Surviving COVID-19 and the Holidays

By Dr. Peaches Henry

As predicted by infectious disease experts in the summer, coronavirus infections are now surging across the nation during the winter and holiday period.  COVID-19 hospitalizations in McLennan County hit a record on Monday, November 24, and local health officials said that warnings about Thanksgiving gatherings must be taken seriously.  If not, the McLennan County’s medical capacity could be strained in the weeks afterwards.  The scientists of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are pleading with Americans to avoid traveling for Thanksgiving and to celebrate only with members of our immediate households.  Put starkly, spend Thanksgiving with family; spend Christmas in the ICU. 

Facing these dire consequences, many of us have decided to forego our traditional holiday celebrations to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.  My own family, stretched across several Texas cities and involved in various conditions of employment including completely working from home, working hybridly, and working face-to-face all dealing with students, has decided to forego a face-to-face Thanksgiving this year.

Though I am disappointed not to be with my family, I wanted to reach out to others to offer some ways that we are trying to get through this time.  Let’s face it.  We might have to spend Christmas separated as well.  We might as well prepare for the entire holiday season—Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, all of them. These are safe activities that are good for our emotional and mental health that abide by the recommendations of the CDC and local doctors.

Be grateful.

  1. If you are reading this blog, be thankful.  Though 2020 has been unprecedented in so many ways, we still have much to be thankful for.  Count your blessings.  Since it is 2020, count up to twenty blessings.  Go ahead and count twenty more, because it’s 2020.

Reach out to others.

Though apart, we are in this season together. Some people suffer from depression during this season even when we are not in a worldwide pandemic, so you can imagine how down they are feeling now.  We know that giving to others helps build resilience and diminishes some of the isolation many are suffering.  Therefore, it is important to be purposeful about reaching out to people and making them feel part of the community.

  1. How about that new neighbor who just moved in?  Write a note of welcome with your phone number for emergencies. Or that family whose children have been learning remotely for weeks?  Leave a puzzle or a card game on the front porch. 
  2. Give poinsettias to several of your neighbors. 
  3. Deliver a meal to someone you know will be alone for the holidays.  Bake cookies and let your children deliver them to neighbors (remember, contact free!).  This is one of the CDC recommended substitute activities.

Find new ways to observe your family’s traditions. 

  1. One of the activities I miss most is cooking and chatting with family the night before the big day, especially with my mom (now gone to heaven) “suggesting” that I add more of this or that ingredient. This year I’m cooking and chatting with my sister via Zoom.
  2. Among my family’s time-honored traditions is playing board games.  From Connect Four to Monopoly to Bible Trivial Pursuit to Trouble to Uno to Jenga to Sorry to Scrabble, we play them all.  To say that we play games is a milquetoast description of what my family has done over the years.  We play ferocious, competitive, winner-take-all games.  We game out which games we are going to play weeks ahead.  We pick our teams with winning in mind—my late mom, the Sunday School superintendent, for Bible Trivial Pursuit; my son, the strategizing law student, for Monopoly; my brother, the sports fanatic and movie enthusiast, for Trivial Pursuit; and me, the English professor, for Scrabble.  Good sportsmanship is a must:  winners and losers must shake hands and smile at the end of the game.  My sister and I still crack up remembering the grimaces that passed for smiles when we were children.  Then we gloat all year till the next holiday (really for years).  The family still gives me grief for not remembering Robert Ludlum as the author of the Bourne Identity which would have won the game for the girls in 2006! Argh!  So how will my family replace this tradition when we will not be together?  We are still going to play games.  We are going to harness the power of technology—Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangouts, etc.  One game we are going to play is the #Hashtag.  This will advantage millennials and GenXers, but I plan to get one on my team.  Whatever your family’s tradition is, find a new way to celebrate it.
  3. Enjoy watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while you prepare dinner?  The full 2019 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on YouTube.
  4. Watch your favorite holiday specials together on Zoom.  “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will air free on PBS on December 13.  One, two, three, click!
  5. Put “the game” on at everyone’s house and watch it “together.”
  6. Sing Christmas carols together via Zoom.

Bring back old traditions. 

  1. A Christmas card arriving via the USPS in a mailbox would lift the spirits of someone who is spending the holiday alone and away from family.  Writing the cards together as a family over cookies and milk or tea could create some great family moments.  The benefits of a paper card is that it can be hung up in a barracks, stuck to a refrigerator, or placed on a desk.

Create new traditions. 

  1. Plug your charger into your phones and have a conversation with a group of friends or family members.  This can easily be done via Zoom, but if folks are tired of Zoom, everyone can kick back on couches and chat.  We play a conversation game called “Favorite” at dinner parties that is easily transferable to a phone conversation.  It works for all ages and leads to great conversations and reveals surprising tidbits about players.  Sample topics:  What is your favorite childhood television show?  Dark Shadows, anyone?  What is your favorite book?  Favorite mystery? Favorite car?  Favorite animal?
  2. Have a drive-by parade for sick-n-shut-ins at your church.

Put on your favorite soundtrack.

