People with disabilities face specific financial challenges

By Meg Wallace

Supplemental Security Income recipients are getting a 5.9% raise in 2022!

That sounds like a hefty increase until you realize that in 2021 the maximum SSI benefit was $794. 

Almost nine out of 10 apartments in Waco rent for more than $700 a month, and rents are rising rapidly.

So how do our neighbors with disabilities get by?

Some barely do. Many do not receive SSI benefits, and those who do are hemmed in tightly by rules about income and assets. Income received from work or other sources besides SSI triggers a reduction in benefits, and money carefully saved — to buy a car to drive children to school, for example — can exceed the asset limit, endangering Medicaid benefits, as well as SSI.

No amount of budgeting savvy is going to squeeze more blood out of this onion.

So what can we do when we or someone we care about has a disability and is repeatedly coming up short financially?

The first thing is to be understanding. People who receive or are eligible to receive SSI benefits have a disability that makes it difficult to sustain steady employment, and their financial options are severely limited by Social Security rules. Repeated financial crises are pretty much inevitable when there is so little wiggle-room in a person’s budget.

Second: learn about the options.

What are the options?

Advice on money management can be good, but it is rarely enough when there is nearly always more month than money.

Referring someone to receive assistance with utilities or other expenses is great, but there are limits to how many times people can receive help from these assistance programs.

Giving money from your own pocket when asked is commendable, but it can complicate relationships, putting the beneficiary in the position of supplicant all too often and possibly leading to resentment and lack of trust.

The most lasting options get at the root of the problem: reducing expenses while increasing access to funds.

In the Amberley Collaborative’s Financial Instruments for People with Disabilities online workshops, four experts walk participants through these more lasting options:

As the lived-experience expert, I speak about my own family’s journey with disability and related financial challenges.

Karisa Garner, of Heart of Texas Region MHMR’s PATH program, talks about SSI and SSDI — who can apply for benefits and how to apply.

Troy Schafer, a local insurance agent, discusses access to medical benefits and health insurance to lower or eliminate the cost of health care.

And Jeremy Mocek, of Academy Capital Management, guides us through ABLE accounts and special needs trusts, so people can receive income and other support without endangering their benefits.

Our next workshop is at 3 p.m. Tuesday, November 2. You can register here. We keep our workshops small enough for questions and discussion, so if you don’t land a spot in the Nov. 2 workshop, do sign up for the waiting list, and we will let you know when the next workshop is offered.

Because Amberley Collaborative’s mission is to help regular folks help one another, our workshops are acronym-free zones, accessible, and easy to understand for beneficiaries, their loved ones, and local professionals. And our presenters make themselves available for free consultations after each workshop to help you take next steps.

Please consider joining us.

Meg Wallace (MA, LMSW) is organizer and director of Amberley Collaborative, a Waco nonprofit that strengthens natural support systems for people facing challenging and isolating life circumstances.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

MCC honored for COVID response

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has recognized McLennan Community College for its outstanding efforts to respond to COVID-19.

MCC and nine other colleges and universities were recognized as Star Award recipients during THECB’s quarterly board meeting. MCC will be recognized again Dec. 2 during the 2021 Higher Education Leadership Conference in Austin.

The annual Star Awards are presented to institutions implementing exceptional contributions in achieving one or more of the state’s higher education goals. This year, awards recognized institutions’ efforts in response COVID-19.

Criteria for the awards were “a clear demonstration of how the institution implemented strategies to ensure the health, safety, and success of their campus and local community, partnerships with community-based organizations, and the innovative and creative nature of one or more of the strategies used,” according to THECB’s webpage.

“The success of our students was due to their resilience, determination, and talent,” said MCC President Johnette McKown. “Every McLennan employee contributed to student success by tapping into their creativity and expertise to ensure our students had access to all the same services offered pre-pandemic. … The challenge is not over, but McLennan will not give up as we stand McLennan Together.”

MCC’s application provided several examples of the school’s efforts:

— Loaning ventilators, hospital beds, and PPE to community healthcare institutions;

— Developing online self-assessments, self-reporting forms, instructions on exposure and testing, and safety practice modules;

— Maintaining an online dashboard of reported, positive, and active cases updated daily;

— Providing the community with free drive-thru testing and vaccination clinics;

— Designing the “McLennan Together” communication campaign in response to student, employee, and community questions on safety protocols, instructional strategies, and student success activities;

— Implementing instructional solutions to ensure safety and success, including providing online, blended, and hyflex course formats, rotating students attending class in-person, collaborating with local partners on solutions for programs requiring clinical work, simulations, internships, and other in-person instruction;

— Providing creative solutions in response to COVID-19 hardships like a curbside food pantry service, a fundraising campaign supporting emergency fund scholarships, free parking lot WIFI, a technology loan program, and virtual mental health counseling;

— Producing virtual commencement ceremonies for all 2020 graduates; and

— Implementing a student debt-forgiveness program to encourage former students to re-enroll.

