Texas Healthy Communities program recognizes local public health district

By Kelly Craine

The Texas Healthy Communities program recognizes Waco-McLennan County Public Health District for conducting a community assessment designed to evaluate current policy, systems, and environmental strategies and public health practices proven to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases.

The THC program assists communities to assess their existing environments, implement changes in local environmental and policy infrastructure, and adopt priority public health practices to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases. Based on outcomes of the community assessments, The THC program recognizes best practices being advanced within a community’s local jurisdiction.

The following communities were recognized at the Gold, Silver, Bronze, or Honorable Mention levels in fiscal year 2021:

• Gold Level: N/A

• Silver Level: Harris County, McLennan County, Travis County

• Bronze Level: El Paso County, City of Houston, Victoria County, Wichita County

• Honorable Mention Level: Brazos County, Lamar County, Taylor County

Communities are assessed on eight indicators to determine recognition as a Texas Healthy Community. Environmental indicators include designated areas for physical activity, healthy eating options, mother-friendly worksites, and evidence-based community supports for healthy aging. Policy indicators include smoke free ordinances, EMS systems with appropriate acute stroke treatment protocols, and an emergency response action plan.

More information about the THC program can be found on the Texas Department of State Health Services website or by contacting THC Program Coordinator Nneka Shoulds by email at nneka.shoulds@dshs.texas.gov.

Kelly Craine is communications lead for the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.

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 ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Waco’s ‘4th on the Brazos’ returning this year

By Megan Davis

The City of Waco’s annual “4th on the Brazos” celebration is set to return Sunday, July 4, at Touchdown Alley, next to Baylor University’s McLane Stadium. Admission is free, and the community is invited to enjoy the festivities with food trucks, live music, family fun, and fireworks.

Gates will open at 6 p.m., and the fireworks will kick off at about 9:15 p.m. The fireworks will be shot above the river, between Touchdown Alley and the Ferrell Center. They will be visible from both sides of the river, the Ferrell Center, and areas around Baylor campus.

Bag check stations will be located at all entrances. Coolers with drinks and snacks are allowed, but glass bottles and containers are prohibited. Extra hand washing stations will be located throughout the grounds, and guests are encouraged to practice social distancing.

Additional details, including an event schedule and artist announcement, will be available soon. For updates, visit brazosnightswaco.com or follow Brazos Nights on Facebook or Instagram.

Megan Davis works the City of Waco’s Parks and Recreation Department.

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 ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Local gyms join Humane Society’s Alpha Dog Academy to benefit shelter dogs

By Paula Rivadeneira

Mike Gray, canine behavior and enrichment specialist with the Humane Society of Central Texas, has a big job on his hands making sure every shelter dog gets the exercise and enrichment they need each day. He depends on volunteers who come to the shelter to help run dogs to their daily playgroup activities every morning. 

HSCTX’s new program, Alpha Dog Academy, promotes healthy active lifestyles for shelter pets and the community through friendly competition.

While dogs love playgroup and have shown huge improvements in their behavior and adaptability with regular participation, one-on-one interaction with humans in normal everyday activities is also critical in managing kennel-related stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that when a dog goes on a day trip from a shelter, their stress levels decrease and they sleep better. That’s why HSCTX promotes Doggy Daycations in which volunteers can pick up a shelter dog, take them out on the town, enjoy some snacks, have a walk in the park, or even cuddle at home on the couch. At the end of the day, the dog comes back to the shelter more relaxed.

With so many dogs needing high levels of exercise and enjoying Doggy Daycations, Mike came up with the idea of Alpha Dog Academy. The goal is for people who walk, run, or hike to pick up a shelter dog on their way to their activity, and HSCTX will track their miles for a friendly competition between gyms. 

There are four local gyms as well as a local running company, with members now signed up to participate — JR Crossfit, Train Waco, Anytime Fitness, 15:10 Crossfit, and Waco Running Co. Each month the miles will be totaled, and the winning gym will get to hold onto a huge trophy that was generously donated by Warren’s Engraving. Each month, the winning gym’s name will be engraved on the trophy.

Participants will undergo a short training about expectations and dog handling before their first session, and a Pet Matchmaker will pair them with the dog that matches their energy level and goals. Dogs can be picked up 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and they will be returned to the shelter by 5 p.m. This gives dogs an excellent opportunity to get out their energy, socialize, and be exposed to potential adopters while serving as an exercise buddy and motivator to the volunteers. 

Plus, there are added benefits to exercising with a dog, including the increased safety it provides and the good feelings that come from working out for a cause.

Sign up for Alpha Dog Academy here. If you are not affiliated with a gym, don’t worry! Individual participants are welcome to join, too.

