Communities of Waco: If it’s Tuesday, it’s Ukulele Time!

By Shelley Cotten

(FYI – Dates and times for Ukulele Orchestra may change from time to time — for most up to date information please check their Facebook Page.  Thank you! – ABT)

In June of 2015, my husband and I were on vacation with a dear friend in Sedona, AZ and happened upon the “Largest Ghost Town in America,” Jerome, AZ.  While dining at a quaint little downtown restaurant, suddenly the door opened and the place was overtaken by a band of ukulele players who had their instruments, music books and other necessary “equipment” with them.  Turns out we had happened upon the local ukulele orchestra’s weekly practice spot and were invited to play along.  They had some extra ukuleles with them and, although we had no prior experience with the instruments, it was easy to strum along in rhythm with them (well, the strumming was easy, rhythm maybe not).  They were preparing for the upcoming Fourth of July parade and we were sorry that we wouldn’t be there to see it – something about a marching ukulele group just seems like it needs to be witnessed.  It was so much fun that when we got back home to Waco, we decided to start a ukulele group here.  The first meeting of the Waco Ukulele Orchestra was held in October of 2016.

Since then, the group has grown and shrank, ebbed and flowed.  Some have come one or a few times and then moved on (literally or figuratively); some music students have come for extra credit; some have come searching for community and a place of respite from the daily grind.  Whatever the reason, we have been blessed with a variety of personalities, stories, and musical abilities.  The group ranges in age from high school to retired, and in ability from beginner to “expert.”  Our high school player is very talented and we are fortunate that she has the time and desire to share her abilities with us.  While there are no “assignments” or “jobs,” there are areas where individuals shine and the strengths of the members are well-diversified, from “leading” the practices, to getting gigs, to keeping everyone informed of practices, performances, etc., everyone has input and a place.  Finding community in this group is as easy as showing up.

So what do we do, where do we go and how do we “do community?”  Beginning in December of 2016, our first outing was “caroling” to nursing homes.  We had a diverse group – friends and relatives of the players, some percussionists in the form of youngsters with bells to ring during Jingle Bells (man, could they jingle the heck out of those bells); and, of course, headbands with antlers, candy canes, and lights for those of us willing to wear them.  Since that first performance, we have been to several nursing homes, played at the mall during the Christmas season, and our largest “gig” so far has been at the McLennan Community College Foundation’s Hearts in the Arts Theatre Gala in February of 2018, when the group played during the dinner portion of the event.

We originally met twice a month; however, in September, we will begin meeting weekly.  First and third Tuesdays will be focused on rehearsing songs for upcoming performances; second and fourth Tuesdays will be geared more towards learning the instrument, chords, strumming patterns, tuning, changing strings, etc.  However, all sessions are open to everyone.

The time together on Tuesday evenings, for me, is a period of stepping away from the busyness of life and going back to that great vacation in AZ.  The players may change but the comradery doesn’t – there’s just something about music that transcends time, talent, and location and allows me to nestle in my warm, cuddly, blanket of memories.  While I can’t speak for the others in the group, clearly, there is something that keeps people coming back – while the enjoyment of playing itself cannot be underestimated, I believe there’s more there and that the Waco Ukulele Orchestra has filled not a “void,” but a niche.  No matter one’s age, life stage, economic status, employment status, or significant other status, everyone needs a sense of community in one form or another; this is our way and we hope that you find your way – to us, or to another type of activity – find your spot, claim it, live it, dream it, be it, and then share it!

So, if you find yourself in need of something to do on a Tuesday, come check us out – 7:00 p.m., 2426 Columbus Avenue.  Everyone is welcome – bring a ukulele, a music stand, and a great attitude and prepare for rip-roaring fun and making new friends!  Even if you don’t play, we may need a manager and a costume designer down the road!

Shelley Cotten is the Coordinator of Operations and Scholarships for the McLennan Community College Foundation.  A native of Lubbock, TX, she and her husband moved to Waco from Swan River, Manitoba in 2013.  They have a daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren, and two dogs.  The grandchildren, of course, have top billing.

