well-fed head TexTalk

‘Her One and Only’ blends romance with suspense By M. CLARE HAEFNER


ove, faith and family are at the heart of Becky Wade’s latest novel, “Her One and Only,” as the youngest Porter sibling — a now 26-yearold Dru — takes center stage in the final installment of Wade’s four-part series. After finishing her service in the Marines, fierce and independent Dru Porter joins a private security firm working as an “executive protection agent.” A few months removed from a detail gone wrong, Dru’s latest assignment brings her home to help guard veteran NFL tight end Gray Fowler, who has a stalker with deadly intentions. After 10 years with the Mustangs, 32-year-old Gray is accustomed to obsessive fans and doesn’t think he needs 24/7 protection, particularly when one of his “bodyguards” is a young, attractive woman. Dru is determined to put past mistakes behind her and restore her reputation by finding and stopping Gray’s stalker, even if it means getting closer to the handsome football star with womanizing ways and a mysterious past than she’d like. In the finale of the Porter family series (set for release May 3), Wade takes readers along for a high-octane ride as Dru and Gray grow stronger in their faith in God, in themselves and in each other. Expertly blending romance and danger, Wade builds suspense in “Her One and Only” by weaving in the rest of the Porter clan, continuing and tying up the story lines she began in “Undeniably Yours,” “Meant to Be Mine” and “A Love Like Ours.” While there’s enough background in Wade’s new book to follow the story without reading the first three, there are a few lines of dialogue and other moments that bring laughter and insight to readers familiar with the series. “Right from the start, I planned for the Porter family series to span four novels,” Wade said. “The characters evolved a great deal over the course of the series because eight years pass in their story world. ... Some of the Porter family members faced difficulties over the course of the series, some great successes. They

Connect with Becky Wade Join Becky Wade for an interactive Facebook party to celebrate the release of “Her One and Only.” The fun starts at 7 p.m. May 5 on Wade’s Facebook author page: authorbeckywade. You can also interact with Wade through her website, www.; on Twitter, http://; Goodreads, http://www.goodreads. com/author/show/5298259. Becky_Wade; Pinterest, http://; and Instagram, http://instagram. com/beckywadewriter. After receiving critical acclaim for some of her earlier novels, Wade’s already at work on her next series: three books following the lives of three sisters. “I’m the oldest of three sisters, so the new series will be a labor of love,” she said. all matured and learned and sacrificed and grew in integrity.”

Readers are transported back to Holley, Texas, a fictional town near Dallas that Wade says was inspired by her visits to downtown McKinney, which she calls “charming.” Now living in the Metroplex with her husband and sons after attending college at Baylor University in Waco, Wade seamlessly blends real places and Texas traditions with her fictional plot lines. Anyone reading the series who has lived in North or Central Texas can easily picture the places Wade describes. While the Whispering Creek Ranch and horse farm feel as familiar as South Fork, and football fans get a fictional team to root for as cross-town rivals of the love-’em-or-hate-’em Dallas Cowboys, it’s Wade’s strong characters that make the books worth reading. The characters leap off the pages, with witty dialogue and enough humor to balance the intensity of the stressful, scary moments in their lives. “I really wanted the Porter siblings to be raised in a small town by humble, hard-working, patriotic parents,” Wade said, describing the Porter family in “Undeniably Yours” as “confident, redblooded, and 100 percent Made In Texas.” Part of that small-town Texas life is service, and Dru follows in the footsteps of her grandfather, father and three older brothers, by serving in the Marines. “I think a heritage like that says a lot about a family’s dedication, values, and how seriously they take the responsibilities of their birthright,” Wade said. “The Marines are known as the military branch that’s ‘first to the fight.’ The bravery and commitment needed to be ‘first to the fight’ were qualities I dearly wanted to highlight in my Porter characters, so I decided that they’d all serve as Marines.” Dru and Gray both are highly committed to their careers, and in having them struggle to find the right balance to build a foundation for their future, Wade takes readers on a satisfying journey. Picking up “Her One and Only” is like spending time with old friends or family you haven’t visited in a while — familiar and comforting, yet entertaining and exciting as you catch up on the twists and turns of their lives. TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


Wendi Fitzwater’s commute is a short one. Her residence is within the McLane Hall dorm on the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton. 26


Resident Director Wendi Fitzwater meets with some of her resident assistants at McLane Hall at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Resident mom

Wendy Fitzwater serves as dorm director at UMHB Story by Catherine hosman Photos by MITCHEL BARRETT


esident Director Wendi Fitzwater greets some of her student residents in the foyer of McLane Hall for Men on the campus of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. The foyer doubles as a common recreation area where residents receive visitors, play pool, foosball and ping pong. No one was playing pool, but the hollow sound of a ping pong ball striking paddles is heard from around the corner.

