What can you do to help build a more peaceful world? Consider hosting a foreign exchange student

By Garland Hancock

“But what can I do?”

I think most of us have asked that question at one time or another. 

We hear a story on the radio about tensions and even violence between nations around the world and many of us think — “Why is it so hard for us to get along?  We are all people. We all have the same basic needs.  We all love our children. Why can’t we learn to understand each other?” And finally, “But what can I do?”  

If you would like to take that question seriously and also have a wonderful learning experience for your own family, I have a suggestion – host a foreign exchange student this school year.

I have worked with foreign-exchange students — in one way or another — for nearly 20 years now, and nothing has given me greater pleasure. To watch these kids culturally mature before your very eyes is priceless. More than that, though, I am absolutely convinced that America’s foreign-exchange programs play an integral role in facilitating our diplomatic relations abroad.

This year we have an urgent need for Waco area host families for 15 students from two important exchange programs: FLEX and YES.  


The Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program is a United States Department of State-sponsored program for secondary school students from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine. The program provides merit-based scholarships for students to travel to the United States, live with a host family, and attend a U.S. high school for a full academic year.

FLEX was established in 1992 and funding is provided through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program was created from the conviction of former Senator Bill Bradley that the best way to ensure long-lasting peace and understanding between the U.S. and the countries of Eurasia is to enable young people to learn about the U.S. and Americans firsthand, and to teach Americans about their countries.

The primary goal of the FLEX program is to improve mutual understanding and develop and strengthen long-term relationships between citizens of the United States and other peoples and countries.


The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program was established by Congress in October 2002 in response to the events of September 11, 2001. The program is funded through the U.S. Department of State and sponsored by the Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (ECA) to provide scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend up to one academic year in the United States. Students live with host families, attend high schools, engage in activities to learn about American society and values, acquire leadership skills, and help educate Americans about their countries and cultures. The first class of YES students arrived from Egypt, Gaza, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, West Bank, and Yemen.

How do I get involved?

Both of these programs are incredibly selective. Only 3 percent of those who apply and submit essays are actually admitted. Which is to say these are cream-of-the-crop, “yes ma’am, no ma’am” kids who are hyper-focused on developing skills here in America that will allow them to assume leadership roles once they return back home. They arrive here full of vigor and purpose. And all are proficient in English.

Why the urgency? Students from around the world have been accepted into these highly competitive programs; but with the school year nigh upon us, many of these kids are still in need of host families or, at least, “welcome families.” So, as a coordinator with American Councils for International Education, I am working around the clock to make sure these well-deserving kids can pack their bags for Waco!

So, what are your costs/responsibilities should you decide to host one of these wonderful kids? Hosts must assure their students have transportation to and from school; so, if you are on a bus route, you are already set. Other than that, you simply provide room and board. And anytime the student might dine outside the home — for example, at the school cafeteria, or when accompanying your family to a restaurant — he or she is on his or her own.

Plus, the students come fully insured; and with the scholarship dollars they receive through acceptance into the FLEX/YES programs, they are required to budget for all personal expenses — entertainment, toiletries, school supplies, etc.

I am sure you have questions so please call me at your earliest convenience — today would be great! — at (254) 216-0460.

These kids are driven. They inspire. And they will win your heart. The bond you forge will last forever. The worst thing about hosting is that one day soon you will have to say goodbye. Best of all, you can rest assured that your student will ultimately pay it forward – hosting one student can start a chain reaction that can touch hundreds or even thousands of people back in their home communities.  That’s what you can do that will really make  a difference.

Garland Hancock is a free-lance journalist who publishes the Texas-based magazine J.D. Mayo’s Full-Court Press. In his free time, the China Spring resident and amateur percussionist travels the world to feed his passion for live, indigenous music. Garland has been working with foreign-exchange students for nearly 20 years and, as a part-time Language Arts tutor who specializes in ACT/SAT prep, he dedicates much of his schedule to helping ESL learners realize their dream of attending an American college.

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.

Better Living for Texans: Tackling the Fall Season by Understanding Nutrition Labels and Using USDA MyPlate Guidelines.

By Flor De La Garza

Although the Texas heat continues, summer is quickly coming to an end. While summertime may steer most of us into unusual schedules,  August is the busy month when we try to get back to a daily routine and prepare for the “back-to-school” rush. Unfortunately, unhealthy eating patterns are often paired with busy schedules. When planning for the fall season, don’t forget to plan for healthy food choices. Understanding nutrition labels and using the USDA “My Plate” guidelines can lead you to choose healthier meals for yourself, your children, and family!