The Humane Society of Central Texas, 2032 Circle Road, is open 1-6 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. The last meet-and-greet is 45 minutes before closing. Staff must accompany guests through the kennels, and COVID precautions are observed. Bring your own dogs and everyone who lives in your household to the meet and greet so your family can be matched with the perfect pet.

The Humane Society of Central Texas advocates for the animals at the City of Waco Animal Shelter; provides adoption, rescue and foster opportunities; and offers community education regarding responsible pet ownership. The partnership between HSCTX and the City of Waco Animal Services, along with the support of the community, has resulted in a current average live-exit rate above 90%, giving the Waco Animal Shelter No-Kill status.

Paula Rivadeneira, Ph.D., is executive director of the Humane Society of Central Texas.

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 ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Key to full return of local economy is tied to vaccinations, confidence

By Charles Williams

The Texas and U.S. economies are surging along with the confidence of U.S. consumers as COVID-19 vaccines flood the nation. But the persistence of the coronavirus makes the recovery fragile. 

Baylor Scott & White employees do their part to help community get back to normal. Vaccinations are the key.

The pace of the U.S. economic recovery in 2021 hinges on the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The general business activity index, which reflects the net share of Texas executives saying conditions improved or worsened, hit an all-time high in April for services companies. Manufacturers’ confidence spiked, too.

In the Texas services sector, indexes on general business activity and company outlook rose to their highest levels since the survey began in 2007. Among manufacturers, indexes for new orders and growth in orders climbed to their highest readings in the history of that survey, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“All the stars are aligning to have a great recovery,” Luis Torres, research economist at the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University told The Dallas Morning News. “The economy is going gangbusters and the [Dallas Fed] forecast calls for recovering all the lost jobs [in Texas] by the end of the year.”

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently issued a revised revenue estimate that gives lawmakers several billion more dollars to spend as they wrap up the next state budget. Hegar cited improved performance of the state economy as COVID-19 restrictions began to be lifted over the past two months and immunizations improved consumer confidence. In a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dade Phelan, Hegar said he is optimistic about economic growth because of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in Texas and reopenings of businesses in the state and elsewhere in the U.S.

Nationally, the economy expanded rapidly in the first quarter at a torrid 6.4% annualized rate. Personal consumer spending rose at an equally impressive annualized rate of more than 10%.

Our local area is also participating in the recovery. McLennan County sales and county use tax was up 1.6% in April and 7.7% year-to-date. Waco specifically is up 2.6% year-to-date. Many Texas cities and counties are running deficits compared with last year’s figures. 

Despite this, nearly a quarter of U.S. adults say they would still avoid shopping at local businesses or dining inside restaurants after being vaccinated, according to a new national survey by YouGov on behalf of Bankrate. But the economy can’t fully recover until consumers do what they do best in America: buy freely what they want or need. 

The key to full return of the local economy is residents’ confidence: How vulnerable am I if I venture out to shop or return to the workplace? How contagious are my neighbors and friends? 

Herd immunity — the rate at which enough people become immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely — may be an unattainable goal, experts say. However, the only sure answer is to vaccinate as many people as we can.

As of May 6, only 24% of McLennan County residents were fully vaccinated. Compare that with the Texas rate of 29% and the U.S. rate of 33%. A CDC assessment looking at hospitalizations in two U.S. hospital networks covering 24 hospitals in 14 states has found that fully vaccinated adults over the age of 65 are 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than unvaccinated adults in the same age group.

Encourage your friends, coworkers, and neighbors to get vaccinated. As more and more acquaintances become vaccinated, hesitancy and resistance will continue to melt. That leads to more consumer confidence and fuels the local economic recovery. 

A free online MyBSWHealth account is the easiest way for Waco area residents to schedule vaccine appointments at Baylor Scott & White Health. There are also walk-in appointments available. 

Right now it is time to roll up our sleeves and engage our communities to increase vaccination. The health of our community and our economy depend on it.

Charles Williams joined Baylor Scott & White in January 2021 as president of BSW – Hillcrest in Waco. Prior to that, he served as president and CEO of Regional Medical Center of Orangeburg & Calhoun Counties in Orangeburg, S.C. Charles is no stranger to Texas, having spent most of his life in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

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 ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Community committee recommends big changes for four Waco ISD schools

The district’s school board will now consider whether to replace Waco High, G.W. Carver Middle, Tennyson Middle and Kendrick Elementary with new buildings.

By Joshua Wucher

For the past five months, a committee of more than 60 parents, educators, and other community members has been studying Waco ISD’s long-term facilities needs. Monday night, May 24, that group concluded their process by recommending that the district consider replacing four campuses with new buildings.

WISD’s Community Advisory Committee tours the facilities of Waco High School with O’Connell Robertson Architects, Dr. Kincannon, committee members, and campus staff.