There is a friendly competitive game being played by some of the residents and Fitzwater is invited to join in the fun. This is Fitzwater’s 16th year as resident director of McLane Hall. Her journey began in 2000, when she was living in Missoula, Mont., with her husband, Mark, a church pastor, and sons 3-year-old Jacob and 11-month-old Drew. Like many young couples, two incomes were required. To maintain the family, Wendi worked outside the home to help with the household expenses, but always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Change was on the horizon, however,

for the young family. A trip to Belton for her brother-in-law, Luke’s wedding later that year turned out to be a life-changing experience for them. At the time, Luke was the resident director of Johnson Hall at UMHB. He told Wendi that a resident director’s position was open at the university. Since he worked as a resident director, Wendi said she had a good idea what the job was about and thought it was a good opportunity. “UMHB seemed like the perfect solution. I would have full-time status, Continued TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


The Fitzwaters relax in the living room of their private residence in McLane Hall at UMHB. From left is daughter Betheny, 13, Mark, Wendi and Drew, 16.

benefits and be a stay-at-home mom,” she said. While she was still in town celebrating her relative’s nuptials, she applied for the position and was granted an interview. “I thought I’d be interviewing for a girls dorm, but I was told I had the skills to work with the boys,” she said. Growing up in an extended family of many cousins, she was the only girl for a long time and had to learn how to dodge all the teasing and rough housing from the boys. As a pastor’s wife, she taught an all-male youth Sunday school class at her husband’s church in Missoula, Mont. She also worked in the predominantly male world of public investigation during the 1990s, in Glendora, Calif., where she handled the day-to-day operations and worked on two of the country’s most infamous cases: the David Koresh incident 28


“It happened fast. I interviewed on Thursday, left to go back to Montana on Sunday, and was offered the job the following Friday.” Wendi Fitzwater, on becoming resident director at McLane Hall in Waco, and the O.J. Simpson trial. “It happened fast,” she recalled, about being offered her current position. “I interviewed on Thursday, left to go back to Montana on Sunday, and was offered the job the following Friday.” Home would be a little different than what they were used to in Montana. Her family was required to move into a twobedroom apartment built into the core of the dorm. Initially, their apartment wouldn’t accommodate all of their household goods, so they sold all their

furniture except for their bedroom set. As her family grew, a third bedroom was created from an adjacent study hall that was no longer in use. “I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she said. “We arrived on Aug. 4, 2000. I cleaned the apartment, put away our stuff and went through training. On Aug. 12, the students arrived.” Moving into a college dorm with 192 male residents was overwhelming at first for Fitzwater. Computers weren’t as common as they are today, so she drew

Wendi Fitzwater is surrounded by some of her residents at McLane Hall at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton.

to be available to our students 24 hours a day,” she said. “It’s an interesting way to raise our family, but we feel that we have received an enormous blessing investing in the students.” Students seemed to love having a baby on the floors, she said. Bethany and Drew learned how to walk in the buildings, often wandering toward a student on one of Fitzwater’s rounds. This initiated conversation between Fitzwater and the residents when one of her children was gently handed back to her by a student, and conversation followed.

Wendi Fitzwater takes a break to play ping pong with resident assistant Drew Davies.

map of the building illustrating its six halls, each with 16 double rooms, to find her way around. To get to know all her students by name she created flash cards with their images, hall and room numbers.

Three years after her family moved into the Hall, the Fitzwaters adopted 10month-old Bethany, now 13. “All three of our children grew up in McLane Hall and it (living here) allows me

Mom to Many Like most working moms, Fitzwater rises at 6:30 a.m. and doesn’t retire until midnight. During school hours, she works part-time in the Residence Life Office and is on 24-hour call for her residents, even on her days off. But this doesn’t take away from her role as mother to her own children, and wife to husband, Mark. In the evening, she has dinner ready Continued TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


Wendi Fitzwater checks in on roommates Eric Johns and Maverick Cunigan (foreground) in McLane Hall on the UMHB campus.

for her family, takes Betheny to dance classes or piano lessons, then meets with her resident assistants at 8 p.m. to make sure she hasn’t missed anything. With the help of eight resident assistants, Fitzwater is responsible for maintaining structure, rules and discipline of the residents, as well as the maintenance of the building and must be available to her students in the event of an emergency or crisis. During her 16-year career she said as many as 3,000 residents have come through the dorm, and her challenge was to make sure she had a personal impact on each of them. “I can’t do it myself so I rely on my RAs to help make residents comfortable,” she said. Because all freshmen are required to live on campus, this gives her the opportunity to meet and know different people from different lifestyles and cultures. Occasionally, some students choose to stay at the hall all four years of college. “The dorm is a community and we try to foster a family environment within the same building,” she said. Because she wants the residents to feel at home, and she wants to reassure parents that their sons are well, Fitzwater makes a 30