  1. A good soundtrack can make any situation bearable.  Put yours on and dance the night away.  Take your pick of music streaming platforms:  Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music.
  2. Go a step further and dance.  Use YouTube videos to learn the steps to line dances.  The Electric Slide (old school favorite), the Wobble, the Cupid Shuffle, the Cotton Eyed Joe.  Dancing is a much more enjoyable way of getting those endorphins going than running.

Breathe, relax, release.

  1. Embrace the fact that you don’t have to cook a twelve-course meal for twenty family members plus that family of six who will show up without notice.
  2. Be happy that Uncle Blank won’t be at the table to ask uncomfortable questions.  Do give him a call though.
  3. Go to bed early the night before Thanksgiving Day.  Better, get up late on Thanksgiving Day.
  4. Put your holiday decorations up early.  My neighbors seem to already have decided to do this.  Lights lift the spirits.  My family usually waits till Christmas Eve to go see the lights.  This year, I’m going early.

Bonus:  Have hope and faith!

  1. Know that we will get through this time.  History is our witness.  The world got through the 1918 flu pandemic.  We will get through the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

Peaches Henry is the president of the Waco NAACP and an English professor at McLennan Community College.  She will be spending Thanksgiving with her best friend and black Lab Samson and Christmas with her son Corey and Samson.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.

Ways to Give Back This Holiday Season

There’s no better way to spread holiday cheer than volunteering in your local community! Volunteering and donating are a great way to get into the spirit of giving. Read on for some ways you can give back to the Waco community this holiday season.

The Salvation Army Waco

The Salvation Army is famous for its ubiquitous red kettles and bell ringers outside of stores during the holiday season, and this year is no different, despite the challenges of COVID-19. The Red Kettle Campaign is the one of the Salvation Army’s biggest fundraising events of the year, and the money collected in the kettles goes directly to programs and services that help people right here in McLennan County. The Salvation Army needs bell ringers until December 24. To pick a date, time, and location to ring, visit www.RegisterToRing.com. To ensure the safety of bell ringers and donors, masks will be required at the kettles and touchless payment options like Apple Pay and Google Pay will be available.

If you’d rather stay at home, you can take the Virtual Red Kettle Challenge right from your couch! Set up your own kettle online, and you’ll receive a personalized link to share with friends and family so they can “fill” your kettle. Take the Red Kettle Challenge here.

Volunteers are also needed at the Salvation Army Community Kitchen now through January to serve meals, including the traditional holiday meal on Christmas Day. To help out at the community kitchen, sign up at http://sarmytx.org/volunteerwaco or call 254-756-7271.

The Salvation Army Waco is also hosting the Rescue Christmas Run this year. Sign up for the run at here and run (or walk or bike) for good! 

You can also help out by shopping the Salvation Army Toy Registry and making Christmas special for Waco children in need. Take a look at the registry here, then ship or bring toys to The Salvation Army, 4721 W. Waco Dr, Waco, TX 76710.

Lastly, you can donate money directly to the Salvation Army Waco by visiting www.salvationarmywaco.org.

Shepherd’s Heart Food Pantry

Help make Christmas a truly joyful holiday for all Waco kids! Shepherd’s Heart Food Pantry is hosting their annual “Toys from the Heart” toy drive and need donations to help provide for families in Waco. They need toys of all kinds for kids in grades K-12. For more information, click here or call 254-213-7833. For a list of drop off locations, click here.

Family Abuse Center

Make the holidays bright for survivors of domestic violence and their children! Family Abuse Center is working to make this holiday season feel special and comforting to survivors with their “Holiday Helpless Gift List.” They need toys for children and household and personal items for adults. A full list of needed items can be found here. Bring unwrapped items to Family Abuse Center now through December 18. For more information about donating and dropping off, call 254-772-8999.

Becca Muncy is an Act Locally intern from Dallas. She is studying professional writing at Baylor University and is completing her senior year.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.

The Act Locally Waco Thanksgiving Cookbook

Happy Thanksgiving, Waco! A few weeks ago, I put out a call in The Whole Enchilada, asking for people’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes. I wanted to create a blog post that could serve as a community cookbook for Waco. And, boy, did you deliver some fantastic recipes! Read on for three great recipes from your Waco neighbors: a show stopping side, a fun and easy dessert, and a unique twist on Thanksgiving leftovers! Then, click here for a special Act Locally Thanksgiving recipe card you can print off and use to keep these recipes for years to come!

The Recipe: Hasselback Butternut Squash (Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

This recipe was submitted by Rachel, who has lived in Waco on and off for the past 10 years, and whose favorite Waco spot is Lula Jane’s porch! Rachel made this recipe while celebrating Thanksgiving in the UK and added the serrano pepper and sorghum syrup for a little Southern flair once she returned to Waco.

Ingredients:

1 large butternut squash

1 tablespoon olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 serrano chile, thinly sliced

¼ cup pure sorghum syrup

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

6–8 dried bay leaves

Directions:

Place a rack in the upper third of oven; preheat oven to 425°F. Halve squash lengthwise and scoop out seeds with a large spoon. Using a peeler, remove skin and white flesh below (you should reach the deep orange flesh). Rub all over with oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast in a baking dish just large enough to hold halves side by side until beginning to soften (a paring knife should easily slip in only about ¼”), 15–18 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring chile, sorghum syrup, butter, and vinegar to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high, stirring occasionally and removing chile as soon as desired heat level is reached (set aside for serving), until just thick enough to coat spoon, 6–8 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and keep glaze warm.

