Your Community. Your Voice. Your Summit.

By Christina Helmick

It has been about a year and a half since Prosper Waco hosted the Inaugural Event that drew more than 400 community members together to discuss the issues the community wanted to prioritize when the Prosper Waco initiative kicked off.  

In September of this year, Prosper Waco is hosting its Annual Summit Event. It will be an opportunity for our community to come together to celebrate the progress we’ve made since the initiative kicked off in January of 2015 and to have integrated conversations around other issues that our community wants to undertake to work on in the future. Below is a quick outline of how the Summit will flow this year: 

  • Opening Session: this will be a chance for our community to celebrate the progress that has been made since the initiative kicked off in January of 2015. As the staff, we really want to celebrate the hard work that has been (and is being!) done in our community. This initiative wouldn’t move forward without the will of cross-sector community partners, which is why we strongly believe in having a celebration of the successes in the opening session!

Prosper Waco History: A brief history of the Prosper Waco initiative will be given during the opening session so all attendees can enter the integrated conversations with the background knowledge of the extensive community work the Prosper Waco initiative was built upon.  

  • Integrated Conversations:  Many of your attended Prosper Waco’s Inaugural Event in February 2015, where education, health and financial security were split into different rooms to be able to dive deep into specific issues within those three impact areas. This year, we are taking a slightly different approach. As staff, we have heard from all levels of the community and involvement in the initiative that people who are involved in education want to learn about what is being in health and financial security, those involved in health want to learn about education and financial security….you get the idea. Community members want to know about what is being done in the areas they don’t work in or attend meetings in. By having integrated conversations with perspectives from education, health and financial security at the same table, all will be able to talk about issues our community wants to undertake with the feedback from all areas the Prosper Waco initiative is focused on. Keep reading to find out who the facilitators will be! 
  • Closing Session: The closing session will be a feature a dance performance from the well-known, local dance group Miriam’s Army! We are so thrilled to be working with Restoration Haven to have these talented girls perform a tap dance routine for Summit attendees. After the performance, guests will enjoy delicious food from none other than George’s Restaurant! To close the event, Dr. Tyrone Tanner will talk with Summit attendees about how systematic change happens through collaboration and partnership—exactly what is happening in the Waco community! His energizing talk will leave us all ready to head into to the new year ready for more collaboration and hard work!

At this year’s event, we will have three expert facilitators in each of the rooms to help guide the framework of the conversations. We believe having third-party facilitators will allow all members of the community—including the Steering Committee and Work Group Chairs—to have the opportunity to listen to community feedback and think strategically about how community partners can tackle certain issues as it relates to education, health and financial security. Click the links to learn more about the facilitators: Dr. Larry HillDr. Tyrone Tanner and Dr. Luis Torres. 

This event is truly created with the community in mind. We want each person, whether they have been involved from this initiative from the beginning or just heard about it through our Fox 44 News PSA, to know they are encouraged to come to this event! 

It’s very easy to register! You can give us a call at 254-741-0081, sign up by clicking this link or send me an email at 

If you have any other questions, comments or want more information, don’t hesitate to reach out to me! I’m so excited for this event and to hear the feedback from each of you at this event about what other issues our community wants to undertake.  

In the wise words of Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” 

Christina Helmick isChristina Helmick 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 for more information.

Fitness Fads – Friend or Foe?

By Crystal Hernandez

Maybe I age myself by admitting that I’ve been working in the fitness industry for 20 years. Although I did luckily move into the field just behind leg warmers and sweat bands, I did ride in on the wave of step aerobics. So over the past 20 years I’ve seen lots of changes. I’ve seen dance fitness become a craze, boot camps become the latest and greatest, and I’ve watched pilates and yoga emerge and re-emerge in facilities all over.

So many times I’ve heard, “________ is the greatest workout ever. You have to take this class.” Fill in the blank with every new fad that has ever been.  Well, you know what? None of them are the greatest, but they are all great!

Here’s the bottom line, exercising is important, but there isn’t one way that is the best for every single person out there. When you’re choosing your form of exercise, choose what you enjoy. If going to dance fitness with your best friend makes you feel like you have two left feet, try something you like. In the end, if you like it, it becomes a habit probably something you will do your entire life. If it feels like torture, your sneakers will be in the back of the closet gathering dust. If boot camps make your knees and back hurt, but water aerobics makes you feel lovely, then that’s the great workout for you! You don’t have to choose the latest fad. What you do need to consider is what you enjoy doing and what is safe for your body.

