It may be time to check your village

By Maegan Bennight

As if navigating today’s world wasn’t challenging enough, cue coronavirus and the pandemic of 2020. Every family is affected to some degree, and some have multiple situational factors in play that are affecting decisions being made or that are waiting to be made.

Many have placed their education or career on hold in order to care for their children who are no longer occupied by their school day. Summer camps and day care are options, but they don’t always have openings, are not always affordable, or they may not make sense for a family logistically.  

In some cases, childcare facilities have had to close for quarantine purposes, which can wreak havoc on a family’s routine and stability. Some people are able to call upon someone within their support system for help, but not everyone has a support system in place.  

It is sometimes in a moment of crisis that we realize the reliability of those in our support system and/or the flexibility and diversity of our support system. If this pandemic has taught me nothing else, it is that while I would love to call myself independent and self-sufficient, I am capable of so much more with my village and that I am so much better with my village.

Sure it’s easy to do things on my own — no one’s input to listen to, no one’s availability to have to work around, no one to inconvenience me, and so on. But the truth is that we are not meant to do everything on our own; we are meant for connection – connection with others.

The makeup of our village can mean the difference between our family merely surviving and our family thriving, so I encourage you to check your village. Is there space in your village that could stand to be filled? Maybe you possess a skill or have resources that are needed by another individual, or maybe you know of a resource that could also be helpful for someone else?  

Our goal at MCH Family Outreach is family preservation, and it may be needed now more than ever. Family preservation depends upon our connection with others. 

In response to the havoc coronavirus has caused in our area, we are offering a new virtual caregiver empowerment group for women raising children. Join us as we share ideas and support one another toward thriving families! 

The first meeting of “It Takes a Village: A Support Group for Women” will be 2-3 p.m. Tuesday, July 28, online via Zoom. Future meetings will be on the first and third Tuesday of each month. 

For more information or to sign up, contact Bridges at 903-326-3379 or bridgeswest@mch.org.

Maegan Bennight is a case manager in the MCH Family Outreach office providing support to parents, grandparents, and other caregivers raising children in and around Waco. She is a wife, mother to a 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, a graduate of Texas A&M University, and a Central Texas native. You can contact her at mbennight@mch.org 

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.

COVID-19 makes Internet access more important

By Emily Hunt-Hinojosa 

Internet access has become a critical part of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The need for distance learning, working from home, and telehealth has risen, but about 20 percent of Waco households lack Internet access.

Some parts of our community are more likely to have internet subscriptions than others. According to the American Community Survey (2018), 49.2% of households within the 76704 Zip Code did not have an internet subscription, compared to 13.4% in 76712.

Without Internet access, adults and children may have great difficulty in carrying out their work and education, as well as connecting with doctors during this pandemic.

You can explore the data yourself through Prosper Waco’s new community data portal, WacoRoundTable.org. At the website, click on “Let’s Explore” under the Discover Community Data header on the splash screen. This takes you to what is called the Map Home Page. Click on “Education” or “Health” under topic and “No Internet Access” under indicator.

Under Geography Type, select “ZIP Code” or “Census Tract” to look more closely at your part of the community or another area of our county.

Emily Hunt-Hinojosa is director of research and community impact at Prosper Waco. She is responsible for evaluating progress toward community goals in the areas of education, health, and financial security. Dr. Hunt-Hinojosa holds an Associate Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, where she was employed prior to joining Prosper Waco. She holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the Department of Sociology at Baylor University, as well as both a master’s in higher education and student Affairs and a bachelor’s in social studies education from Taylor University.

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.

‘Love Thy Mama’ comes to the rescue

By Emily Mills

Facing systemic, generational poverty as a mom who has survived exploitation and trafficking is no easy task. Meet “Mimi,” a single mom and survivor of exploitation and trafficking who has worked the past three years for a Waco fast food restaurant after graduating from the Jesus Said Love ACCESS program. When COVID-19 struck, she lost hours at the restaurant and the daycare was temporarily shut down. 