Whether it’s playing trumpet in the “Friday Band” at MCC,  or riding with the Waco Knight Riders, or an afternoon playing with the Waco Disc Golf Association, one of the wonderful things about Waco is that there are lots of ways to find community here.  Where do you find community in Waco?  Would you be interested in writing about it? If so, let us know.  Email If you have an idea for a post.  You could be seeing your own picture on this page!

The Business of Health: Understanding your Health Insurance Policy

By Glenn Robinson

One of the hallmarks of the information age economy is consumerism – in this instance, defined as businesses making their goods and services more convenient, affordable, or otherwise desirable to customers.

For years, virtually every segment of our economy has embraced this trend… except healthcare. At least until recently. Increasingly, healthcare consumers are expecting that their experience with healthcare providers mirror the experience they have with some of the world’s top brands.

This rise in healthcare consumerism will continue according to a recent brief by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Not only have consumer expectations and experiences with other industries helped drive this trend, but so has the increasing popularity of high deductible health plans and incentives offered to those covered to make cost-effective choices.

In other words, as the financial burden of healthcare decision-making shifts to patients, patients are more apt to become more conscientious and expect more out of those rendering healthcare services.

This trend towards healthcare consumerism has already led to many noticeable changes in industry practices. The growing number of convenient walk-in clinics and the introduction of telemedicine are manifestations, as is the increasing focus healthcare providers put on patient experience surveys and online reviews. An entire cottage industry has grown up around healthcare design and construction to make the care environment more warm, welcoming, and comfortable.

However, one big obstacle still remains to true healthcare consumerism – pricing transparency.

It’s a complex issue, but one many organizations are working to solve

You know having a health insurance policy is important, but equally as important is understanding what is in the policy so you can plan accordingly. Unfortunately, much of the language used in health insurance plans isn’t part of the everyday vernacular.  With that in mind, here are some common terms and what they mean.

A premium is the amount of money you or your employer pays monthly or annually for your health insurance.

The deductible is how much you must pay out of pocket before your insurance starts to pay. Keep in mind, though, many preventive health services don’t require you to pay a deductible.

Co-insurance is how much you must pay out of pocket even after meeting your deductible. For instance, 80/20 co-insurance means you’re still responsible for paying 20 percent of charges.

This is different from a co-pay, which is a flat fee – for example 20 dollars – you might have to pay for a doctor’s visit. 

Maximum out-of-pocket expenses are the most amount of money you will be required to pay per year for deductibles and co-insurance.

The term covered expenses refers to what medical services or prescriptions are or aren’t paid for by a plan.

Beyond these terms, if you don’t understand something about your plan, how it works, and what it covers, you can call the toll-free number on the back of your health insurance card. Most reputable insurance companies have staff trained to explain the ins and outs of every policy.

Most Americans appear to believe: your health is your wealth. While wealth sometimes can create its own problems, health inevitably is a source of happiness… and the value of health increases with age, usually surpassing the importance of wealth.

If you had a choice, would you spend your time striving for health or wealth? A majority of Americans pick health, according to a survey by TD Bank. The company surveyed over 1,000 U.S. consumers who made a 2018 New Year’s resolution.

The top goal of respondents was to eat better, with 54 percent citing it as their priority. The top financial goal was to save more and spend less, with 39 percent selecting it as a priority. Millennials – young adults between ages 22 and 37 – said eating healthy and getting in shape or staying fit is more important than saving more and spending less money.

Health and wealth are not mutually exclusive. About 41 percent of those who indicated they were satisfied with their financial health are more likely to be satisfied with their physical health, emotional health, and family well-being.

People with good health are more likely to have the energy and stamina to excel in the workplace, and they are less likely to spend time and effort dealing with the debilitating effect of chronic health conditions and disabilities.

Although most respondents said they are less confident they will achieve their goals to get in shape, they are more likely to seek advice for financial issues. Health typically is something that you earn if you are persistent and disciplined – it cannot be bought.