Other Star Award recipients were the University of Texas at Arlington, Houston Community College, Texas A&M University – Commerce, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Odessa College, University of Texas at Tyler, Sam Houston State University, Texas State Technical College, and Lone Star College – North Harris.

For more information about the awards, click here.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Social worker at Waco PD helping connect people to needed help

By Telawna Kirbie

The City of Waco now has a full-time social worker, DeAngela Bynum, at the Waco Police Department and employed by Prosper Waco. The goal of her work is to connect community members to much-needed social resources and supports as part of PW’s Waco Connect program.

Prosper Waco’s DeAngela Bynum

Obviously, one person cannot do this for the entire community, so Prosper Waco has worked with police to choose a particular set of community individuals who will be offered Waco Connect services as a pilot program. This population includes community members who have multiple law enforcement interactions and those that have frequent Emergency Detention Orders (EDOs).

When we say, “multiple law enforcement contacts,” we are referring to those community members for which the police receive multiple calls for minor disturbances and infractions that may or may not warrant police intervention. Some people are the subject of multiple calls in one day and others over a period of weeks or months. These community members may benefit from accessing other social resources to support their overall physical and mental health. 

The other subset of the population includes those who have multiple or frequent EDOs. An EDO is when a community member is in a mental health crisis and needs assessment for hospitalization but is not willing or able to go voluntarily. The police have the authority to take the individual into custody and take them to a facility to obtain a psychiatric assessment. Some of our community members find themselves in mental health crises frequently. Waco Connect will work with them to access the resources and supports necessary to reduce mental health crises and promote mental health.

DeAngela receives referrals from within the police department, completes a needs assessment, and then provides linkage and support in accessing, navigating, and obtaining the resources to help meet their needs. Waco Connect can continue to provide ongoing support for as long as needed for up to one year. The desired overall outcomes will be a reduction in law enforcement contacts, EDOs, emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and medical costs as well as an increased level of overall physical and mental health. 

Prosper Waco, the City, and the Waco Police Department are excited about what this program can provide as we partner together to provide more comprehensive support for our community members. Stay tuned for more information as we continue to grow and expand Waco Connect services. 

Telawna Kirbie is director of behavioral health initiatives for Prosper Waco.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Research reveals ‘racialized’ roots of financial exclusion

By Dexter Hall

During my many readings about financial security and understanding how we arrived at this point in time, I have run across many articles and commentary. 

An article by Rocio Sanchez-Moyano and Bina Shrimali, of the Federal Reserve Bank, sheds light on how years of financial exclusion of Black and Brown communities have led to many of our present-day problems and issues. The article, titled “The Racialized Roots of Financial Exclusion,” reveals the fact that access alone is not enough.

Source: Federal Reserve Board of Governors analysis of Survey of Consumer Finances


We often share information about redlining and racially restrictive housing covenants that were the law of the land in cities across America that barred “negroes” from buying in areas that were deemed “white” only.

Rocio and Bina share an example from a 1950 covenant on a property in Daly City, Calif. The covenant said: “The real property above described, or any portion thereof, shall never by occupied, used or resided on by any person not of the white or Caucasian race, except in the capacity of a servant or domestic employed thereon as such by a white Caucasian owner, tenant, or occupant” (cited from Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, p. 78‒79).

Rothstein also cited a practice called blockbusting, which “refers to the practice of telling white homeowners that Black people are moving to induce concern about forthcoming declines in property values, which sometimes led to sales at a loss that were then sold to Black people at a profit” (Rothstein, p. 95).

The Rocio and Bina article discusses in extremely clear terms how the Black-White wealth gap came to be. More importantly, the authors help us understand why there is a need for direct investment in communities of color to balance the scale that was tipped purposely and intentionally.

Understanding the intersectionality of financial security to health and educational outcomes continues to be a bedrock of creating a more thriving community for all Wacoans. This is our challenge together in creating an inclusive economy for all. 

In straightforward terms, when all people win, we all win. However, when one of our brothers and sisters loses or is left behind, we all lose.

The data we previously shared from the 1934 redlining map shows us where we should expect issues and problems today in Waco because of intentional non-investment in the past. The data today, 87 years later, show large amounts of poverty persist in East Waco and parts of South and North Waco. In other words, today’s poverty map mirrors the 1934 redlining map.