“The dorm is a community and we try to foster a family environment within the same building.” Wendi Fitzwater concerted effort to know all her students. They become an extension to her family and she gets to know some of them on deeply personal levels. “I get to know about their families, who they are dating, who might be getting ready to propose,” she said, adding that some boys choose to be close and some can be distant. “Some come for different cultural backgrounds, some interact with rules and authority and others don’t like that and see me only as an authority figure,” she said. “But when I see someone who may be in need, I make a point to get to know them. The more they start opening up and tell me personal stories about their families, the easier it is for me to do my job.” “We’ve been treated well and Wendi made our dorm apartment a home with the decorations,” said Mark Fitzwater, a commercial photography teacher at Belton High School. Moving into McLane Hall was a bit

nostalgic for Mark. He graduated from UMHB in 1989 and helped break ground for the hall that has become his family’s new home. “I look at the guys names on the board, many were close friends; it’s like coming home,” he said. Mark said UMHB has grown since he left in 1989, but even more since they’ve been a part of the campus. For 16-year-old son Drew, along with having buddies to talk to, he also has builtin tutors. “If he needs help with math, or biology or science, there is someone here to help him,” Mark said. “It’s an interesting adventure for us.” Wendi said her greatest reward is when one of her former residents keeps in touch with her through texting and social media and comes back to visit as a successful adult. “I refer to them as my children of the heart,” she said of her former wards.

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Firm foundation

Cheri and Chad Strange outside their home. 32


A journey to international motherhood Story by FRED AFFLERBACH Photos by JULIE NABOURS


n 2012, Cheri and Chad Strange flew to Ethiopia to adopt four orphaned siblings, ages 5 to 9, and bring them home to Temple. But on the return flight, the family almost didn’t get out of the airport. It wasn’t a problem with passports, customs or immigration that caused the snafu; it was a strange beast unlike anything the young Africans had ever confronted — a moving staircase. Getting on was awkward and clumsy, but accomplished without a major mishap. Then the realization: The girls, Sophia and Zoe, and twin boys, Zack and Tate, were fast approaching the top, far ahead of their new parents. They had no idea how to get off. “Thump, thump, thump. We’re just a pile at the top of the escalator. Suitcases everywhere. People are coming up behind us,” Chad Strange said, a wide grin pasted on his face. “I ended up just basically shoving suitcases, shoving kids out of the way. We’re all laying on the ground at the top. Like a row of dominoes.” A strong Christian faith and key organizational skills, laced with a sense of humor, has helped the Strange family deal with unforeseen challenges in raising an international family. But flying to Ethiopia wasn’t the first time Chad and Cheri traveled overseas to bring home new family members. In 2006, they trekked to China and adopted an infant, Chloe. They returned to China in 2008 and adopted another orphan, Jolee, then age 9. And the Stranges already had two biological daughters at home, Taylor and Addison. Adding the foursome from Africa brought the brood to eight. Cheri and Chad met as undergraduates at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. They married, moved to Waco and looked like the All-American family. Dad was a doctor. Mom taught children’s literature at Baylor University. They had two beautiful daughters, Addison and Taylor. But the yearning to do something more, to make a difference, had gnawed at Cheri since her college days when she learned about

Tate and Chloe Strange catch two of the family’s egg-laying hens.

China’s one child policy and how families who had two or more children found ways to discard them. After much prayer and discussion, the Stranges found themselves in China, cradling little Chloe. But back home in Texas, things did not go well. The toddler cried nonstop night and day. Cheri was home schooling Taylor and Addison at the time and the constant wailing made it difficult to think, to talk, to listen. Chad would often take Chloe outside and walk with her in his arms, up and down the street, trying to console her. Still nothing was working. Looking back, Cheri believes Chloe had a sensory disorder because she was never held or cuddled in China. “He’s a doctor. I have three college

degrees. We know what to do, but not with a person who won’t stop screaming,” Cheri said. “And she has a set of lungs.” Whatever the Stranges were doing finally paid off. The long fits slowly subsided. Two years later it was back to China for another girl, Jolee. Jolee was one of 700 living in an orphanage for special needs children. She had a heart defect and weight 42 pounds. “She was from the sticks. Had never been to school. Had never been taught anything,” Chad said. “She was skin and bones. Her transition was very slow. Emotionally, physically, just so behind.” Although Cheri had initiated adopting the two Chinese girls, Chad Continued TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


The Strange children run circles around their parents, Chad and Cheri Strange.

Chloe Strange relaxes with a book while her cat lays beside her. She shares a room with three sisters. 34


was the driving force behind the African adoption. Through the years, the Stranges had kept in touch with the adoption agency. You could go online and view hundreds of photos of children across the world needing parents. One day Chad discovered the profiles of four African kids whose parents had drowned in a small pond used for drinking water. Immediately, Chad knew what he had to do. Another international flight, and the couple found themselves at the top of the escalator at the airport in Ethiopia, picking up scattered suitcases and kids. Adopting six children has changed the Stranges’ life forever, and for the better, Cheri said. “It makes you grow in places you need to grow and see the world in ways you need to see it better. It’s not for the faint heart. It’s hard work. Everybody comes with baggage. At the same time, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

The Strange children play a board game on their living room floor.