 This report, and other episodes, are available at

Glenn Robinson is the President of Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Hillcrest. He has over 30 years of experience in hospital and health care management, and currently serves on several Boards associated with the Texas Hospital Association and the American Hospital Association. In addition, Glenn is Past-Chair and an active member of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, and serves on the Prosper Waco Board.

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 for more information.







Trails & Trials: Don’t Tri Alone

(This post is a part of a regular series “Trails & Trials,” a monthly adventure series inspiring others to experience the physical, mental, and social benefits of cycling, running or swimming in Central Texas. For more posts in this series, click here: Trails and Trials.  – ALW)

By Natasha van der Merwe

“Have you ever decided to train for a triathlon but just didn’t know where to start?  We’ve got the training group you’ve been looking for. You’re not going to get left in the dust with this training plan!”

It’s the ideal welcome to someone new to the sport. Training for one sport is hard enough, let alone 3 sports that require a bunch of different equipment and skills.

When I was introduced to the sport 10 years ago, my first stop was the local bike/ triathlon store. I hoped that they would have the solutions to what I would require and how I would go about making triathlon my new sport. They had that and more. I left that day with a new bike, bike shoes, helmet, and swimming goggles and a list of all the local triathlon clubs in my hand.

I proceeded to contact each club and was kindly invited to try a group run, swim or bike session of my choosing. I picked a swim session, and pulled up to the pool to find 30 other people ranging mostly from 30-50 years in age and in all shapes and sizes, chatting with each other about their previous races as they were about to hop in the pool. The energy was felt through the entire session, not only from the triathletes, but the enthusiastic coach who knew a brand new triathlete had been born and hooked for life. Triathlon really is life changing once you experience it.

If you are getting serious about triathlon or simply want to get more acquainted with the sport, here are my reasons why you should start by joining a triathlon club.


Perhaps the most obvious reason to join a triathlon club, is the community that goes along with it.  Many people find that triathlon not only offers a fun pastime, but also a great group of people who can eventually turn into good friends. Triathlon clubs and groups are known for being very accepting, and having a ‘more the merrier’ attitude. They will welcome you with open arms and guide you every step of the way.

Training Motivation.

You will find a wide range of ability levels in every triathlon club. Some people will be competitive veterans preparing for an IRONMAN triathlon. Others will be fresh learners just hoping to finish their first race ever. Encouragement will be abundant. If you are looking for a way to stay motivated, a triathlon club will provide the accountability and inspiration you need when facing those dawn breaking wake up calls and early morning sessions before work.

Workout and Race Tips

Very few of us have time to figure out the best way to train for an upcoming race. You can get some ideas from reading blogs and articles from professional triathletes or coaches or reading triathlon training books. The best resource is the network of personal experience passed from one athlete to another. Triathlon clubs provide that network and are a great place to take advantage of knowledge from others that have been there and done that. Many triathlon clubs also have a newsletter, blog, and forum for easy online notes sharing and learning opportunities.

Opportunity to Teach

For experienced triathletes, one of the most rewarding benefits of being part of a triathlon club is the opportunity to pass experience on to newer participants.  Even someone who has done just a handful of races will have hard-learned lessons that a newbie would be very interested in learning.  While reading articles from websites is a great way to learn, there is no substitute for being taught by someone who has previously done it.  It is a way to pay the sport back. Everyone who has participated in a number of triathlons, once had a mentor who helped them get past the first one or two.  Now it can be your turn to be the mentor.

Check out your local triathlon club – Waco Tri club – . I am sure they would love to have you come try a workout and get to know the members before taking the leap into the endurance world. Warning – there is typically no turning back, but it’s the most rewarding leap you will ever take.

Natasha van der Merwe is originally from South Africa. She is mom to a 19-month old girl, former professional tennis player and tennis instructor, and a professional triathlete representing Bicycle World and Waco Running Company.  She has multiple top 10 finishes in Ironman and 70.3 events around the world. She is Director of Team Programs for Bicycle World, 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 for more information.