Transfer squash to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Using a sharp knife, score rounded sides of squash halves crosswise, going as deep as possible but without cutting all the way through. Return squash to baking dish, scored sides up, and tuck bay leaves between a few of the slices; season with salt and pepper.

Roast squash, basting with glaze every 10 minutes or so and using pastry brush to lift off any glaze in the dish that is browning too much, until tender and glaze forms a rich brown coating, 45–60 minutes. Serve topped with reserved chiles.

The Recipe: Cinnamon Walnut Pecan Pie Bites (From the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service)

This recipe was submitted by Lindsey, who has lived in Waco for 5 years and loves walks along the Brazos River! This recipe can be easily doubled, tripled, or even halved, depending on how big or small your Thanksgiving crowd is!

Ingredients:

15 mini phyllo shells, frozen

1/4 cup liquid egg substitute

3 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1/2 tablespoon room temperature butter

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 drop vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoon chopped walnuts

2 tablespoon chopped pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray or line with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine egg substitute, brown sugar, butter, vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt. Mix well.

Stir in 1 tablespoon chopped pecans and 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts into mixture. Arrange phyllo shells on baking sheet and distribute the mixture evenly among the shells. Combine remaining nuts and sprinkle them on the top of the shells.

Bake in the oven until edges are crisp, 15-18 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving. If you like, top each piece with a squirt of fat free whipped cream topping. Enjoy!

The Recipe: Thanksgiving Leftovers Lasagna

This recipe was submitted by an anonymous Act Locally reader, who has lived in Waco for 49 years and whose favorite Waco spots include Cameron Park and the River Walk at the Waco Suspension Bridge! This recipe is a great way to use up leftovers; feel free to swap any ingredients based on whatever leftovers are in your fridge!

Ingredients:

3 cups leftover cornbread stuffing

1 (14-oz.) can whole berry cranberry sauce

1 ¼ lbs cooked turkey breast, sliced into ¼ inch slices

3 cups cooked mashed potatoes

2 cups green beans, corn, or mixed vegetables

6 oz sharp white Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 ½ cups)

Gravy, for serving

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a square baking dish with cooking spray.

Spread half of the stuffing in a layer in bottom of prepared baking dish. Spread half of the cranberry sauce in an even layer over stuffing. Layer half of turkey slices on top of cranberry sauce, then half of vegetable of choice, then spread half of the mashed potatoes on top of vegetables. Sprinkle half of the shredded cheese on top of potatoes. Repeat layers once. Bake in preheated oven until lasagna is warmed through, about 20 minutes. Increase heat to broil, and broil until cheese is golden, about 2 minutes.

Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before cutting into squares. Spoon gravy over each square to serve.

Becca Muncy is an Act Locally intern from Dallas. She is studying professional writing at Baylor University and is completing her senior year.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.

Honoring our veterans: a different perspective

By Robert J. Rush, Sr.

Robert J. Rush, Sr.

My brother, Frank, recently sent me a link to an article about a history making event at the navy.  The article is entitled “A Military 1st: A Supercarrier Is Named After An African American Sailor.” He correctly thought I would particularly be interested as a retired sailor.  He was more than correct.

The article goes on to explain that the event was particularly amazing because super carriers are normally named after U. S. presidents, not enlisted sailors, and especially not enlisted ‘Black’ sailors.  Well, you should be proud to know that according to the article, a supercarrier now on the drawing boards will be christened the USS Doris Miller, after our own Doris Miller from Waco, Texas.  That is an awesome honor.  

After reading the article, I thanked Frank and decided to expound on the story some, providing a brief historical update on Blacks in the navy since the days of the heroic actions of Doris Miller.  I would like to share that with you.

As covered in the article, the heroic actions of Doris Miller in the heat of battle demonstrated to many that Blacks could do more in service to our country that just be messmen or stewards, who took care of naval officers by laying out their clothes, shining their shoes and serving their meals.  That’s almost all we were allowed to do at the time in 1941.  Even touching the guns and firing them as Doris Miller did was against the regulations at that time.  However, his actions caused many senior military and non-military leaders to rethink how Blacks were being used in the navy.  The impact of what he had done started the navy to training Black sailors for other rates/jobs such as gunner’s mate, radioman and radar operator.   It even started them to think about the idea of having a Black naval officer.

Projecting the story a little forward in history, the navy decided to give the idea of making Black officers a try.  First the navy experimented in 1944 by selecting 16 enlisted Blacks to be secluded and trained to become naval officers.  This ultimately led to the “Golden 13,” the first group of Black naval officers (12 commissioned officers and 1 Warrant Officer).  Seems the navy just arbitrarily chose 13 of the 16 though all of them excelled and passed all of the tests.  One claim was that by doing so, it kept the commissioning percentage in line with the other commissioning sources.

Later, in 1945, the esteemed Naval Academy admitted six Blacks into its halls as midshipmen, including Wesley Brown.  The five men who came before Brown as Midshipmen were chased out of the academy altogether.  (No reason was given in the source articles).  So, Brown was the first to make it to graduation/commissioning in 1949.  From there he forged a successful 25-year naval career, retiring as a Lieutenant Commander (O-4).