Implementing the City of Waco’s Financial Empowerment Blueprint is needed now more than ever. Let’s act today to change the future of Waco. 

For more information on how to get involved in [email protected] The time is now.

Please look at the full article by Rocio and Bina, as well as the documented research included in their endnotes.

Dexter Hall is chief of staff and senior specialist for financial security with Prosper Waco.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Chalk art obstacle courses come to life in Waco parks

Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, Creative Waco, and City of Waco Parks and Recreation collaborated to create the Sidewalk Chart Art Obstacle Course Challenge. The Challenge was a community-wide project that tasked families to get outside and get creative by drawing their best sidewalk chalk obstacle course.

The Health District received multiple submissions from the community, all containing different, creative ways to get through the obstacle course such as: hopping like a bunny rabbit, spinning, doing your best touchdown dance, and jumping through lily pads like a frog.

 “The goal for the challenge was to provide families with a fun way to get outside and get active, while also providing a COVID-safe activity for all to enjoy,” said Emily Green, public health education specialist for the Public Health District. 

Families were asked to submit photos March 23-April 18, and winners were chosen May 3. A panel of judges representing local organizations scored the entries on creativity, obstacles within the course, and the ability for all community members to enjoy.

The winners are the Vaughn and Peebles families, the Sharma family, and the Striezel family.

The obstacle courses are now painted on sidewalks near the playground stations at Bledsoe-Miller Park (300 N. M.L.K. Jr. Blvd.), South Waco Park (2815 Speight Ave.), and Dewey Park (925 N. 9th St.). Tashita Bibles, a talented local artist, stayed true to the spirit of the kids’ original artwork, while bringing some magic of her own.

“How cool that some of the children who participated get to see their artwork come to life in City of Waco parks. It’s a reminder that everyone’s ideas can make a positive difference in our community” said Fiona Bond, executive director of Creative Waco.

Funding made possible through the Texas Healthy Communities, Texas Department of State Health Services grant.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Act Locally Waco seeking temporary communications director

By Ferrell Foster

It has been a privilege serving as acting executive director of Act Locally Waco since January, but it is time for me to step aside from this volunteer leadership role.

The ALW Board of Directors, I’m happy to announce, has decided to secure a paid Communications Director to work on a contract basis in order to oversee the daily operations of the entire ALW platform — newsletter, website, and social media. The role is expected to require about 10 hours of work per week and will be temporary until the board determines its long-term direction by mid-year 2022.

Here are ALW’s expectations for the role:

The Communications Director will coordinate all ALW communications efforts as listed in the following “deliverables”:

DELIVERABLES

Provide direction to all ALW communications efforts

Coordinate work on ALW website and newsletter

Cultivate relationships with a diverse group of contributors in order to identify ways that ALW could provide support in strengthening their platform

Guide content development and approach, including deciding what is or is not appropriate for use on ALW platforms

Guide the work of ALW’s volunteer social media and blog administrators

Direct and facilitate the work of the Communications Services contractor

Evaluate messages and photos for appropriateness with respect to balanced viewpoints and an emphasis on community engagement

Recommend potential items for inclusion in The WHOLE Enchilada newsletter

Edit the “Happy Friday” copy written for the newsletter

Approve release of each newsletter as shared via a MailChimp test

Approve any changes to the newsletter format

Send to CS contractor raw copy for “Events” website page

Send to CS contractor raw copy for “Jobs/Jobs Related’ website page

Send to CS contractor raw copy for “Announcements” website page

Direct and facilitate blog posting on website

Recruit blog writers

Anticipate needed topics

Edit blog copy as needed

Support blog posting by ALW’s volunteer blog administrator

Facilitate ALW social media efforts

Support social media efforts in conjunction with ALW’s volunteer social media administrator

Promote community engagement:

Arrange or support in-person attendance at community events as possible

Recruit subscribers to The WHOLE Enchilada and followers of ALW on Facebook and Instagram

To apply:

Interested persons should send an email and resume to ALW Board Chair Cuevas Peacock at [email protected]. The Board is planning to move quickly on this appointment. Resumes should be submitted by Oct. 27.

Ferrell Foster is acting executive director of Act Locally Waco and senior specialist for care & communication with Prosper Waco.

‘Behavior Basics for Teachers’ course set for MCC Continuing Education

By Corsi Crews

I am so grateful to introduce myself and announce upcoming opportunities for us to learn and grow together.

I am affectionately known as Dr. Behavior. I come by my nickname honestly, as I have been working as a behavior interventionist for more than 20 years, primarily working with the most significant behavior concerns in agencies like the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, Methodist Children’s Home, and Waco ISD. The tougher, the better … and more fulfilling!