Understanding Nutrition Labels:

As of 2016, the FDA approved a new Nutrition Facts label for packed foods. This new nutrition label aims to make it easier to make better and healthier food choices. Most large food packaging manufacturers are required to adapt their products to the new labels, but smaller manufacturers have until 2021 to fully comply with this new regulation. (See an example of the new label below.)

There are six main parts to the label: 1) serving size, 2) calories, 3) saturated fats, 4) added sugars, 5) sodium, and 6) nutrients.

The “serving size per container” tells you how many portions are included in the container. This is important because if there are supposed to be three servings per container, and you eat the whole thing – then all the nutrition facts, such as calories, triple. Paying attention to calories consumed makes a big difference whether you are trying to lose, maintain or gain weight.

The type of fat, the amount of added sugars, sodium, and the different nutrients in a serving size help you understand whether the item is healthy or not. When determining the value of these three categories, the percent daily values (%DV) can indicate if the category is low or high for the serving size. If a category has a %DV that is “5% or less” it is classified as low and if it is “20% or more” it is classified as high. Therefore, within the food consumption in one day, it is advised to not go over 100% for fats, sodium, and added sugar and it is encouraged to reach 100% of the nutrients.

Source: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/changes-nutrition-facts-label

Using USDA MyPlate Guidelines:

Using the MyPlate guidelines can help you make sure you are eating a healthy variety of foods. MyPlate is composed of five main food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Incorporating vegetables and fruits to fill up half of your plate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner can increase your vitamins and minerals intake while decreasing your caloric intake as most fruits and vegetables are low in calories. When one has a small rush of cravings between lunch and dinner time, a small piece of fruit can satisfy as a snack or dessert. As stated last month, all fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruits and vegetables count towards your MyPlate guidelines!

When choosing your grains, choose whole grains that are listed as the first of second on the ingredients list. Oatmeal, popcorn, corn tortilla, whole-grain bread, and brown rice are a healthy alternative to incorporate in one’s grain consumption. When choosing healthy alternatives for dairy, low-fat, fat-free, or non-dairy calcium-fortified products can taste just as good as regular whole-fat dairy products. Many have the perception that meat is necessary to complete a meal. However, not all meats are healthy because of the high-fat content. Opting for lean meats, such as turkey, chicken, and seafood, and plant-based protein, such as beans, peas, unsalted nuts, seeds, soy products, and eggs can complete the protein component of MyPlate.

Source: https://choosemyplate-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/tentips/mini_poster.pdf


This month we have three easy recipes! The recipes come from the USDA – “What’s Cooking?” website. Below are some easy recipes that can serve as a lunch or dinner option for you or your children. They are simple, quick, and healthy!

Chicken Salad and Peach Sandwich


  • 4 slices of whole grain bread
  • 1/2 cup cooked chicken (diced)
  • 1/2 cup canned peach slices (drained and diced)
  • 1 small celery stalk
  • 1/2 cup apples (Fuji, Gala, or Braeburn)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise (nonfat)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts


  1. Mix together the chicken, apples, peaches, celery, onions, walnuts and mayonnaise in a small bowl.
  2. Spoon mixture onto 2 slices of the bread.

Falafel with Yogurt Sandwich


  • 1 cup dry garbanzo beans (chickpeas, sorted and rinsed)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 garlic (clove, crushed)
  • 1 onion (medium, chopped)
  • 1/3 teaspoon parsley (1 sprig or about 1 teaspoon, chopped)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/3 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (low-fat)
  • 1 onion (medium, chopped)
  • 4 Whole Wheat Pita bread (pockets)
  •   Flour to sprinkle
  •   tomatoes, sliced (optional)
  •   lettuce (optional)


  1. Put beans and water in large pot and soak by the overnight or quick-soak method.
  2. Cook until tender, about 2 hours. Add more water if necessary. Drain.
  3. Slowly heat oil and sauté garlic and onion until tender (5 to 7 minutes).
  4. Mash cooked beans, sautéed vegetables, parsley, salt, lemon juice and hot pepper sauce until smooth.
  5. With floured hands, form ovals with bean mixture (about 1/4 cup each). Roll in flour.
  6. Fry falafel, with the remaining oil in skillet, until golden brown. Drain on paper towel.
  7. Combine yogurt with remaining onion.
  8. Serve falafel in pocket bread topped with yogurt.