Fast forward again and the navy tried another experiment.  They experimented with commissioning Black officers into the navy through a traditional Historically Black College or University (HBCU).  They tried this in 1968, choosing Prairie View A&M as that HBCU, out of three HBCUs that were being considered.  That’s how PV got it’s NROTC unit, of which I (from Waco, TX) became an original member in 1968, my freshman year there.  

To complete the unit, in addition to our freshman class, they allowed some upper-class army ROTC students to switch over to the NROTC.  The first class of the PV NROTC graduated and received their commission in 1970.  There were 13 of them.  They chose to revive the moniker, the Golden 13.  That class set records for performance during their time in service, yielding 6 or 7 O-6 and above officers (i.e., naval Captains and Admirals) out of that class.  This was and remains today to be an unprecedented percentage for the whole navy’s commissioning sources, including the Naval Academy.

My class graduated in 1972 as the first, full 4-year class from the historic unit.  After 20 years of active service, I retired in 1992 as a Lieutenant Commander (O-4).  We all celebrated the unit’s history back in 2018 at the 50th Anniversary ceremony of the PV NROTC unit.  Johnitha and Rashaad supported me by attending the event with me.  They got the opportunity to see and hear about the proud history of our unit.  They also got to meet my best friend from my active days in the navy, CWO4 Dean Johnson, who has since gone to be with our Lord and Maker.  As an aside, some others of you may remember meeting Dean.  He and his wife Karen came to Waco to support me at Mary’s funeral.  

How about that for fitting the Doris Miller story into an even larger story with even more personal and Waco relevance?  Coincidental to us, especially considering I never planned to have anything to do with the military.  Not coincidental to God, who has blessed me all along the way and continues to do so each and every day.


This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue of The Anchor NewsThe Anchor News is a free, monthly publication of Crawford Publishing.  The Anchor News is dedicated to serving the community and surrounding area, focusing on positive news and accomplishments of minorities.  For more information about The Anchor News including how to subscribe or where to pick up a copy, please visit The Anchor News website.

New MCC project aimed at increasing success of Hispanic and underserved students

By Olivia Evans

McLennan Community College has a long-standing focus on providing quality education to under-served populations in Central Texas. The College will continue those efforts with the help of a $3 million Title V grant from the Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Program of the U.S. Department of Education. The grant will fund a project entitled First Year Focus: Developing Academic and Co-Curricular Student Support Structures to Improve First Year Outcomes. The College will receive about $600,000 annually over a five-year period.

With this project, McLennan will work to increase course completion, graduation, and transfer rates of Hispanic, low-income, and first-time-in-college students. The primary goal is “to build innovative support structures to create enriching academic opportunities that foster student success.”

“When students drop out or stop out, most of the time it’s not because they can’t do the work. It’s because life gets in the way. Providing more support will help them overcome the barriers that derail their progress,” says Paula Unger, McLennan sociology professor and grant project director.

To serve McLennan’s Hispanic and other underserved students, the program will implement a three-pronged approach to supporting first-year students: student engagement, supplemental instruction, and revamping the freshman orientation course, Learning Framework. This restructuring will focus on academic support services, peer leadership, career planning, financial literacy, and cultural competency.

“Our Title V efforts are about equity and meeting students where they are,” says Unger.

The First-Year Focus Team is confident that these newly-implemented programs and resources will be beneficial not only to Hispanic students in achieving academic success, but to all first year and returning McLennan students as well.

“As a College, we can’t progress if those who need a little extra help are ignored or left behind. Our community needs everyone’s gifts,” says Unger.


Olivia Evans is an intern in McLennan Community College’s Marketing and Communications office. She is a senior at Baylor University studying Public Relations and Corporate Communications. Olivia is a Houston, Texas native and plans to work in sports and entertainment digital marketing.

Civic Insights: Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Coming to a Road Near You

(City council, school board, planning commission, county commissioners – these groups and several others represent us.  They do the day to day work of running our community. It is our responsibility to keep informed about their work so that we can help them represent us effectively.  “Civic Insights” by Jeffrey Vitarius is a regular feature of Act Locally Waco.  Its purpose is to help us understand decisions that shape our community so that we can participate effectively as informed, engaged residents of Waco. – ALW)  

By Jeffrey Vitarius

On Tuesday November 10, 2020, the Budget & Audit committee of the City Council met. Their only discussion item was a review of the proposed Capital Improvements Program (CIP) and the associated debt impacts. Let’s breakdown what all this means and how it relates to the street in front of your house.

What is the Budget & Audit committee of the City Council?

This is the group of City Council members charged with taking a closer look at the city’s budget and audit functions.

So, is the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) a kind of budget?

Well, it is similar to one. Broadly speaking the city “budget” can be thought of as broken down into two parts, the operating budget and the CIP. The operating budget covers the services the city provides as well as its day-to-day work (we touched on an interesting summary of these services last week).The CIP covers large-scale projects. As this year’s budget explains “The CIP includes those items typically thought of as ‘infrastructure’ – streets, water and wastewater lines” (hmmm…streets, water, and wastewater sound familiar). 

Since the CIP involves projects that span over multiple years, involve large dollar amounts, and often have a variety of funding sources (including debt) they are dealt with through a process separate from the operating budget.

