Prosper Waco and Community Engagement
By Matthew Polk
On February 18, Prosper Waco held its Inaugural Event at the Waco Convention Center. The event was free and open to the public. About 450 community members attended. Troy Bush, one of our partners at Episcopal Health Foundation (EHF) in Houston, commented earlier this week on how impressive it was to see so many people in one place to dialogue about community issues. Even in Houston, he said, it would be difficult to bring together 450 people for a community conversation.
But is 450 enough? How many people does it take to truly represent a community as diverse as Waco?
Some who attended the Inaugural Event wondered if a person living in poverty would have felt welcome at the very event that was supposed to be about reducing poverty. That is a troubling question. If we want to improve the overall prosperity of our community, we are going to have to work together to overcome some serious challenges associated with Education, Health and Financial Security. To do this effectively, all of us must be a part of the conversation. We need every perspective. We need the perspective of those of us who wrestle every day with the realities and practicalities of life WITHOUT solid education, sound health and secure finances.
The promise of Prosper Waco is in the bridges that we can build between big-picture strategies for community improvement and the needs of people in neighborhoods throughout the city. We have a long history of productive big-picture thinking by our public officials and by people who have had the financial resources to make big investments. Our system of Family Health Centers, our abundant water supply and the attractiveness of community jewels such as Cameron Park, the Zoo, and the Convention Center are evidence of wise, strategic, big-picture thinking that has paid off.
We also have a long history of neighborhood development. We have experienced the benefit of doing the patient work of building relationships, one neighbor at a time, even when lack of resources makes those relationships both more crucial and more difficult to maintain. The success of the 15th Street “Street of Dreams” initiative is a great example of this kind of neighborhood-level revitalization work.
Often, however, it has been difficult to find effective ways to connect visionary plans and grassroots work. Certainly there are examples of where it has happened—for example, the City of Waco housing department worked effectively with local non-profits to better serve Waco’s homeless population and dramatically decrease the number of people in Waco who suffer chronic homelessness. But it remains a challenge to build bridges between a community’s resources and the people who need to benefit from them.
The momentum behind the Prosper Waco initiative and the generous engagement of a wide range of community partners makes this the right time to successfully build those bridges, to engage the whole community, to work together.
That’s why our partnership with Troy and EHF is important. EHF has a track record of engaging communities to identify local health challenges and to develop strategies to overcome those challenges. They are experts in making sure people from all parts of a community are involved in developing the solutions that will make their community stronger. One of the techniques they have used successfully to get this kind of community involvement is to establish a Community Engagement Council. Prosper Waco has partnered with EHF and Alexis Christensen, a local community organizer, to develop a Community Engagement Council for Waco to help ensure that people throughout Waco participate in the Prosper Waco initiative.
The Prosper Waco Community Engagement Council is a group of individuals who live in some of the neighborhoods in East, North and South Waco where the challenges of education, health and financial security are felt most acutely. These are individuals who are active in the community and willing to take the time to dialogue together to think about the best ways to take the Prosper Waco initiative to people in all parts of the city.
The council members will be actively spreading the news about Prosper Waco in their neighborhoods. They will be inviting friends and neighbors to events to learn more about Prosper Waco activities and to have conversations about what Prosper Waco can mean for them. They may be reaching out to you or people you know with an invitation to have dinner and dialogue about Prosper Waco. Be on the lookout for signs of Prosper Waco in your neighborhood.
Does this type of community conversation interest you? A steering committee discussion of community data may not be your cup of tea, but a conversation over dinner with friends and neighbors may be a way that you can help build this community initiative. If you are interested in building community engagement as part of the Prosper Waco initiative—especially if you live in one of the areas of the city mentioned above—give us a call at 741-0081, or email me at [email protected] and let me know that you’re interested in being part of the work of Prosper Waco.
Editor’s note: FYI, Prosper Waco has a show on the Waco City Cable Channel. Click here to see Matthew’s interview with Pastor C.J. Oliver, a member of the Community Engagement Council. It is in the second half of the show after the interview with Dr. Jim Morrison.
Matthew Polk is Executive Director of Prosper Waco. Prior to that, he served as Superintendent of Rapoport Academy Public School. He and his wife attended Baylor, and after spending a few years in the northeast, they returned to Waco to raise their family. They have four children, ages 8 to 3 months. You can contact him at [email protected].
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.