Before adopting more children, the Stranges always counsel and consult their biological daughters. Everything is done as a family. In fact, Addison, now age 15, flew with her parents to Ethiopia to pick up the four new family members. Before adopting more children, the Stranges always counsel and consult their biological daughters. Everything is done as a family. In fact, Addison, now 15, flew with her parents to Ethiopia to pick up the four new family members. Now she shares a room with three sisters, two from Africa, one from China. Cheri and Chad say the burgeoning family has brought Addison and Taylor closer together. Teaching English to four African children who lived in a stick hut with a

dirt floor has been challenging — and funny. For example: Ranch dressing is white ketchup. Pants pockets are buckets. And at a soccer game, the Africans tried to explain to their American parents they were going to get snacks at the concussion before being corrected that it was a concession stand.

A place for everything With eight children, three dogs Continued

Zoe Strange waits for a pet turtle to pop its head out. TEXAPPEALMAG.COM




Organization keeps the Strange household running smoothly. Each child has space for coats, shoes and backpacks.

Taylor, Jolee and Addison Strange share a laugh in the family’s kitchen, while dad, Chad, looks in.

(Ruthie, Freddie and Duke), and a bunch of chickens competing for time and space, Cheri and Chad say organization is paramount. They watch little TV on weekdays. Everyone has their own colored drinking cup, otherwise there would be 30 different glasses to wash every night. Backpacks, jackets, band instruments, all belong in assigned cubbyholes that look like school lockers. Thursday is laundry day— and Sonic Drive-In day. Kids are responsible for watering and feeding eight laying hens that nest in a coop out back. After school they gather fresh eggs and put them in the refrigerator. With Chad working at Seton Medical Center Harker Heights and Cheri writing a blog (, creating a Christian DVD series and managing her speaking engagements from home, the couple called on outside forces for help. Enter Autumn Brewer, a University of Mary Hardin-Baylor senior studying to enter medical school. Handling eight kids may have been tough enough for Brewer, but she also had to learn to drive a behemoth van called the “Chugga,” bought especially for transporting the family. “They really don’t fight. I mean, they fight the normal amount little kids fight, but for the most part they just take care of each other. They all have such unique, but bold personalities. The boys are going to give me some joke of the day. The

Jolee reads in her favorite chair.

older girls will go into some really long talk about high school life. Chloe, Zoe always have some cute little sassy drama or some fun thing they had at school,” said Brewer. “They have just such a good system. Everyone takes care of everyone else. If I’m running behind helping reading with one of the boys, one of the older girls will help with homework. Being a part of their family has been really neat.” Brewer said Chad and Cheri have demonstrated the skills she’d like to emulate when she begins a family of her own. “The ways they make each child feel Continued TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


From left: Younger siblings get a piggy-back ride on their older sisters. From left are Zack and Taylor; Zoe and Sophia; Chloe and Jolee; Tate and Addison.

Identical twins Tate, left, and Zack were adopted from Ethiopia along with their sisters, Zoe and Sophia. 38


loved is something I really learned from them. In the midst of the craziness of it all, just the organization and love is what holds them together. They are incredible.” Academy High School principal Alex Remschel knows well the unmistakable profile of the Chugga, delivering and picking up the Strange clan on a daily basis. He marvels at how Cheri and Chad love and nurture eight kids from three different continents and still make time to open their hearts and front door to others. “I don’t know how in the world they juggle everything. They allow every single kid an opportunity to participate in the stuff they enjoy. It gives them an opportunity to experience a lot of different things,” Remschel said. “As many children as they have in their home, I know the Strange family, Cheri especially, has taken in other students who might not have had a place to sleep that night. Their house is open to more than just their kids. That’s just the spirit of what they do. They are so giving of everything and they sacrifice a lot of time to provide a positive experience for their kids and their kids’ friends.”

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Dorris and Michael Fortson of Temple helped start a baby rescue center called Neema House in East Africa. 40


Love in action

Temple couple builds beacon of hope at Neema House Story by FRED AFFLERBACH Photos by JULIE NABOURS and contributed by The Fortsons


n African proverb maintains it takes a village to raise a child. But what if the village itself needs rescuing? What if the village has no clean water, no opportunity for employment, no schools, no way to break the chains of poverty that have shackled generations. In the East African republic of Tanzania, one of every 16 children is an orphaned child, according to UNICEF. Three million orphans live in Tanzania today. So who saves these children when the proverbial village can’t? A retired couple from Temple, Michael and Dorris Fortson, have built a beacon of hope and love at a baby rescue center called Neema House. Neema House sits on a hillside on the outskirts of Arusha, a Tanzanian city of 400,000 known as the gateway to Mount Kilimanjaro. Paid staff and volunteers work around the clock bathing, feeding, holding and reading to about 48 orphans, all under age 4. Six new babies have moved into Neema House in just the last three months, five of them under five pounds. Neema House co-founder and executive director Michael Fortson said since he first visited Tanzania in the 1960s, problems with urban poverty and the AIDS virus have ravaged families, leaving many mothers to feel they have one choice — abandon their babies. “People do abandon babies in America, but not like they do in Tanzania,” Fortson, 73, said. “It’s such a frequent thing in Tanzania you cannot imagine. We’ve had roadside babies. Babies left in hotels. Babies left on front porches. Babies left in gravel pits. Babies left in latrines. Babies left at the Continued

Dorris Fortson, center, visits with the mother and grandmother of a set of triplets, two girls and one boy. The boy, Frankie (not pictured) was taken in by Neema House because of a disability and will be raised by volunteers and staff. TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


A Masaai family in Arusha, Tanzania.

bus station.” The smallest baby Neema House saved so far weighed 1.65 pounds. Last February, a 2-month-old baby girl weighing five pounds named Emron moved into Neema House. Her mother died from complications of the AIDS virus.