Why is the CIP being dealt with now? Wasn’t the budget process in September?

In previous years, the CIP was developed at the same time as the operating budget (prior to September). This year, however, there was a change. The CIP process was moved to the winter after the budget process was concluded. 

There were a number of reasons for the change, but two stand out. First, moving the CIP to its own time of the year allows staff and the City Council to focus on it alone in the winter rather than trying to split focus between developing the CIP and the operating budget. Second, moving the CIP to winter means that staff can work with certified property values.

As you may remember back when the Operating budget was adopted, the McLennan County Appraisal District was only able to issue a certified estimate of property values in Waco. At the time almost $1.8 billion dollars of value was still being protested (meaning it was still unclear exactly what those properties would be valued at and how much property tax revenue they would generate). The potential changes from the protest process make it difficult to build any kind of budget, but they are particularly problematic when you have to project a budget out for the multiple years required for CIP development. 

So what does the CIP tell us?

In the broadest sense the CIP is a list of all the “infrastructure” projects the city plans to tackle during the year along with how it plans to pay for them.

What has happened so far in the process?

Back at its September 8th meeting the Budget and Audit Committee discussed the timeline change noted above. In October they held a preliminary discussion with staff regarding priorities. This week they reviewed the CIP drafted by staff in response to the discussion in October. 

What is in this year’s proposed CIP?

Details of the proposed CIP can be found in the meeting packet for this week’s Budget and Audit Committee meeting. From a high level this CIP proposes $112,879,149 of capital spending in fiscal year 2021. $31,635,519 is planned for streets (see map below), $1,050,000 for park development, $6,150,000 for solid waste, $7,595,000 for airport improvements (mostly funded by CARES act funding), and finally $66,448,630 for utilities (water and wastewater).

The other critical part of the CIP is how all these projects are to be funded. A substantial part of the costs listed above are planned to be covered by the issuance of new debt (approximately 71%). The City staff is aiming to issue this debt in early 2021 (how the City issues debt is an interesting topic for a different time). 

One last interesting take away from the proposed CIP is the chart below. It references a measure called PCI. This stands for pavement condition index. In short this is a metric for measuring the quality of streets. It runs from 0 to 100. This chart compares spending on various kinds of roadwork to their PCI impact. Overall, the anticipated PCI change is 1.43 (including the natural decay of the existing inventory). This would move Waco from 49.3 to 50.73 (an improvement of 3%). 

What comes next?

  • December 15th – City Council plans to approve resolution related to the issuance of debt for capital projects
  • February 2nd – City Council plans to approve final CIP

Meeting Basics 

  • Budget & Audit Committee Regular meeting – Tuesday, November 10, 2020, 1:30 pm
  • To watch the recorded session click here (City of Waco Cable Channel on YouTube)
  • For the full agenda click here
  • For the meeting packet with the documents pertinent to the meeting click here

Jeffrey Vitarius has been actively local since early 2017. He lives in Sanger Heights with partner (JD) and his son (Callahan). He helped found Waco Pride Network and spearheaded its Vision 2025 process. Jeffrey works at City Center Waco where he helps keep Downtown Waco clean, safe, and vibrant. He is a member of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and graduated from Baylor in 2011.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.

Foster Care to Adoption: Our family’s story is unique and precious

By Anna Futral

November is National Adoption Month. CASA volunteers stay by a child’s side throughout the case, advocating first for reunification with the child’s parent(s) when safe and possible. If reunification is not safe or possible, CASA volunteers will advocate for the child to be adopted by, or live with, other relatives or family friends. If that is also not possible, CASA volunteers will work towards adoption by a non-relative. ⁠

Adoption is a beautiful thing, and just like any other major life decision, it’s not always easy. Some of our CASA staff have been through this journey to adopt. Here is our Executive Director, Anna Futral, and her family’s story.

In the summer of 2012, my husband, Trent, and I had been married four years, had the house, the cars, the jobs, and by all normal accounts, having a baby would be a next logical step in our life at that point.  But we’ve never really followed convention, meanwhile, every time the baby conversation came up between us, we both ended up feeling somewhat ambivalent about it, like it wasn’t the answer for us, like there was a different plan in store for our hopes of building a family.  Turns out…we were right.

Adoption had always been in the back of our minds.  My husband and his sister were each adopted, so that has always been a piece of our puzzle.  As baby conversations continued to stall out, we decided to be proactive and research, listen and learn, not knowing that this new path would take hold of us so quickly and so firmly.  We heavily researched international adoption, domestic adoption, and that scary thing called foster care, initially setting it on the shelf as something for people more mature than us in our mid-20s, or at least who have some parenting experience.  Taking care of a child and then possibly letting them go, abuse, neglect, court dates, birth parent visits, potential behavior and medical problems, social workers, therapists, so many unknowns… 

Nevertheless, we sat down for a meeting with a foster care agency, thinking we were just gathering information.  Afterwards, we got in my car and I turned it on but we didn’t go anywhere for a few minutes, even though we both needed to get back to work.  He said “That felt really, really normal to sit there and talk about all that.”  I said, “I know.”  There was a strange mixture in our hearts and gut of both peace and fear, both “Yes, this is right” mixed with “You have got to be kidding me.” I stared wide eyed over the steering wheel with tears on my cheeks and Trent stared wide eyed at me.  Then we went back to work.