Mimi has played a valuable role in our organization, and we knew the crisis was hitting her and her family hard. Our organization, along with other women in our network, stepped up to help cover Mimi’s childcare and rent costs. A temporary band-aid but necessary.

Mimi, however, was not the only single mom in need of help, her story is representative of our population. The Department of Justice has identified poverty as a top risk factor for women and children living in poverty to become prey to human trafficking and exploitation. In the current crisis, impoverished single working moms have been impacted severely as daycares have been shut down and businesses have cut back low wage workers, increasing their vulnerability. 

The stakes are high for this population. Desperate moms will do what it takes to make ends meet. Pimps and traffickers target easy prey. Our JSL family of survivors was getting hit hard, and we knew we had to step in. 

Early in the COVID crisis, Diane Heavin, one of our donors, reached out to JSL with a trailer of diapers and wipes to distribute, but we had no real strategic plan. That’s when I knew I needed to tell Mimi. I told her about the need to reach more women just like her and that we had been given a massive amounts of diapers and wipes to distribute. 

Without missing a beat Mimi responded, “I live among these moms; these are my people, I got this.” Within 24 hours Mimi had named a new outreach initiative, “Love Thy Mama,” and my job was to empower her to accomplish that vision.

Love Thy Mama is an outreach program of JSL targeting those who are most vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking — women living in poverty. Love Thy Mama aims to help decrease this vulnerability by meeting emergent needs first — necessities such as milk, diapers and wipes — as well as provide relational, community, wrap-around support. 

JSL hired Mimi part time to lead Love Thy Mama. Her personal goal is to go back to school to gain knowledge in nonprofit management. 

Stefanie Erwin, another JSL ACCESS program graduate and mother of four who formerly lived in extreme poverty herself, is our case manager who works alongside Mimi. Stefanie remembers what it was like filling water up for her kids in public parks and forgoing her own nutrition so her kids had enough to eat. 

The team has big hopes for Love Thy Mama to reach vulnerable women so they don’t feel the need to turn to sex exploitation, which puts them and their kids at highest risk for trafficking, violence, and HIV/AIDS. 

Women in poverty aren’t to be pitied but empowered. That’s the top priority of Love Thy Mama.

Love Thy Mama has already served 132 Waco women in their efforts and distributed 2,000 diapers, 3,780 wipes, 28 meals, and is receiving 75-90 gallons of milk per week to give away. Moms in need of milk, diapers and wipes can come by JSL Headquarters at 1500 Columbus Ave., Waco, 1-3 p.m. Monday-Friday or after hours by appointment. Moms can also join the Facebook Group, Love Thy Mama, for free workouts, encouragement, job listings, and up to date educational information. 

Emily Mills is founder and chief ideation officer of Jesus Said Love, a program of Bartimaeus Ministries. The nonprofit exists to awaken hope and empower change toward those impacted by the commercial sex industry. For more, visit JesusSaidLove.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.orgfor more information.

Waco receives ‘Music Friendly’ designation

News Release from Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau

Waco is now officially a “Music Friendly” destination, a certification granted by the Texas Music Office, which is part of the Office of the Governor’s Economic Development and Tourism Division.

A grassroots local group began pursuing the designation about a year ago. The working group — Katie Selman, of Keep Waco Loud; Lindsay Liepman, of Channel 25; Fiona Bond, of Creative Waco; and Todd Bertka, director of the Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau — worked hard to earn the designation, and many people attended open meetings over a period of several months.

Planning culminated in a workshop in August 2019, chaired by Brendon Anthony, director of the Texas Music Office. Attendees, representing various styles of music, gathered at Brotherwell Brewing to win this designation for Waco.

Leaders at the workshop included the Music Association of Central Texas; Baylor University and McLennan Community College music programs; Waco Symphony Association; Central Texas Jazz Society; and dozens of musicians, studios, and venues representing every musical genre. All expressed their enthusiasm for and commitment to working together to make Waco a community that supports and promotes its professional musicians and rich musical heritage.

It was the largest workshop of its kind in Texas, with well over 100 attending.