Dorris Fortson holds one of the many children who live at Neema House. 42


Neema: the Swahili word for grace Before her recent trip to Neema House, Dr. Sue Hamby of Temple had visited Africa twice. A typical tourist, she went on a safari. But in March, as a Neema House board of directors member, she immersed herself into the daily life of 48 African babies, crying, screaming and laughing under one roof. Hamby held one special child, named after her late son, Rusty. “These kids are just so precious. You see them and think, how could anybody throw these beautiful babies away,” Hamby said. “I was there. You play with them. You hold ’em. You love ’em. You walk with them. I loved it that they were singing. The nannies were singing. It was just a place of love.” Neema House was born out of the

Dorris Fortson looks over illustrations for her new children’s book at her home office in Temple.

prayers and hard work of the Fortsons, in 2012. The Fortsons first lived in Tanzania for six years in the 1960s, and 70s as newlyweds and missionaries. They loved the people and culture and returned several times afterward. In 2012, they rented a 3,000 square-foot house, large enough to handle dozens of babies. The couple relied on their own savings and donations to pay rent and fund a nursing staff of African women who live on-site. A few American workers are also paid, but individual benefactors pay their salary. The Fortsons’ daughter, Rebekah Johnson, was born in Tanzania in 1966 when her parents worked as missionaries there. A trained emergency medical technician, she lives at Neema House full time working as head nurse. “It’s important because we save the lives of these children,” she said. “I walk through these rooms and they’re just full of babies. These babies live because the most Continued

Friends and family members of Jack and Sylvia Pape, Neema House volunteers, raised enough money to build a new Volunteer House. Construction begins in June. TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


Volunteers from Billings, Mont., spent three weeks at Neema House. Third from right is Dorris Fortson and third from left is her daughter, Kim.

important thing that you can do is have body contact with that baby. Every one of them is a beautiful baby. You don’t really know until you’re there.”

Dorris Fortson — abandoned daughter, orphan mom, children’s author In 1940s Oklahoma, a single mom and waitress dropped off three daughters at Tipton Orphans’ Home on the Red River — one of them, Dorris Fortson. Before moving into the orphanage, the family stayed for a while in a chicken coop. Her older sister was assigned the chore of killing rats. Upon high school graduation, Dorris enrolled at Abilene Christian University and met her future husband, Michael. The Fortson’s both worked at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches and are now retired. A mother of four and grandmother of eight biological children, Dorris can’t hold 44


Neema House aspires to have their children move in with a family member by age two or three. In the four years since Neema House opened, 20 of their rescued babies have returned to family members and 19 have been adopted. back the tears when she describes Neema House. “For someone who was raised motherless, it’s been a great privilege to do this, to give back. Life can start out kind of rough for people sometimes, but you let God have the hard things in life,” Dorris said. “I go in there and think which one do I get to pick up first. I just love it, being able to hold them and love them. It’s hard to think about the ones

left in the front yard, all night, still has its umbilical cord attached, a newborn, naked lying in the grass and just to be able to pick him up and love him. The hospital calls us and says this baby won’t make it unless someone comes and gets it. We don’t just go out and pick up babies, we’re a registered organization. So the hospital or police will call us when a baby has been found or the mother has died,” Dorris said. “We have 40 full-time

The Fortsons brought home this ebony wood carving of a woman pounding corn on one of their first visits in the 1960s.

employees. We’re doing this by the grace of God.” Fellow board member Hamby says the best way to describe Dorris is love in action. “I have never known anyone who is so loving and giving,” Hamby said. “Dorris and Michael are making a difference in the world. She is the Mother Teresa of Africa. They call her Mama Neema. They call her Beebee (grandmother).” Dorris has written six children’s

books, the latest published by Guardian Angel Publishing. “The Baked Potato Boy,” is the true story of Elliott, a baby abandoned at an African hospital weighing less than two pounds. After gaining health and weight at Neema House, a local family adopted him. (All book royalties are paid directly to Neema House.) Because household goods taken for granted in the U.S. are unaffordable in Continued TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


At home in Temple, Dorris Fortson sends thank-you notes to all the people who have helped Neema House. Empowering mothers to own their own microbusiness is one of the goals at Neema House. Dorris Fortson, right, loans Jackie, center, a treadle sewing machine to start her sewing business. Once she earns enough money to purchase her own, this machine will be loaned to another entrepreneurial woman.



