Prosper Waco’s Goals Set by Steering Committees
By Matthew Polk
For the last three months, the Prosper Waco Education, Health, and Financial Security steering committees have been working to identify the most important issues facing our community and setting measurable goals for how we can work together to make positive change for people in Waco. They have reviewed data and community input and debated which issues should be attacked first. While there are some details to be finalized, the committees have reached consensus on a set of goals that will form the common agenda of the Prosper Waco initiative. These are big goals—goals that will take a true community effort to achieve. And if we achieve them, the entire community will benefit. What are these goals?
Kindergarten Readiness: For children to succeed in school, they have to be prepared to learn when they start Kindergarten. This means that they need a healthy start in life so that they develop strong bodies and brains. It also means that they need to know certain things (like letters and numbers) that will help them understand what the teacher is teaching so that they can stay on track academically. The Prosper Waco initiative will work to make sure that parents and families have the resources and information they need to help their children grow and learn so that more students in Waco are ready for Kindergarten.
Post-secondary completion: Students who complete a college degree or a workforce certificate have a better chance of getting a job that will provide enough income for them to support themselves and their families. To help our community members move out of poverty, we need to help more students find the college degree or certificate that is right for them and give them the support they need to finish that program. The more community members who have workforce training or college degrees, the stronger our local economy will be.
Access to Care: Too many people in our community can’t afford to see the doctor when they are sick. This means that too many people end up visiting the hospital Emergency Room when they could have saved time and money by seeing a doctor for a minor illness. The more community members who have health insurance and can afford to see the doctor rather than visiting the ER, the healthier we will be. And when more people get the primary care they need, our hospitals and emergency rooms can do an even better job of serving those who really need them.
Obesity: Obesity is a health challenge facing more and more Americans. Many communities struggle to build a culture of health that will encourage all community members to take care of their bodies so that they can be as healthy as possible. Reducing obesity by helping Wacoans understand their health, stay active, and make better food choices is a goal of the Prosper Waco initiative.
Women’s Health: Our community’s health data shows that too few women get the annual checkups they need to stay healthy. When pregnant women don’t have access to good healthcare, their babies can be born unhealthy. Babies born to teenage mothers often have worse health and education outcomes than their peers. The Prosper Waco initiative will work to make sure that all women have access to the healthcare they need and that all babies born in our community have the best chance to be born strong and healthy.
Mental Health: Mental health issues affect all types of people, regardless of race or class. Effectively serving the mental health needs of a diverse community is challenging. A lack of mental health resources means that many people must rely on the hospital Emergency Room for mental health needs. Often these patients do not receive the type of care that they most need. The Prosper Waco initiative will work to increase access to mental health resources for our community.
Employment: Having a paying job is the first step to financial security. There are nearly 2,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in our community who are not enrolled in school and do not have a job. Connecting these young people to the workforce will give them the chance to build financial security and will strengthen our local economy.
Income: Many of our community members are working hard to make ends meet, but their paycheck isn’t enough to provide real financial security for their families. The best way to increase the income of hard-working people in our community is to help get a job that pays enough to support themselves and their family. This could mean helping them develop new job skills or helping them overcome barriers such as transportation or child care needs that may be blocking their ability to get a job that pays enough.
Wealth: Financial Security means having enough to be sure that your family can handle a financial bump in the road. Wealth is measured by a family’s assets—how much it can save and invest, how much the home it owns is worth, etc. Helping families understand how to build assets that will provide more financial security is a goal of the Prosper Waco initiative.
If we can achieve the goals set by the Prosper Waco steering committees, more people in our community will be able to get a good education, find a job that supports their family, and make sure that they and their family stay healthy. If you are interested in how we will measure our progress toward these goals, be watching our website — www.prosperwaco.org —where we will be posting more information about the initiative’s goals, the data that supports them, and our progress toward achieving them.
Are you interested in helping our community work toward these goals? We are building working groups that will focus on each of the goals listed above. If you want to be part of the process of developing strategies for achieving these goals in your community, we welcome you to join the Prosper Waco team. You can email Jillian Obenoskey, our Community Engagement Coordinator, at [email protected], or call her at 741-0081 to learn more about how you can be involved.
You don’t have to be an expert in Education, Health, or Financial Security to help our community achieve the goals of Prosper Waco. You just have to be willing to contribute your ideas and energy to coming up with creative ways to help people in our community measurably improve their lives.
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.