Chicken Salad


  • 1 can canned chicken (drained, about 12 ounces)
  • 3 tablespoons mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup apples (diced)
  • 1⁄4 cup raisins
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons parsley or cilantro (chopped, optional)


  1. In a large bowl, combine chicken, mustard, honey, and apples. Mix well.
  2. Sprinkle raisins and pepper on top of salad. If using parsley or cilantro, add that too.
  3. Serve on a lettuce leaf or on a slice of homemade bread.

Flor De La Garza is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health degree at Baylor University. She is completing her summer practicum with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in McLennan County and is working with the Better Living for Texans program. Flor is originally from Denton, TX. and has lived in Waco for about four years now. She especially enjoys learning how Waco’s organizations are working together in collaborations to reach the overall goal to improve the health and quality of life of McLennan County residents! In addition, she loves Cameron Park hiking trails, the local restaurants and food trucks!

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.

Top 10: The MCC Cosmetology Salon is Getting a Makeover

Top 10  “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019: # 8

by Mandie Meier

As the students at McLennan Community College’s Cosmetology program are making over their clients, their salon is getting a makeover as well.

In 1988, the cosmetology building at MCC moved from the main campus in the Applied Science building to the Community Services Center. Since then, only the reception area has been remodeled. Now, the salon is finally getting a renovation.

During phase two of construction, which began in May, the salon is being completely gutted. The walls have been knocked down, leaving one big floor plan. Construction will also be cutting in windows.

“Every countertop, every styling chair, every station,” said Laura Hays, Program Director and Esthetician Professor. “Everything is brand new.”

Hays, who has worked at MCC for 29 years, is proud to say the program has come a long way in the past several years.

“Enrollment right now is at an all-time high,” Hays said. “We are at capacity. That’s probably one of the biggest changes, I think.”

Not only is enrollment high, but so is the success rate for students taking board exams. Both programs have a 100 percent pass rate on state examinations.

Hays said she is most excited for the students to have a nicer salon to work.

“Really and truly, I know that the community is extremely important,” Hays said. “But, just for our students to be able to be in a cosmetically up-to-date modern salon environment, it just gives them a nice, updated place to come and learn. That’s just so important. They’re so excited. They can’t wait.”

Sidney Smith, a third semester MCC cosmetology student, was well into her cosmetology education at another institution before deciding to start over with MCC.

“Before coming to MCC, I had the opportunity to see that a beautiful school doesn’t mean there’s a good education,” Smith said. “However, here, your teacher is there with you from start to finish with whatever help you need.”

Although she believes a beautiful salon doesn’t necessarily equal a good education, she thinks the renovations will improve the overall atmosphere and give everyone something to look forward to. She also said that cosmetology and aesthetics go hand and hand.

“I just feel like with hair, you have to stay up to date with things, so I feel like the aesthetic environment also needs to be up-to-date,” Smith said.

Kayla Hardin, another third semester cosmetology student, said people will take the school more seriously with the new salon.

“I think people will feel more comfortable getting their hair done there because they’ll think it’s a more professional environment,” Hardin said.

Hardin also said the new salon will provide clients with quicker visits.

“I think we’ll get more clients in and out quicker because we’re going to have 10 shampoo bowls versus the two we have right now,” Hardin said. “There won’t be any lines.”

The targeted completion date for the renovation is before August 26th — the day fall semester begins. Be on the lookout for these changes and more to the cosmetology department coming in the future.

Interested in studying cosmetology at MCC? Visit //mclennan.edu/cosmetology. Students may earn certificates in Cosmetology, Cosmetology Instructor or Esthetician Specialist.

The general public is invited to take advantage of the services offered by the MCC School of Cosmetology including manicure/pedicure, and haircuts. To schedule an appointment, call 254-299-8701. A full list of services and prices is available here: http://www.mclennan.edu/cosmetology/docs/CosmetologyMenu2017_V2.pdf

Mandie Meier is a student journalist at the University of Texas at Austin. She has worked at ORANGE Magazine and Afterglow ATX in the past. She mainly covers music, but also has reported on the food and drink section of ORANGE Magazine. She served as a marketing and communications intern at McLennan Community College this summer.

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.