Michael Fortson holds Frankie, a triplet with two sisters, who is being raised by the Neema House due to his disability.

Tanzania, capital improvements at Neema House are hard won. On a recent trip, the Fortsons brought a wind generator in their suitcase, disassembled, of course. The trip before — an incubator. Michael Fortson, at home in Temple for a threemonth sojourn, is building a shipping crate for the return trip. On his wish list: lawn mower, weed eaters, blower, floor jacks, a trampoline. Fortson said a cheap lawn mower there would cost $1,000.

From a house to a village Folks at Neema House recognize their work saving abandoned babies is the result of a larger problem—no economic opportunity for Tanzanian women. So they have built a program called Mothers Against Poverty. Organizers would loan seed money to mothers who want to start a small business such as a hairdresser. They will be coached and mentored and, when they can afford it, will repay the loan so it can be used to help another candidate. By empowering women to take control of their lives, Neema Village aspires to make a long-term difference. The Fortsons and their staff of volunteers and paid workers are also busy

Babies drink bottles while lying on a mat on the grounds of Neema House.

building Neema Village on a 9.8-acre site recently purchased. Already under construction — built by hand one cinder block at a time — is the Montana Home for widows. Other additions that have been funded but wait construction will move the rescue center toward being selfsufficient. Here’s a glance at some of the buildings scheduled for construction in 2016: • Sixty-bed baby home • Home for volunteers

• Laundry, shop and storage • Mothering center • School and church building According to the Neema House website, adoptions in Tanzania in which babies are taken out of the country is rare because the adoptive parents must remain in the country three years, be married, and at least 25 years old. To learn more about Neema House and Neema Village, go to www. TEXAPPEALMAG.COM










Erin Laker started Fit4Mom to help new moms and mothers-to-be stay in shape.




Staying in shape Program helps new mothers and mothers-to-be get fit



n a nearly cloudless Central Texas spring day, a group of mothers and mothers-to-be meet up at the basketball court in Lions Club Park in Killeen. They are not alone. Along for the outing are toddlers and infants in strollers who will join their moms in a morning exercise routine called Stroller Stride led by mom, army veteran and Killeen resident Erin Laker. The women are all members of Fit4Mom and these thrice-weekly morning outings welcome fitness buffs of all levels. It is designed to help mothers stay in shape during pregnancy or get back into shape after delivery. Don’t let the name fool you. Stroller Stride is much more than a walk in the park. “It is a power walking group that welcomes runners,” said Laker, who owns the franchise. “We don’t want anyone to think that they have to run if they want to come.” Laker said two routes are used: a shorter route for walkers and a longer route for joggers. Participants gather at a specified location in the park. After signing in, and before hitting the trails, Laker and her assistant Lauren Brown lead the group on a series of stationary warm-ups that include low-impact jogging in place; high knees movement, jumping jacks and stretches. “It’s not always the same warm-up, we use various movements to get the heart rate up a little, get the joints loosened,” said Laker. Brown, a certified personal trainer, has been a member of Fit4Mom since 2009. She is expecting her fifth child in July.

Erin Laker guides her group of Stroller Stride moms through strength training exercises at stops along the trail.

Before hitting the trails, Erin Laker and her assistant Lauren Brown lead the group on a series of stationary warm-ups. “Having young kids, it’s difficult for moms to find time to work out with a baby,” she said. Now she is able to work out three mornings a week with her twins in tow. “Just being in a community of moms, it’s good to be with like-minded people,” Brown said. With the warm-up complete, the group splits up and meets at various

stations throughout the one-mile course for strength training. Generally resistance bands are used, but on this day, a parachute was used for a group strengthening exercise. “Everyone holds the parachute on the outside and brings it up over their heads,” Laker explained. “When they bring it down, they go into a low squat. As they go up, the parachute catches air and puffs up.” The resistance happens when participants are bringing the parachute back down. Another parachute exercise involves everyone holding the parachute and jogging clockwise. Laker also designates numbers to sprinters. When she calls their number, they let go of the parachute and run ahead of the person in front of them and then grabs on once again as the material floats on the air currents. “We do a lot of resistance band work Continued TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


A parachute is used for resistance training during a strength training exercise at a Stroller Stride event at Lions Club Park in Killeen. 54