Early in the committee’s process, members began focusing on some of the district’s oldest buildings: Waco High built in 1961, G.W. Carver and Tennyson middle schools built in the 1950s, and Kendrick Elementary built in 1952. While all four campuses have had some renovations in the intervening decades, the committee concluded that the buildings do not meet the educational needs of today’s students and that it makes more sense to replace the existing campuses with new buildings at their current location than to incur the high maintenance costs anticipated over the next 10 to 15 years.

In some cases, the committee also discussed replacing existing campuses with larger buildings that could serve more students and, in doing so, offer more academic programs while reducing administrative costs. One possibility discussed was to build a replacement for G.W. Carver Middle that would be large enough to accommodate the students currently attending both G.W. Carver and Indian Spring middle schools. Another was to build a larger Kendrick Elementary that could also serve many of the students now attending Alta Vista Elementary.

The architectural firm hired by Waco ISD to advise the committee estimates that building a new high school, two new middle schools and a new elementary school along with renovations at an existing elementary school could cost $376.1 million. The district’s financial advisor told the committee that issuing bonds to pay for those projects would increase the district’s tax rate about 12.49 cents per $100 of assessed valuation or $12.23 per month for the average homeowner in Waco ISD.

Architects will present the community advisory committee’s recommendations to the school board in June. This summer, the school board will review the recommendations and decide which projects to move forward as well as whether to seek voter approval to issue bonds to pay for the construction of new schools. For that question to appear on the ballot this November, the school board would need to call a bond election by mid-August.

“I am deeply appreciative of the community advisory committee members who volunteered their time to take an in-depth look at our school buildings and whether or not they are meeting the needs of our students,” Angela Tekell, board president, said. “As school board members, we are stewards of the investment that our community has made in our schools. The schools don’t belong to us; they belong to this community. That’s why it is so important for the board to hear from a broad range of voices as we develop a plan to guide our facilities work in the years ahead.”

“Education has changed since the 1950s and 1960s,” said Dr. Susan Kincannon, superintendent. “We need to prepare all of our kids to compete in the modern workforce, and we need modern schools to do that. In their discussions, the community advisory committee expressed a deep commitment to making sure that every student in Waco ISD has access to a safe learning environment that truly meets their needs. These recommendations are an important step in that direction.”

Joshua Wucher is Waco ISD’s executive director for communications.

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 ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

United Way releases report: ‘Are the Children Well?’

By Tiffani Johnson

United Way of Waco-McLennan County is releasing a child well-being report. It is a research study to support the improvement of well-being for McLennan County’s children and families.

The McLennan County Child Well-being Movement is facilitated by United Way and is a partnership of 25 organizations or local residents. Collectively, this movement has identified community priorities to measure the well-being of children and their families. The research has found that roughly 14,000 McLennan County children are believed to be living in communities with low or very low child-well being scores.

Over the past seven months, the Child Well-being Movement has surveyed or interviewed over 600 parents, direct service providers, community members, stakeholders, and advisory committee members in an effort to better understand the child well-being landscape. This includes residents of varying race ethnicity and zip codes within McLennan County.

“The most striking theme we saw from the community conversations is that there are a number of underrepresented communities that have vanished from civic conversations as some have come to believe that their voice is unwelcomed”, stated Tiffani Johnson, senior director of impact and engagement. “The Movement is committed to championing the inclusion of residents within these communities to take part in decision making affecting their health and well-being.”

The organization’s CEO, Wendy Ellis, stated: “We want to extend our sincere thanks to Waco Foundation for funding this work, and for their initial first steps taken with the 2009 Childhood Quality of Life Index report.  There is a long-term, demonstrated commitment from this community at-large to truly understand how our children and their families are faring. Our production of this 2020 report is just one step in the journey. We will now move into the next phase of the work, which is to invite those who lent their voice for this research back to the table so that we can collectively build our community’s action plan.”  

The City of Waco is one entity that has had a seat at the table from this work’s inception. Deputy City Manager Deidra Emerson said: “COVID has only compounded the disparities and inequities in our communities of low or very low child well-being scores. The City applauds the McLennan County Child Well-being Movement’s effort to truly listen to what the communities have to say. If we are going to implement sustainable change, we need to give sincere credence to the voices of those we seek to serve.” 

To learn more about the research findings and key partnerships, visit www.unitedwaywaco.org

United Way of Waco-McLennan County strengthens the community by mobilizing resources to measurably improve lives. We envision a community where all people have the education, health and financial stability needed to achieve their full potential.

Tiffani Johnson is senior director of impact and engagement for United Way of Waco-McLennan County.

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 ferrell@prosperwaco.org.