Corsi Crews speaks at a Region 12 Gifted Education Conference.

I am a proud Tarleton Texan, as I have graduated thrice from Tarleton State University with degrees in education, criminal justice, and psychology. I also taught criminal justice for my alma mater at the University Center at McLennan Community College for nearly seven years.

The real reason you should know who I am is because I’m pretty good at connections — real, meaningful connections. The ones that make you feel the warm fuzzies in your belly when someone is near. The ones that let you know your words are heard and your feelings are respected and that even in disagreement, a resolution can be found. You know, the connections life is all about.  

Those are my jam and more importantly, my purpose.

In June, as my final school year with Waco ISD came to an end, I had a great opportunity to present my workshop, “Brave Battles with the Brain: Behavior Intervention That Works,” to the fantastic educators in our region at Region 12’s Gifted Education Conference. 

We discussed the brain and its components, especially the amygdala (our brain’s threat detector), which can perceive threats when there seemingly aren’t any and can make us feel pretty silly in the process. You see, our amygdala sounds alarms any time it feels a possible threat is near and then CHOOSES FOR US if we should fight the threat, freeze, or run away in order to stay safe. 

When it works, we stay alive. “Thank you, Amygdala!”

But sometimes, because of previous traumas and negative experiences, that alarm system can malfunction and develop a “hair trigger” that can misfire when it shouldn’t. 

That’s where I come in as Dr. Behavior. I help my students and clients understand how to identify these tricky fight, flight, or freeze responses and to practice supportive ways to RESPOND rather than REACT. You see, many of the overreactions we experience each day are related to the brain and its need to feel safe, not because somebody “made us mad.”

I mentioned a previous relationship with MCC earlier in my career, but it was actually a former Rapoport Academy colleague who connected me back to the college. After hearing about the success at the Region 12 conference, Kristi Pereira and I got to work to develop offerings for the Waco community through MCC’s Continuing Education Department. 

My first course, “Behavior Basics for Teachers,” is open for registration and will be held 8 a.m.-noon Thursday, Nov. 11, on the MCC campus. CEUs will be offered. This course is intended for teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, and administrators and is a great classroom management course, especially for dealing with difficult students. Any educational professional would benefit from this course.

I will also be offering “Behavior Basics of the Brain for Parents and Caregivers” as a parenting support for anyone who cares for children and “Behavior Basics for Leaders” in Spring 2022. 

Join me!

I am genuinely looking forward to making new connections in the Waco community and finding ways Dr. Behavior can help in and around the community. While my courses include examples relevant for that group, the classes are not exclusionary. 

If you’ve got a classroom that’s giving you the blues or a child who struggles behaviorally or if you’re a leader who wants to be more successfuI, come join me. Everyone is welcome and can improve in connecting with others.

Course Registration Link

Keep those battles with behavior brave!

Corsi Crews, Ed.D., is a trained behavior interventionist, certified educator, and behavior coach endorsed with Texas Education Agency. With more than 20 years of experience, Crews has dedicated her career to helping children, families, educators, and leaders to improve behavior by establishing and maintaining meaningful connections and relationships. For private speaking and district training inquiries, contact me directly at 254-366-3829 or [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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Families sometimes break down

By Ferrell Foster

Families come in a variety of forms, and they serve varied personal and social services. One of the key functions of family is to nurture the growth and development of children by providing for a child’s basic human needs.

We all know, however, that some families become unable to provide the needed care for a child. When that happens the state steps in to protect the children, as it does in other circumstances where vulnerable persons are at risk.

A number of things can happen when the state intervenes; one is by arranging foster care — a place to provide needed care to a child for a time. Kids may be placed in a number of possible settings — a relative’s home, a licensed foster home, or residential psychiatric care.

Foster care placements have been rising in many counties in Texas. In 2020, 1,181 McLennan County children were placed in foster care, a figure which has risen steadily over the past 10 years; there were 465 placements in 2011. These numbers reflect all children in the varied types of housing.

The placement number reflects the number of children in care at the beginning of the year and those who enter care during the year, said Anna Futral, executive director of CASA of McLennan County. On any given day there are about 700-800 McLennan County children under state supervision with relatives, licensed homes, or other residential facilities.

The rise since 2011 is staggering and should get our attention. Yes, our population has risen, but it has not nearly tripled, as have the placement numbers. This tells us that a lot of families are struggling to care for their children.

Are we any different from counties of similar size?

The rate of placement in McLennan County is 18.36 per 1,000 children. That means 1.8 percent of our children are needing state-supervised care. This is a higher rate than in similar counties — 16.5 per 1,000 in Bell, 4.21 in Brazos, and 7.6 in Jefferson.