Looking at the world around us, we see so much hurt and pain.  We can look overseas at the extreme poverty, starvation and orphanage there.   In the summer of 2012, we looked right out our door and realized there are children needing a home right in our own community.  Without getting into a debate about which is more important (both are extremely important in our world), we decided that our hearts lie in our local community.   So we jumped all in.

The next several years were intense yet exciting, complex yet contained some of the easiest and clearest decisions we’ve ever made.  As we opened our home to two and then three children, we were surrounded by caring support and capable professionals.  Though the details of our family’s story are our own, a winding path with many curveballs across several years culminated in our open adoption of three biological siblings.

Our family’s story is unique. Our family’s story is challenging.  Our family’s story is precious.

We honor our children’s past, celebrate their present and eagerly anticipate their future.  We have good times and we laugh so, so often.  We work through life’s plain ole challenges as a plain ole family.  We face confusion and questions about their tricky start in life when they rise up and we block out the rest of the world, plop down on the rug, hash through it all, say as many words and cry as many tears as we need to until we are as much at peace as we can be in that moment. 

Being an adoptive family isn’t always easy. Turmoil pops up and trauma surfaces.  Strangers make ignorant comments about our family and people assume things about our story that are entirely false.  But we rally as their parents and circle around them.  At times we will take the blows on their behalf and shield them entirely, other times we will jump down into the trench with them.  Still other times we will sit back and cheer them on from afar as they live out their unique, challenging, precious story with strength, confidence and love.

To learn more about CASA’s work advocating for children in foster care please email recruiter@casaforeverychild.org or call (254) 304-7982 or visit casaforeverychild.org.


Though born and raised in Fredericksburg, Anna Futral has called Waco home for sixteen years.  She is a graduate of Baylor University, where she received her Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting and a Master of Taxation.  She built her career as a Certified Public Accountant at JRBT, where she worked for over ten years, specializing in service to nonprofit clients, prior to joining CASA of McLennan County in May of 2017.  In addition to her business acumen and administrative leadership skills, Anna brings to CASA a deep-seated passion for children in foster care.  She and her husband, Trent, are former foster parents and adopted their three children from foster care in 2016.  When she’s not busy leading CASA forward or chasing her kids, ages 5, 6, and 7, Anna enjoys reading, spending time with good people, and working with her husband on their 120-year-old house in the heart of Waco.

Fruit of the month: Cranberries

By Paula Solano

Thanksgiving and fall festivities might look a bit different for most of us this year. When I think about the holidays, I think about food, fellowship, reflecting on the past year, and forward-thinking on years to follow.

Food is in the center of many cultures, in the center celebrations, those of joy and those of mourning. The types of foods we consume during the holidays also look different in many cultures.

Tamales are a Thanksgiving staple in our gatherings, along with our turkey, ham, and desserts. Nevertheless, this year we have the opportunity to make changes for health, wellness, and safety.

I look forward to this year’s holidays as a time to recharge and reflect. Our Thanksgiving celebration will be different as we will continue to practice social distancing, particularly thinking about our older adult loved ones and medically fragile friends. It is also a time of solidarity for those who have unexpectedly lost someone due to COVID-19.

This year, we will opt out of the large gatherings or travel and stay home. Nutrition and physical activity have gained substantial importance in our household and we hope to continue these practices as we prepare our Thanksgiving meal on a much smaller scale.

I’ve invested some time reviewing options to introduce to my picky eaters (my three children). I have had some successes and learned many lessons along the way. Particularly thinking about the cookie recipe I’ve included in this blog, a lesson learned from preparing the recipe is that I might have succeeded in sneaking cranberries had I pureed the cranberries. Needless to say, I considered this recipe a success when two-thirds of my kiddos gave the cookies a thumbs up.

Changing habits and behaviors can bring forth challenges; however, consistency is key. Health and wellness are at the forefront for many, and I personally hope our healthier choices will continue beyond this pandemic. Scaling back will be less complex as we face the possibility of preparing a smaller “feast.” Feeding a family of five will call for a smaller spread yet equally as cherished.

Our spread will likely includes cranberries. They are a seasonal fruit and can be found in the produce section, frozen, in a can, or as 100% juice.  

Nutritional Facts and Health Claims

Did you know cranberries are a good source of antioxidants? One cup of whole cranberries contains 46 calories, calcium, iron, and potassium. Additionally, they’re sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat free. 

Cranberries offer unique health benefits, including potentially reducing the risk of high blood pressure when part of a low-sodium diet. Drinking cranberry juice can reduce the risk of UTIs.

 Shopping & Storage

When shopping for fresh cranberries, select those that are firm to the touch. A single fresh cranberry will bounce if dropped on the floor. Avoid selecting cranberries that are soft or contain spots. Fresh cranberries may be refrigerated for up to two months, then, it is recommended that you freeze them. 

Get the Facts!

Wash your hands as recommended by the CDC and clean contact surfaces often. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPlate provides recipes, tips, and resources to guide you in creating a healthy eating plan. Start simple, download the MyPlate App, an easy-to-use app that will help guide you and track your progress.