as well,” she said. “We try to do about five stations, and it depends on what we are doing at each station, how long we stop before moving on to the next station.” New mothers must be six weeks post partum and have a written clearance from their doctors before starting their exercise regime with Fit4Mom. Laker said mothers-to-be with no restrictions can exercise up to their delivery time. She said exercising while pregnant makes for a healthier pregnancy all around. However, for those who are unable to do the exact exercise routines, there are modifications that are lower impact. Another way Laker helps moms stay fit is through her Body Back class that is an eight-week results oriented class with a focus on long-term results and based on the circuit of a boot camp. It is a one-hour, high intensity, interval training routine. No babies or children are allowed at these classes. Laker reminds moms that labor is “not a sprint, it is a marathon.” She said labor is taxing on the body and “the healthier you are and the better you take care of yourself, this leads to less intervention.” She recommends all pregnant moms to start working out. “Taking care of your body and having a healthy, strong body during delivery can help.” She said she worked out daily during both of her pregnancies, which helps prepare for birth. “Birth is kind of like a marathon, going through labor, delivery — exercise keeps the core, back and musculature strong before you get pregnant. If you don’t work out and get pregnant, start working out. It keeps your core and back strong, helps combat weight, and supports your posture.” Keeping strong during and after pregnancy also helps with a mom’s postdelivery chores like cradling and feeding your baby or putting your baby in a car seat. “These movements close you down,” she said. “One of the things we focus on is opening up a lot.” Working on posture is one of the important things moms can do, Laker explained. “A lot of moms are hunched over, there is a lot of twisting, picking up the baby, placing the baby in the car seat or crib, squatting. . . focus on functional

Erin Laker holds her baby daughter, Kalia, while instructing a group of moms on their next routine.

Fit4Mom offers more than Stroller Stride mornings for its members. Laker said they are a village and offer play groups that are free and open to the public, and mothers’ night out. movements you do everyday, what you do in your life specifically as a mother.” Laker doesn’t espouse any particular diet, but said good nutrition requires a mental reset of how we think about food. “We need to eat clean, whole foods and think about what you are putting Continued TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


into your body instead of just filling it,” she said, with an emphasis on eliminating processed foods.

Lauren Brown, a certified fitness instructor, is Erin Laker’s assistant at Fit4Mom. 56


A new direction After seven years in the army, Laker retired and didn’t know what she wanted to do post military. She knew she wanted to be able to spend time with her children, 4-year-old Lana and 9-monthold, Kalia. She was deployed for long periods of time and missed her child’s first steps. In fact, there were many milestones she and her veteran husband, Richard missed. She knew, after the birth of her second child, that she wanted to do something that gave her more mommy time. An avid fitness advocate, she learned about Fit4Mom through a friend at Fort Bragg, N.C. “I always worked out. It was a passion of mine. I always wanted to do something with fitness, be an instructor.” Laker looked around the Killeen area to see if there was a program that catered to moms, but didn’t find anything. She didn’t plan on opening her own business, but when she learned more about the Fit4Mom program that goes beyond exercise and forms a community, she said she felt this was something Killeen needed. “Being such a transient town, military moms come in all the time and don’t know anybody,” she said. “Fit4Mom combines the things I love, which are being a mom and fitness, and to make a career out of it was kind of what led me to where I am now.” Before joining the Army, Laker ran track in high school, green-trained horses at a Michigan horse ranch where she worked, and was a barrel racer. She was always taking care of horses, hauling bales of hay and everything else required to work on a horse ranch. “I went into the army already physically fit,” she said, still not thinking she’d ever own her own fitness business. Fit4Mom offers more than Stroller Stride mornings for its members. Laker said they are a village and offer play groups that are free and open to the public, and mothers’ night out. “It’s something to help get moms out of the house, get the kids out of the house.”

Moms take to the trails at Lions Club Park in Killeen three times a week for their Stroller Stride workout. They stop at intervals along the way for other stretches and exercises.




Wild wonders

Explore natural beauty of Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin STORY AND PHOTOS BY FRED AFFLERBACH Additional photos contributed by wildflower center TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


Many wonders await visitors at wildflower center


t’s a warm spring day at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin and a small crowd has gathered in a sun-drenched courtyard. Water trickles into a small pond lined with native ferns, rushes and lilies. A wind chime plays a soft lullaby. Someone has printed “shh” on a chalkboard. A hush falls across the curious visitors. Rather than looking down at bright bluebonnets, they are gazing upward toward a brown, sandstone archway. Athena, the great horned owl, has triumphantly returned for the sixth year to hatch her chicks. Upon close inspection, something moves just above the shaded ledge where Athena built her nest in January. “As they get bigger, you can see their heads. They start out as fluffy little white things and they start getting brown feathers,” said Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture. “When they fledge, it happens pretty quickly.” Although folks from across the globe flock to the center to watch Texas wildflowers strut their stuff, surprises such as discovering this owl nesting in plain sight are common here. The 279-acre site is a rural enclave in an urban setting — a Walden Pond deep in the heart of Texas. You can get lost in the library reading books about landscaping and forest fires in North America. You can take a snooze on a bench in a botanical garden. And you can meditate while meandering through a forest of oak, elm and cypress trees. The center is popular with all ages, but families with young children have discovered it as an alternative to the standard playground with squeaky swing sets and banging seesaws. Two young mothers pushing toddlers in strollers said they visit so often it made sense to buy the annual family pass. The center offers a safe place for their kids to get their feet, hands and knees muddy exploring nature. “There’s a lot of room for imaginative play,” said Montana Yates, an Austin mother. “I love it because this is more how kids played when we were growing up. That’s what I love about coming here. It’s not the flashy, blinky toys. It’s just a more natural form of play. There’s always something different; whether it’s digging for fossils or planting plants or doing a 60


Athena, the great horned owl, has triumphantly returned for the sixth year to hatch her chicks at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.

