A coordinated effort to improve local employment

By Christina Helmick

If you lived in Waco in 2014, then you might have heard about the Upjohn Economic Development Study. If you didn’t live in Waco then (or didn’t hear about it), the City of Waco commissioned this study to identify the components of an economic development strategy that could concurrently enhance the local economic base and provide a sustainable pathway for economically-disadvantaged Waco residents toward full-time, permanent employment.  You can find this data-driven report by clicking here!

During the summer of 2015, Ashley Bean Thornton wrote a blog post about a local event that focused on hiring individuals who were returning to society from incarceration.  The blog caught the eye of a manager, Robert Saucedo, of a company called Reinforced Earth Company, RECO. Ashley and Robert started a conversation about how hiring needs and the community “support system” for job seekers. This conversation led to Ashley facilitating a group known as the Waco Foundational Employment Network for about a year and a half. The Network discussed referrals between social service agencies, talked to local employers about their hiring needs, and discussed how organizations can work together to better support job seekers to not only find jobs, but keep jobs.

As the Network continued to meet, local employers were drawn to participate due to the concept of having one point of contact for them to call if an employee (who was referred by the Network) needed some type of support, such as housing, transportation or childcare. Through the various conversations and increased interest by the business sector, the Waco Foundational Employment Network evolved into the Waco Employer Resource Network (WERN). This Network follows the model identified in the Upjohn study previously mentioned.

The Waco Employer Resource Network received funding from City of Waco’s Budget and Audit Committee in July of this year to fund a three-year pilot WERN program. This funding allows for two full-time positions to implement the work of the network. Caritas of Waco has hired a Success Coach who will work directly with employed individuals to provide the supports necessary to help them maintain employment. HOT Goodwill will employ a Liaison whose role will be to facilitate the network and serve as a single point of contact for employers seeking to partner with community agencies to hire job seekers and/or refer employees to resources. Goodwill is still conducting interviews for this position with the goal to train WERN staff during August and launch the WERN pilot project mid-September.

To learn more about the Network, watch this month’s Prosper Waco episode on the City Cable Channel.

As this pilot program kicks off in September, there is still room for local employers and those seeking employment to jump on the WERN train! Reach out to Tiffany Fry for more information by sending an email to tfry@goodwill.org.

These are the type of innovative, collaborative approaches that are working to advance the goals of the Prosper Waco initiative. A big community-wide THANK YOU goes to Caritas of Waco and HOT Goodwill for being the lead agencies of WERN. If you want to learn more about WERN and other collaborative approaches community organizations are leading to improve Waco, make sure to attend the #Summit17 happening on Thursday, October 12 at the Waco Convention Center!

Christina Helmick is the director of communication at Prosper Waco. She is a recent graduate of Baylor University with a BA in Journalism, Public Relations & New Media. Originally she is from Washington, D.C., but has stayed in Waco post-graduation.  She is an active mentor at J.H. Hines Elementary School, enjoys spending time with her family and watching Baylor football. Sic ’em Bears!

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.



Close Out Your Summer at the Fabulous Waco 52 Pop-Up Gallery

By Caitlin Giddens

If the Waco 52 Pop-Up Gallery isn’t on your summer bucket list, you’re missing out. This inspiring pop-up gallery, hosted by Creative Waco, will feature local art, live music, farm-to-table dinners, weekend yoga classes and more.

The pop-up gallery is not a new concept, but it’s new to Waco’s Cultural Arts District. This short-term gallery, lasting from August 3 to September 2 at 712 Austin Avenue, will bring together visual artists, performers and more to showcase Waco’s creative potential.

The gallery space will feature 52 pieces, all created by local artists, that depict Waco and McLennan County. Next to the gallery, you’ll find a retail area, offering framed prints and locally handmade items, and Luna Juice Café. The pop-up events calendar includes a Gospel Brunch, a calligraphy class, art classes and even poetry and philosophy events.

Creative Waco is also offering Mini Residencies lasting one to four weeks for visual artists. All Artists in Residence are invited to participate in a weekly “Happy Hour Review” of work in progress each Thursday at 5 pm. Creative Waco hopes this will be a wonderful opportunity to build community among artists, receive valuable feedback on work and connect with buyers and art lovers from Waco and beyond.

The Waco 52 Pop-Up Gallery isn’t just an art collection — it’s a gathering place for creatives and an evening hangout spot. It’s an example of redeeming hope and forging community. To see a calendar of events at the Waco 52 Pop-Up Gallery, visit www.creativewaco.org/waco52/. If you’re interested in hosting an event at the gallery, email info@creativewaco.org.

Caitlin Giddens is a local English teacher and writer. She graduated from Baylor University’s Honors College in 2013. When she’s not teaching or writing, she enjoys leading yoga and barre classes at Yoga Pod Waco.



MCC’s Corporate Training program helps provide skills for ever-changing workforce

by Candice Kelm and Madiha Kark

Corporations have been flocking to Texas for its business-friendly environment, location, and community, which is evident by the booming economy in Waco and the surrounding areas. These new businesses and growing corporations have created a demand for skilled workers willing to take initiative and learn new ways to handle and manage a changing workforce. MCC’s Corporate Training program can help employers equip their employees with the essential tools needed to succeed and take businesses and individual’s careers to the next level while revolutionizing the workforce into indispensable parts of an organization.