Use:

OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Serving: 2.5 dozen cookies

Cook Time: 12 minutes

Ingredients

2/3 cup of butter or margarine, softened

2/3 cups of brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups of old-fashioned oats

1 1/2 cups of flour

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 6-once Ocean Spray ®Craisins Original Dried Cranberries 

2/3 cup of white or semi-sweet chocolate chunk cookies

Directions

Preheat oven to 375F degrees.

Beat butter/margarine and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and mix well. 

In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to butter mixture in several additions, mix well after each addition. Stir dried cranberries and chocolate chunks. 

Drop round teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Per serving: Cal. 130, Fat 6g (9%DV), Sat. Fat. 3.5g (18%DV), Sod. 90mg (4%DV), Carb. 18g (6% DV), Sugar 11g, Pro. 2g

CRANBERRY NUT BREAD

Prep Time: Approximately 1.5 hours

Servings: 15 portions

Cook Time: 50-60 minutes

Ingredients 

2 cups of flour

2/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

2 teaspoon grated orange peel

3/4 cup orange juice

4 tablespoon butter or margarine melted 

1 egg or 2 egg whites (medium)

1 cup of chopped cranberries (I used a can)

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 powdered sugar (1/3 cup, optional, for glaze)

1 teaspoon of water (optional for glaze)

Directions

Preheat oven at 350F degrees. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.

Grate orange peel, then squeeze juice from the orange. Add additional juice if needed to make 3/4 cup. 

Blend orange juice, butter, egg, and grated orange peel in a separate bowl. Then add the flour mixture, stirring until blended, and add the cranberries and walnuts.

Pour batter into a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, greased at the bottom.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes.

Remove and cool completely in a wire rack. 

Optional: To make the glaze, mix powdered sugar and water. Add water slowly to create a thin glaze, then drizzle over the cooled loaf. 

Enjoy!

Paula Solano is a Master in Public Health student at Baylor University, certified Community Health Worker, volunteering at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. A Waco native, she is passionate about serving her community particularly underserved and underrepresented citizens.

Due to the continued spread of COVID-19 and the challenges it poses to communities across Texas, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and many others continue to practice public health recommendations. Whether we are communicating online or face-to-face know that program content will always be research-backed to help individuals navigate decisions for themselves and their families. For information on resources, ideas, and programs for yourself and family visit Texas A&M AgriLife’s HUB. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP. To learn more about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or to apply for benefits, visit YourTexasBenefits.com.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

America Recycles Day and Scrap Tire Collection

by Anna Dunbar

America Recycles Day (ARD) has its 23rd  anniversary this year. What many don’t know is that ARD has its roots in Texas, central Texas in fact. Texas Recycles Day began in 1994 as the idea of two Texas Commission on Environmental Quality employees, Kevin Tuerff and Valerie Davis. I had met them while I was at the agency and was always so impressed with their creativity. They came up with Texas Recycles Day to promote recycling on a day far enough away from Earth Day (April 22nd), but not before the Election Day in order  to capture everyone’s attention. Thus November 15th was chosen as America Recycles Day!

Eventually, Texas Recycles Day was transformed into America Recycles Day. The first national America Recycles Day was held November 15th, 1997 and it has been celebrated annually ever since.

What about America Recycles Day in Waco? There is a lot of energy behind recycling in Waco. This year, the Waco Solid Waste Services is conducting a Scrap Tire Collection on Saturday, November 14. Here are the details:

  • Location: 501 Schroeder Drive, near the Baylor Water Tower
  • Hours: 7 AM until 12 Noon
  • This event is for Waco residents only. Please pre-register or bring your Waco water utility bill as proof of residency.
  • Restrictions:
    • No more than 10 tires
    • No tires from businesses 
    • No OTR, Skid Steer, Earth Movers
    • Maximum size: 24 inches
    • Maximum ten (10) tires per household
    • Please preregister by calling (254) 299-2612

You might wonder why Waco Solid Waste Services is having a scrap tire collection at no extra charge. There are several reasons. First, recycling of scrap tires usually carries a fee per tire. The fee is waived during this event, making it easier for Wacoans to recycle their tires. Second, scrap tires are a breeding place for mosquitoes, which can carry diseases. Finally, scrap tires are prone to being dumped on vacant lots and other locations. This free collection is a good time to rid your property of scrap tires and recycle at the same time!

Waco Solid Waste Services encourages everyone to pre-register for this event and to wear a mask while talking with staff during the event. Pre-registration can be done by calling (254) 299-2612 Monday through Friday from 8 AM until 5 PM.  Para informacion en Espanol: (254) 299-2612.   There will also be a registration form at Waco-texas.com beginning November 5.

Thank you for keeping Waco Clean and Green!


Anna Dunbar is the solid waste administrator for the City of Waco Solid Waste Services. She is responsible for informing Waco residents and businesses about recycling and waste reduction opportunities as well as solid waste services in Waco. Her husband is a Baylor professor and her daughter is a Baylor University alum who works at Horizon Environmental Services, Inc. Anna is an active member of Keep Waco Beautiful and The Central Texas Audubon Society.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

Civic Insights: What is “Annexation by Request?”