Regardless of the type or types of exercise that you’re doing, make sure that you’re following these guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine:

  • Acquire at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardiovascular activity per week. Aside from heart health and weight control there are a ton of other reasons to do cardio, like improving mood and alleviating anxiety.
  • Get your strength training in. Not only is this important for gaining muscular strength and endurance but also for building bone density and increasing your metabolism. Aim for resistance training 2-3 non-consecutive days per week, and try to get in 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions for each major muscle group.
  • Don’t forget to stretch. Stretching improves range of motion, flexibility and just like resistance training, makes activities of daily living easier. Muscles stretch best when they are warm so save your stretching for the end of your workout. Get some serious stretching in at least 2-3 days per week, stretching each muscle to the point of tension (not pain), holding for 10-30 seconds (building up to 60 seconds) and repeating that stretch 2-4 times. Catch all the major muscles and remember that chest, shoulders, hip flexors, hamstrings and calves tend to need a bit more flexibility work.
  • Neuromotor exercise is important too, especially for those of us that are getting older, and who isn’t. Focus on balance and agility work 2-3 days per week spending 20-30 minutes at it.

Find a facility to be a part of that doesn’t just offer one format or type of exercise and allows you to try numerous types of exercise so you can discover your personal favorite. Additionally, changing your workout, or cross training, can reduce boredom and lower your risk for injury. Your needs and likes will change over time and so will your workouts. Good luck discovering what makes you want to stay healthy, even if it includes leg warmers and sweat bands, and remember that frequency, intensity and duration are all important when it comes to reaching your goals.

crystal hernandez2This Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Crystal Hernandez. Crystal is the Chronic Disease Specialist for the Waco Family YMCA. She received her degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion from the University of Memphis. She and husband Shawn are blessed to be the parents of 4 beautiful children. In her free time, she loves hitting the pavement and pounding out a good run.

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.


Waco City Plan 2040: An idea for the Future Grandparents of Waco…

By Ashley Bean Thornton

My Facebook feed is full of babies right now:  Girl babies, boy babies; bald babies, hairy babies; laughing babies, serious babies, crying babies; every shade and shape of baby!  I am in awe everyday of all of these beautiful ears and toes and tiny fingers, all these little eyes taking everything in, all these little brains growing and growing! Hooray for all these babies!

This post is for the parents of those babies.  It’s hard for you to imagine now, but in 2040 these babies you are holding in your arms today will be 24, 25, 26 years old.  Many of them will be finished with college, getting married and having babies of their own.  Congratulations Grandma and Gramps, or GiGi and Big Pop, or Ona and Gumbo…you’re soon to be grandparents! (Well, in 24 years or so, anyway!)

My question for you today, new parent/future grandparent, is what kind of Waco do you want for your grandchild?  I’m asking you this because that future Waco we get depends to some extent on the decisions we make today.  If you want that grandbaby to be playing under nice shade trees, we need to plant those saplings now!

Those trees are important, and they aren’t the only things we need to be thinking about.  Where will your grandchildren live?  Will they be able to walk to school?  Will they have a beautiful diversity of friends to play with?  Will there be a park nearby? Will their parents be spending hours a day commuting back and forth to work? Will they be able to find work in Waco? Will the air be clean?  Will they have good water to drink? Will you be able to find an affordable place to live nearby so you can help out with raising them?

I’m sorry new parents/future grandparents – I know you are way, way too sleep deprived to be thinking about all of this right now! Luckily, the City of Waco Planning Office has already been doing some of the thinking for you.  They have scoured pages and pages of reports and studies and strategic plans that have been developed by different groups and organizations throughout Waco these last several years (Imagine Waco, The Upjohn Report, Prosper Waco, to name just a few), and have worked really hard to pull it all together into one document: The City Plan: Waco Comprehensive Plan 2040.   That plan is now available on their website for you to review.  They are even still taking comments till August 5.

The plan is pretty long though, over 90 pages in fact .  And, no offense to the city planners, but I have to say it is a little…ummm… dry.  Buried in those charts and graphs and all that planner-speak, though,  are some important ideas for building a terrific hometown for your future grandbabies!  And that terrific future Waco isn’t going to build itself!  We all need to be informed about the comprehensive plan, because we are all going to have to help build the future city it describes.