If You Go Located at 4801 La Crosse Ave. in South Austin, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is about a 90-minute drive from the TempleBelton-Killeen area. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission: Adults, $10; seniors and students with college ID, $8; children, ages 5-17, $4; 5 and younger, free. Cafe and gift shop on-site. Call 512-232-0100 or visit www. puzzle or reading in the rain.” Another popular feature is a small waterfall where young and old can duck into a small cavern and come up behind a cool stream of water splashing into a shallow pool. Bronze sculptures of rabbits and coyotes and deer are scattered across the site. Children are welcome to hitch a ride on them just as they are encouraged to run barefoot on a large lawn of soft

buffalo grass. You won’t see any “keep off” signs at the wildflower center. The whole concept is to get people to immerse themselves in nature. Keeping in mind the adage that the next drought begins the day after the last flood ends, the center actively promotes xeriscaping, a practice that promotes using native plants that require far less water than exotics. DeLong-Amaya said some folks are reluctant to use indigenous shrubs, grasses and flowers because the results can look shabby. “I never want anybody to use the excuse they don’t want to use native plants because they don’t want a wild-looking garden. You can use native plants. It’s just how you design and maintain them that makes the difference.” To help plant lovers think along that track, the center has built a series of small plots called the Homeowners’ Inspiration Gardens. Visitors are encouraged to take home photos, notes and ideas. The Texas Mixed Border garden employs native plants in an elegant “English cottage garden style” in which dramatic purple wisteria blooms drape

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Director of Horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya says bluebonnets, the Texas state flower, thrive in well-drained, rocky soils such as areas disturbed by construction. Using wildflowers in landscapes is important, according to the research center, because the practice helps conserve water, reduces mowing and fertilizer costs, and provides habitat for wildlife.

over an arbor shading a bistro-style table and chairs. A butterfly garden uses more than 300 plant species to attract pollinators. The Formal Homeowner Garden uses clean lines, symmetry, carefully trimmed hedges and geometric shapes to demonstrate indigenous plants don’t have to look unkempt. A rain garden demonstrates the value of using plants in low spots to slow down storm runoff, mitigating erosion and allowing water to percolate into the soil. A playscape called the stumpery is a collection of native tree trunks salvaged from nearby construction sites or on site. Inverted, large Ashe junipers and cypress logs invite children to climb and crawl and get dirty. A fence made from juniper posts affords bird lovers a hiding place to wait and watch cardinals, mockingbirds and blue jays forage and flutter. The idea Continued TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center includes a gift shop and cafe. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

behind the bird nest is to teach children patience. The metamorphosis maze was built with dwarf yaupon hollies and Texas sage. “I think of it as a metaphor for life. You have twists and turns. You make a wrong turn and have to back up and go somewhere else,” said DeLong-Amaya. “It’s a puzzle and it also serves as a hedge demonstration for native plants.” The maze highlights animals that go through a complete metamorphosis in life such as a tadpole becoming a frog. DeLong-Amaya says each garden has a story to tell. “This is a hummingbird garden, so the plants are particularly attracted to hummingbirds. There is a deer resistant plant garden that features plants deer don’t generally eat,” DeLong-Amaya said. “There’s an edible, native plants garden. There is a garden that has plants named after different botanists in Texas, a little mini-history lesson using plants.”

Lady Bird’s legacy Staff at the wildflower center will tell you Lady Bird Johnson’s vision for the 62


center 30 years ago was to build a place that looked like God put here. Her passion for the environment, not just wildflowers

per se, has led to the honorific title “Environmental First Lady.” Born Claudia Alta Taylor in East Texas in 1912, she noted at a young age how the natural world affected her life. Growing up in deep East Texas, she often immersed herself in dense forests and wetlands. Serving as United States First Lady for five years when her husband, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was president, she seized an opportunity. The Beautification Act of 1965 was known as “Lady Bird’s Bill.” It reigned in outdoor advertising, put regulations on junkyards on main highways and encouraged roadside development. Lady Bird celebrated her 70th birthday by creating the National Wildflower Research Center with a $125,000 personal contribution that purchased 60 acres east of Austin. Having outgrown that location, Lady Bird spearheaded the move to the center’s present site in 1995, which has grown from 43 to 279 acres. The center’s mission today is: “increasing the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes ... to teach everyone how

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Director of Horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya shows off a walking path at the center in South Austin.

these plants conserve water, minimize the use of fertilizers and insecticides that pollute the atmosphere and convey a unique sense of place.” A limestone boulder near a walking trail has been inscribed with a comment from Lady Bird that captures her passion for the outdoors. “The environment is where we all meet, where we all have mutual interests.”

The Book Nook is a cozy corner inside a charming, one-room cabin called The Little House where children can read, draw or solve puzzles. AT LEFT: One of the picturesque scenes at the wildflower center includes a small waterfall. TEXAPPEALMAG.COM


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