(City council, school board, planning commission, county commissioners – these groups and several others represent us.  They do the day to day work of running our community. It is our responsibility to keep informed about their work so that we can help them represent us effectively.  “Civic Insights” by Jeffrey Vitarius is a regular feature of Act Locally Waco.  Its purpose is to help us understand decisions that shape our community so that we can participate effectively as informed, engaged residents of Waco. – ALW)   

By Jeffrey Vitarius

This week we are going to try to unpack the following item from the November 3, 2020 City Council Agenda: “Consider a resolution approving an agreement with WBW Single Development Group, LLC – Series 110 for an Annexation Service Plan for certain properties described as 61.51 acres of land, more or less, situated in and being out of the B.B.B. & C. Railroad Company Survey, Abstract No. 157, McLennan County, Texas, and being a part of the called 194.45 acre tract of land described in a Deed to WBW Single Land Investment, LLC – Series 104, recorded in Document No. 2019028303 of the Official Public Records of McLennan County, Texas, and being located near the intersection of Warren Road and Ritchie Road and further located within Waco’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, which said territory lies adjacent to and adjoins the present boundary limits of the City of Waco, Texas”.

Whew! This is a long one, let’s jump right in.

What kind of agreement is the City approving with WBW SIngle Development Group, LLC – Series 110?

On July 29th, 2020 WBW Single Development Group, LLC – Series 110 (lets just call them WBW for now) requested that the City annex certain property they own. Annexation is the process by which a city adds bits of land to its jurisdiction and begins to collect taxes from and provide services to those areas. There are a number of different ways annexation can occur. This week there are three instances of property owners requesting annexation on the City Council agenda. This process of a property owner requesting annexation from a city is managed by the Local Government Code (in particular Chapter 43 deals with annexations and subchapter C-3 deals with this specific kind of annexation). 

The code requires that the property owner and city come to a written agreement regarding services, an “Annexation Service Plan.” Approving this agreement is the specific action City Council took this week.

What is an “Annexation Service Plan”?

Chapter 43 makes this one fairly simple. An Annexation Service Plan needs to list the services the municipality will provide and identify when it will provide them. The Annexation Service Plan for this item can be found in this week’s meeting packet (packet pages 124-7). The plan is actually a pretty interesting way to look at the bare bones of what the city does. Here is a list of the services the plan identifies:

  • Police Protection
  • Fire Protection and Emergency Medical Services
  • Solid Waste Collection
  • Water Service
  • Waste Water Service
  • Capital Improvements (building infrastructure for the most part)
  • Street Lights
  • Traffic Control (things like traffic signs, and stop lights)
  • Maintenance of Existing Roads & Streets
  • Environmental Services
  • Maintenance of Parks & Recreation Facilities
  • Maintenance of Publicly Owned Facility, Building or Municipal Service
  • Provision of Other City Services (libraries, animal control, code enforcement, etc)
  • Election Voting Services

This is almost a social contract in its most basic form. A property owner is agreeing to join the city and take on both the responsibility of paying its property taxes and abiding by its ordinances and the services the city agrees to provide. Additionally, this list makes clear just how often the citizens of Waco are impacted by the city. Driving to work involves city maintained roads and traffic signals. Watering lawns involve city water delivered through city pipes. 

What does all that after “more or less, situated in” mean?

This section of the item lays out where the land being considered is located. The meeting packet includes a map as well (included below) on packet page 123, but this language is a general legal description of where the land is located. The item also includes a survey (on packet pages 130-1) that lays out even more detail regarding the exact parameters of the land being considered. 

Why does the item mention Waco’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ)? 

One of the requirements for annexation is that the land lay in the ETJ.

So, let’s go back to the initial sentence. We can now summarize it to mean: consider approving an agreement with a property owner to begin providing city services to a property described as x that is within Waco’s ETJ. 

What comes next?

  • November 17th – Public Hearing and First Reading/Vote
  • December 1st – Second Reading/Vote

Other Interesting Items From the Agenda (to me)

  • Impact fees are back for their second reading. There is also a work session item regarding how they could be changed in the future. This was one of the bigger questions Council member Holmes had two weeks ago.
  • There are three Annexation Service Plans up for consideration. All in all they represent about 290 acres. The second and third of these plans are with the Waco Industrial Foundation which is an interesting topic for a different time.
  • There are two resolutions and one ordinance related to Boards and Commissions. The resolutions are general and deal with approving appointments and clarifying certain language around advisory boards. The ordinance deals specifically with the Sustainable Resource Practices Advisory Board adjusting its mission, purpose, and membership. 

Meeting Basics 

  • City Council meets on the first and third Tuesdays of every month.Work Session – 3:00 pm / Business Session – 6:00pm
  • To watch the recorded session click here (City of Waco Cable Channel, wccc.tv)
  • For the full agenda click here
  • For the meeting packet with the documents pertinent to the meeting click here

Jeffrey Vitarius has been actively local since early 2017. He lives in Sanger Heights with partner (JD) and his son (Callahan). He helped found Waco Pride Network and now serves as that organization’s treasurer and Pride Planning Chair. Jeffrey works at City Center Waco where he helps keep Downtown Waco clean, safe, and vibrant. He is a member of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and graduated from Baylor in 2011.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.