Through customized training and a wide range of highly interactive online courses, MCC’s Corporate Training Department can design a program based on the training needs and objectives of a business or organization. Classes may take place on the MCC campus or on-site at an employer’s location.

A broad variety of topics can be tailored to the best skills development and training program for any business:

  • Industrial & Technical Training
  • Leadership/Supervisor Training
  • Computer Applications
  • Communications
  • Teamwork
  • Workplace Spanish
  • Customer Service
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Quality Improvement Management
  • Project Management
  • Workplace Safety
  • Healthcare

MCC’s Corporate Training program partners with many local businesses to request Skills Development Funds, training grant funding from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). MCC has been awarded more than $12 million in grant funds to enhance the skills of several local companies’ current workforce and new employees. Most recently, the program received a $688,760 grant to train 781 new and incumbent employees in a manufacturing consortium comprised of Aramark, Marathon-Norco, Trane, and Vossloh Fastening Systems.

To learn more about MCC’s Corporate Training and how they can help your organization, visit www.mclennan.edu/cortraining or contact the program coordinators: John Hutchens at 299-8156 or jhutchens@mclennan.edu, or Steven Wenzel at swenzel@mclennan.edu.

Waco native Candice Kelm has served as the Sports Information Specialist for MCC Athletics since 2006 and lends a hand as a writer to the Marketing and Communications department. She received her bachelor’s degree in education with an emphasis in journalism and business from Baylor University in 2002.

The True Meaning of Living United

By:  Clint Weaver, United Way of Waco-McLennan County Board President & 2016 Campaign Chair

Last year, I had the privilege to serve as the United Way Waco-McLennan County Campaign Chair.  Currently, I serve as the agency’s Board President.  Like so many others, I support our local United Way because of a fundamental belief in the organization’s unique ability to meaningfully impact the most pressing issues facing our community.  Consider several statistics that illustrate our challenge.

  • 26.5% of McLennan County children live below the Federal Poverty Line
  • 24.5% of McLennan County individuals are un-insured
  • 19.8% of McLennan County individuals are food insecure
  • 49.2 of every 1,000 teens in McLennan County become pregnant
  • 478.3 of every 1,000 individuals in McLennan County experience domestic violence

*Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Our local United Way seeks to address these issues and others by harnessing the power of the community one donor at a time.  Historically, this has been accomplished through workplace campaigns.  Each year, thousands of workplace donors across our community answer the call to help their neighbor.  These women and men, by generously giving a portion of each paycheck, are the life-blood of the annual United Way campaign.  Last year, workplace donors enabled our local United Way to contribute nearly $2,000,000 toward programs accomplishing the following:

  • 20,549 low-income McLennan County children received access to Early Childhood Education Classes, and quality afterschool and summer school programs.
  • 33,753 low to un-insured families and individuals in McLennan County received access to medical pre-screenings, health exams, prescription assistance, and physical, emotional, and mental therapy.
  • 150,498 meals and bags of groceries were provided to children, families, and individuals in McLennan County living below the Federal Poverty Line.
  • 4,602 low-income pregnant girls and women in McLennan County received access to prenatal care, resource assistance and post-pregnancy parenting classes.
  • 22,344 families and individuals experiencing family crisis and domestic violence received access to shelter, resources, counseling, and case management.

Last year, over 41,000 McLennan County families benefited from United Way funded programs.  As evidenced by these statistics, a gift from one individual, when pooled with donations from co-workers and neighbors, has the ability to positively impact thousands of lives.  This is the purpose of the United Way: to unite multiple individual donors and leverage their collective resources to generate lasting impact in the community.  Generations have been made stronger, more self-sufficient, and have risen above poverty’s limitations because of the collective might of work place donors.

For nearly 90 years, United Way of Waco-McLennan County has focused on strengthening our community and creating opportunity for every citizen through inspired and informed philanthropy.  All too often, people equate philanthropy with great wealth and large donations.  My experience with last year’s campaign opened my eyes to the main street philanthropy that occurs around us each day.  Without public recognition or fanfare, work place donors continually, year-after-year, provide the resources needed to support their neighbors in need.  These are the philanthropists who empower our work and truly exemplify what it means to live united.   I am humbled by their steadfast belief in our mission.  On behalf of the United Way of Waco-McLennan County board and staff, our United Way funded agencies, and the thousands of lives positively impacted each year, I say thank you to these amazing women and men for the difference they make in our community.  I am #ProudToLIVEUNITED.

A financial advisor since 2006, Clint joined Stifel in 2014.  Clint makes it a priority to place his clients’ interests first and use his knowledge and experience to continually adapt to their rapidly changing industry.  Clint’s community involvement includes serving on the Executive Board and Foundation Board for the United Way and on the boards of the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo and the REACH Therapeutic Riding Center.  He is a member of the First Baptist Church of Waco and is active in the Baylor Bear Foundation.  Clint and his wife, Casie, have two children: Jack and Tessa.