The need for care points to a challenge on the family-of-origin side of the equation, but there is also a challenge on the foster care side. Last year, there were 17 licensed homes for foster care in our county. These homes typically house no more than two children.

“Many/most kids do get placed with relatives, which is a good thing,” Futral said, “but for those that don’t have safe relatives to be placed with, they are placed in licensed foster homes. But with so few licensed homes here locally, many children end up outside of McLennan.”

This resulted in only 35% of McLennan County children being placed in the county in 2020. That’s pretty consistent with other similar counties — 36% in Bell County, 35% in Brazos, and 33% in Jefferson. Lubbock County, which is similar in size, placed 51% within their county.

Enough of the numbers; you get the picture. Families need help, and the children in those families need help. Leaders in McLennan County have come together to pursue solutions — stress on the plural “solutions.” These things will not be improved overnight, but we have a lot of good people who care about pursuing that improvement.

If you would like to be involved, contact me at [email protected].

The data was compiled by Jeremy Rhodes of Prosper Waco from the Texas State Department of Family and Protective Services Data Book.

Ferrell Foster is senior specialist for care and communication with Prosper Waco. He is also acting executive director of Act Locally Waco.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Why is it so hard to talk with teens about sex?

By Beth Olson

How did you learn about sex when you were a kid?

I love the way adults laugh and respond to this question. 

“I just remember my parents leaving a book in my room.”

“Our football coach taught us … kind of.” 

“I didn’t learn anything!”

Then I ask …

Raise your hand if you wish your parents or another trusted adult had talked with you more about sex?

Almost every hand goes up. 

And how many of you are comfortable talking to teens about sex and sexual health?

Almost every hand goes down … very quickly.

What is it about sex that makes even the most supportive parent (or other trusted adult) freeze up? You love your kids. You want them to be healthy adults. You equip them with the values and skills needed to navigate so many complex situations. Yet, somehow, the simplest anatomy question can stop Super Mom in her tracks.

But why?

Because it’s hard to talk about sex when we have no frame of reference for how the conversation should go. 

You’ve been taught your whole life that sex is not an acceptable topic of conversation. It’s private, and it’s not polite. Your parents probably didn’t talk to you about sex. Or if they did, it felt like an awkward scene from an ’80s sitcom. Adults don’t even talk to each other about sexual health. Think about it. When was the last time you casually chatted about birth control side effects at a nice dinner party? 

Simply put — we don’t get much practice saying sexual things out loud. 

So, let’s change that. Over the next few months, I’ll explore effective ways to talk with teens about sexual health, boundaries, and relationships; how to build trust with young people; and address questions parents often have about sex education. 

Together, we can create the first generation of adults who will proudly raise their hands and say, “My parents and mentors worked together to teach me about sex.”

CDC: Talking with Your Teens about Sex: Going Beyond “The Talk”

Beth Olson is director of adolescent health initiatives for Prosper Waco.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Imagine a day without water & do something

Submitted by Melissa Mullins

Imagine a Day Without Water is a national day of action on Oct. 21 to raise awareness about the value of water. Have you ever thought about where your drinking water comes from? What about where your wastewater goes? 

For the seventh annual day, we may take a few steps beyond imagining the reality of going without a resource as vital as water. We may take action by learning about the systems that deliver water to our homes and businesses each day.

According to the 2021 Annual Value of Water Index, a majority of Americans across all demographics support a strong investment in our nation’s water infrastructure. A bipartisan agreement can be a rarity, but in this case most people agree that reliable water service and supply are crucial. 

Meaningful investment in our water systems would provide access to quality water for everyone, resilient infrastructure, and more jobs. In fact, closing the water infrastructure investment gap would increase the GDP by $4.5 trillion over 20 years. 

As an individual, you may wonder where you fit into ensuring a day without water doesn’t become a reality in our community. It’s a daunting task, but our collective voice can make a real and lasting impact. 

Education is key. Take some time to learn about local water sources and what our water and wastewater utilities are doing to invest in our community. Consider joining like-minded people and reach out to decision makers and find where they stand on investing in water infrastructure. 

Here in McLennan County and Greater Waco, you can:

No matter your reason for participating in Imagine a Day Without Water, continue the conversation with your friends, family, and co-workers about the value of water. A day without water doesn’t have to be inevitable. Let’s work toward a reality in which a day without water is something we only imagine. 

For information on Imagine a Day Without Water and how you can participate, visit the event website

Melissa Mullins is environmental education specialist with Baylor University’s Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].