Still, I sympathize with your dilemma.  You want to be a great, informed citizen and build that future for your grandbabies…if only you could get your current baby to go  to sleep!

Here’s an idea: read the city plan to your baby at bedtime!   Voila! Multi-tasking at its best!  Maybe this little excerpt will get you started, and inspire you to read more of the plan…to yourself and to your baby! With apologies to Dr. Seuss…

Waco City Plan 2040 (Bedtime Version)

Hello sweet baby!  I wish you would sleep!
If you would start snoozin’, off to bed I could creep!
You won’t close your eyes!  You’re still crying! Oh man!
Would this calm you down? It’s the new City Plan…

The overall goal is “make Waco sustainable.”
This goal will take work, but we think it’s obtainable!
We must make decisions we can live with right now,
and they must make good sense for YOUR future, but how?

Economic development is one good place to start –
We’ve got lots of colleges, with kids who are smart…
Let’s use them as bait for good jobs with high pay,
Then maybe our smart college grads will all stay!

And when they all stay, they’ll want fun stuff to do!
They’ll want music and culture and arts, wouldn’t you?
So investing right now in these things is essential,
And maybe downtown should be more residential…

If this all works out, we will grow, yes we will,
And one trick to really smart growth is in fill!
By “in fill” we mean live and work close together.
There’s all kinds of reasons together is better!

When we’re all spread apart it just costs more to serve us,
Sprawling and sprawling should make us all nervous.
It uses up gas, all those roads cost a bunch…
When we live close together we can just walk to lunch!

And speaking of walking, let’s talk transportation…
A subject that stirs up a heap of frustration!
You don’t have a car?  Too bad! That’s tough luck!
You can’t get to work or the store – you’re just stuck!

Bus rapid transit would help quite a bit,
And bike lanes and sidewalks just might be a hit!
We could build a good network for non-auto modes,
That new fangled thinking would help us out loads!

Hey sweet little baby, don’t fall asleep yet!
There’s a whole chapter here on environ-ment!
I still haven’t read you the part about housing,
The utilities section is really quite rousing…

Sweet dreams little one, rest your head and sleep tight…
I guess that’s enough City Plan for one night.
That’s right, nighty-night! You can lay your head down,
Count on us, Waco baby – to  build you a great town!

Ashley Thornton - love youThis Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she works at Baylor, helps out with Act locally Waco, and facilitates the Waco Foundational Employment Network which is a part of Prosper Waco.  She likes to walk and doesn’t mind at all if you honk and wave when you see her.

 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.

Entrepreneurs of Waco: Cuppiecakes

(Note: This post is part of a series called “Entrepreneurs of Waco.”  The series is collaboration between the McLennan Small Business Development Center (SBDC), the Professional Writing program at Baylor University, and Act Locally Waco.  The McLennan Small Business Development Center offers technical assistance, business mentoring, training, and resources for all stages of small business. For more information, visit their website:   To see all the posts in this series, click here: Entrepreneurs of Waco.  – ABT)

By Allison Le Grice

In what was once a popular saloon on Third Street in McGregor, Texas, Branda Pavlas and Susie Hughlett have realized their dream of owning a bakery. From Tuesday to Saturday, the small “Open” sign inside Cuppiecakes flashes, welcoming guests to enter the historic brick building to enjoy some savory treats.    Like a beacon, it has attracted customers from as far as ninety miles away.

Nine years ago, Susie met Branda at church, and they became inseparable. Often mistaken for sisters, Branda and Susie both stand at just about the same height with short blonde hair, inviting blue eyes, and eager expressions. “We’re completely different though,” Susie mentions. “She’s the doer. She’s made everything possible.”  “Oh stop, this place wouldn’t be here without you,” Branda responds.

Susie had some experience with baking and was known around church for bringing her creations for the enjoyment of the congregation. When their pastor asked Susie to bake a cake for an upcoming church event, she invited Branda over to help. This one night of baking led to several more, and as word spread, orders started pouring in. Pretty soon, Branda and Susie’s routine became staying up until three in the morning to finish cake orders while balancing the demand of husbands, children, and full-time jobs.

hello kittyAs they gained popularity, they decided to officially start a business. Although baking from the comfort of their homes worked, they dreamed of something more. “We wanted to be smart about it,” Branda says. “We knew we were too old for debt, and we didn’t want to get caught up in it for what seemed like some frivolous dream of baking cupcakes.” So Susie and Branda consulted Jane Herndon, a business advisor at the McLennan Small Business Development Center, who helped them plan how they could start a business with their available resources. Finally, their goals appeared to be within reach. In May 2014, they settled on a location in Hewitt, where Susie lives. Unfortunately, they missed their opportunity to sign a lease by mere few hours. To make matters worse, Branda’s husband had a heart attack that same week.