The designation involves administering and maintaining the Texas Music Office online listings of Waco/McLennan County area musicians, studios, and others involved in the music business. This work will be done by the staff of Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau. These listings will be located at https://wacoheartoftexas.com/music.

The designation brings much to Waco. It establishes a public reputation for Waco as a community that not only has a growing and thriving music scene but as a community that promotes musicians. It connects Waco with
the Texas Music Office and its programming and initiatives that can benefit our community.

What we do in Waco will be amplified through the TMO’s social media, website, and channels. It allows Waco to work more closely with other Music Friendly communities to see what is working there and allows us to be innovative leaders in how we cultivate and support our music community.

It also improves communication between the Waco City Council and the music community as we are now more easily identifiable through the music census.

Waco has a trifecta of special designations awarded by the State of Texas: the Waco Downtown Cultural District, Film Friendly Community, and now Music Friendly. These designations are a powerful signal that Waco
wants to attract activity in these sectors, and that Waco supports those important parts of the Waco economy.

Waco’s Music Friendly designation is yet another reason Waco is an amazing destination for travelers and for local residents to enjoy.

“Music Friendly communities certified by the Texas Music Office are serious about developing local music industry growth,” said CVB’s Todd Bertka. “A strong music industry creates jobs and also generates unique experiences
for both visitors and locals.”

Fiona Bond, executive director of Creative Waco, said: “This designation helps us support and promote musicians from classical to contemporary – especially at this time when the performing arts have been badly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Waco has a huge amount of talent and we are confident that this designation will help amplify our musical talent and help move the industry forward.”

Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver will officially accept the Music Friendly certificate in a Zoom ceremony at 1 p.m. July 30. The ceremony will be streamed live on wccc.tv/live. The media is invited to request the Zoom link if they would like to stream the ceremony as well.

The Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau is a department of the City of Waco.

Scooters make Waco debut

The City of Waco has announced that Blue Duck Scooters are doing a “soft” rollout today, July 17, downtown. Blue Duck has deployed about 50 scooters.

Here are some of the details of the pilot program:

Basic Information 

This is an exclusive agreement between the City and Blue Duck to operate a pilot scooter share program for one year. 

To rent a scooter, download the Blue Duck app on your phone. 

Blue Duck offers discounted rides for low-income individuals, veterans, and active duty service members. To apply for any of these programs, go to their website flyblueduck.com/access/.

Fifty scooters will be deployed for the soft launch; additional scooters (up to 150 total) will be phased in. Any additional scooters will require permission from the City. 

Operation 

Hours of operation are 7 a.m.-10 p.m., 7 days a week. 

Service area includes downtown, uptown, and East Waco.

— Parking and riding will be limited to within the service area only

— Baylor is a no parking and no riding zone

— Cameron Park is a no parking zone (zoo is OK)

— Indian Spring Park, Suspension Bridge, Doris Miller Memorial, and lower Riverwalk are slow riding zones

— Baylor riverwalk trail (as identified on Waco Riverwalk map) and Umphrey bridge are permitted for scooter riding and parking

— Sul Ross skatepark is a no riding zone

— Downtown Transit Center bus lane is a no riding, no parking zone.

Blue Duck will deploy scooters to designated zones within the service area. 

Scooters are dockless and can be parked anywhere that doesn’t cause a safety concern or block pedestrian or business access. Riders are encouraged to return scooters to designated deployment zones. 

Scooters will be rebalanced periodically throughout the day by Blue Duck staff.

To file a complaint, report an improperly parked scooter, or for assistance, contact Blue Duck customer service at 1-833-BLUEDUCK. 

Blue Duck is implementing an enhanced cleaning procedure to keep our community and their employees safe. For more information go to their website: flyflueduck.com/covid/ 

General Rules 

• Must be 18+ to ride 

• One rider per scooter 

• No riding on sidewalks 

• No riding on roadways with speed limit greater than 35 mph 

• Use the bike lane when available 

• Riding on shared-use paths (Riverwalk) is OK 

• Follow rules of the road 

• Yield to pedestrians 

• Helmets are encouraged 

Maps and Scooter Details Below