“As if things weren’t stressful enough, my husband died.”

“But he’s alive now,” Susie jokes, “We call him Lazarus… get it? Because they resurrected him.” In the midst of these unfortunate events, Branda and Susie had faith. “We’re firm believers in God,” Branda says. “I had to constantly remind myself to be patient and trust in His timing. There were multiple times I broke down ugly-crying because nothing seemed to be working, but I reminded myself of all that I had to be thankful for. My family was well, and despite this business not taking off, I still had my job as a high school counselor. If I had quit that to focus more on the business, I wouldn’t have had insurance to help after my husband’s heart attack. That was a reminder of God’s perfect timing. I took a step back and I heard Him say, ‘Just wait.’”

Not long after, a close friend called to tell them about an available building she thought Susie and Branda would like in McGregor, Texas.

all down hill“McGregor? Really?” Branda rolls her eyes. “The three most important things you have to take into consideration when starting a business are one, location. Two, location. And three, location.” With its approximate population of 5,000, they worried that McGregor was not ideal. But there was one thing Branda and Susie knew, church people love to eat and they love to talk. So despite the uncertainty of business from newcomers, they knew their loyal church community would visit their shop and help spread the word. Finally, they would have their own bakery… that’s if the owners of the building decided to lease it to them. “We definitely understand why they were hesitant,” Branda says. “Their main fear was that they’d be wasting their time on a business that was going to flop. It took a lot of convincing, but they agreed to meet with us.”

“So we brought cupcakes,” Susie adds, “and that’s probably what won them over.”

Today, Cuppiecakes lures customers in with a bright green awning and a huge image of a cupcake. Inside, a display case filled with a variety of flavored cupcakes beckons. Also, in one corner, tables are prepared for one of the many birthday parties Branda and Susie host. Attracting customers is something they no longer worry about. Even on Sundays and Mondays, the days Cuppiecakes is closed to catch up on orders, customers can be found knocking on their door, and on any given day, Branda and Susie can be found baking between 250-350 cupcakes while also completing custom orders for birthday and wedding cakes. Although they tried to wean off of the custom orders, they never stop coming in.

In addition to their baked goods, Branda and Susie have started selling coffee and even sandwiches. Despite this, Cuppiecakes is still best known for its cupcakes, served in small plastic cups. From “Cookies n’ Cream” to “Snowball” coconut cupcakes to “Cup o’ Joe” caramel and coffee cupcakes, Branda and Susie are satisfying all types of cupcake cravings.

“God’s timing really was everything,” says Susie. “It truly is amazing how it all happened.” What started off as two women bonding and baking ultimately led to a booming business.

cuppiecakesThe Entrepreneurs… Susie Hughlett and Branda Pavlas are the owners of Cuppiecakes.  Susie is the wife of Kevin Hughlett and mother of Drew (17), Kara (14) and Lindy (11). The family makes their home in Hewitt, and they attend Lorena United Methodist Church. Susie attended the University of Sothern Mississippi on a volleyball scholarship and has been teaching and coaching for 20 years. She now teaches mornings at Woodgate Intermediate as a 5th grade PE teacher and then goes to work at Cuppiecakes in the afternoon.  Branda is married to Jake Pavlas, and the couple have 3 children; Jakey (19), Braylin (17), and Jadyn (14). The couple was also blessed to be able to share their home with Ashley Johnson (married to Matthew) who has given them 3 beautiful grandchildren. Branda atteded Texas Tech University and taught English for 16 years before earning a Master’s Degree from Tarleton State University and working as a school counselor for 8 years. She now works full time at Cuppiecakes. Like Susie, Branda and her family also attend Lorena United Methodist Church where they met the Hughlett family. The “Pavlas Hughlett Clan” enjoy dinner together every Sunday night and sometimes take family vacations. Life is good at Cuppiecakes!

Allison Le GriceThe writer…Allison Le Grice is an English student at Baylor University. She is passionate about literature, mental health, and recycling. In her free time, she is most likely binge-watching “Chopped.” 

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.