MCH Family Outreach Center in Waco Opens to the Public

by Karleigh Conway

After months of planning, design work and construction, the new MCH Family Outreach Center in Waco opened its doors on Jan. 7, 2019. The center is located at 524 West Waco Drive.

The center includes second-floor office space for the Waco MCH Family Outreach team and features several work and meeting areas, a conference room and a sensory room for staff to work with children and families utilizing trauma informed-techniques. The building also has a large collaborative community space for outreach programs, trainings, meetings, and community events.

The center hosts scheduled Family Solutions, Gap and Parent Education programming organized and taught by the Waco MCH Family Outreach team. Additionally, the team has already hosted other organizations in the collaborative space as Child Protective Services recently led a Pathways to Permanency course for kinship caregivers at the center.

The second phase of construction will build-out the first floor of the 10,000-square-foot building to provide room for even more services to the community. Moe Dozier, vice president for programs at Methodist Children’s Home, said the new center helps MCH fulfill the commitment the organization made to the community at its founding nearly 130 years ago.

“MCH has and continues to actively serve children, youth and families at the highest level,” Dozier said. “Our dedication has led MCH to diligently review, analyze and improve all areas of the organization through the years. This expansion is a reflection of our active response to offering hope to the communities we serve.”

Traci Wagner, program administrator for the Eastern region of MCH Family Outreach, said the center helps MCH Family Outreach achieve their primary goal of strengthening families to help them provide a safe, stable and healthy family environment.

“We believe families are the strength of our communities and the natural place to help children develop to their fullest potential,” Wagner said. “We are continuing to partner with families to help build safe and healthy children and communities. This new space is in the center of the Waco community and provides us with the space and resources to creatively meet needs.”

Brooke Davilla, director of MCH Family Outreach in Waco, said she and her staff are excited about working from a new location that is easily identifiable in the Waco community.

“The new center is a space we hope will be seen as welcoming, safe, available, and approachable to all families,” Davilla said. “As we serve children, youth and families and host others in the center, we will work to honor this space and be good stewards of this opportunity to expand as an outreach team. We have a great responsibility but we also have great excitement.”

Dozier said he is grateful for the opportunity to serve the community in new, creative ways.

“We are thankful for this opportunity and we are thankful for the hard work and time that has been invested in MCH Family Outreach Center so far,” he said. “This center will have long-lasting impacts on the Waco community as MCH continues to proactively put hope into action.”

MCH Family Outreach will host an open house celebration for community partners, local officials and others on Friday, Feb. 15. In addition to Waco, MCH serves communities across Texas and New Mexico through Family Outreach offices in Abilene, Bryan, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Killeen, Lubbock, San Antonio, and Tyler, Texas; and Albuquerque and Las Cruces, N.M.

Karleigh Conway. is a public relations officer with the development team of Methodist Children’s Home.

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.

Better Living for Texans: From the heart, for the heart

By Lindsey Breunig

It is difficult to avoid Valentine’s Day reminders. There are decorations, cards, and candy in every store, and the radio, TV, or social media ads tend to highlight a gift for that special someone. Many restaurants might even have a special menu to celebrate the holiday. Whether you love the tradition or would prefer to avoid all things red that day, this post is dedicated to starting a new tradition on February 14th, a heart-healthy tradition. This Valentine’s Day give something from the heart for the heart!

The National Institute of Health estimates that the heart will beat 3 billion times in an average human lifetime. How amazing is that! The heart pumps blood through the network of arteries and veins supplying the body with oxygen and nutrients essential for our survival. It is no wonder why we need to take care of our heart!

During this time of year, it’s easy to get caught up to get the perfect gift to convey our love to those special people in our lives. While it may be nice to give (and receive) a box of chocolates, an even greater show of love is to share a heart-healthy gift to let the those know you care.  Instead of offering an over-sized piece of cake or a box of sweets, give something that takes care of the heart. Below are some fun recipes to make for someone you care about.

For all the chocolate fans reading this, here is a recipe for brownies with some extra twists! For Valentine’s Day try making these Chocolate Pomegranate Brownies. The chocolate and pomegranate create a delicious combination! Additionally, these brownies are made with black beans and prunes that you cannot taste.

Including fruit in dessert is a great way to get sweet flavors while also intaking wonderful vitamins and minerals. You can experiment with your favorite recipe by using unsweetened applesauce or mashed ripe bananas instead of butter. Or, try baked apples or peaches with cinnamon and a sprinkle of sugar instead of pie.

Like fruits, vegetables provide us with many vitamins and minerals that are great for our body. This next recipe is a favorite and uses red tomatoes to keep us in the Valentine’s Day spirit! Tomatoes are high in lycopene which according to the Harvard Medical School is a powerful antioxidant that eliminates dangerous free radicals that can damage DNA and other fragile cell structures. How thoughtful of you to use tomatoes this Valentine’s Day! Enjoy this Cowboy Salad.

Our final recipe is sure to impress! This easy pork tenderloin with a cayenne cherry sauce is healthy, while still feeling indulgent. Additionally, this recipe is stamped with the American Heart Association® Heart-Check Mark. The Mark helps consumers recognize that the recipe meets Heart-Check nutrition requirements that limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and added sugars, and promote consumption of beneficial nutrients. Check out this Pork Tenderloin with Cayenne Cherry Sauce or watch here.

The menu is set and now it’s time to include some physical activity as part of your Valentine’s Day! In addition to eating food that is good for our heart and bodies, remember it is also beneficial to have an active lifestyle that includes regular exercise to improve or maintain heart health. After a meal have fun walking around Waco with family and friends and think about gifts that encourage healthy habits such as running shoes, or reusable water bottles. Time together allows you to laugh, mingle, dance, and play games. Focus on fun and enjoy the company of others. I hope this Valentine’s Day is a lovely day for everyone and their heart!

Lindsey Breunig is a graduate of Baylor University and currently works as the Better Living for Texans Educator for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She is originally from Grapevine, TX and now calls Waco home. Here in Waco she loves to venture out to Cameron Park, visit the local Farmers Market, and try out the awesome eateries in Waco. If you see her and hear a loud bark, that’s her pup Lucy just saying hello.

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.

An extraordinary opportunity to learn about an extraordinary man…an evening with Winston Churchill biographer Andrew Roberts

By Cheyenne Atchison

“I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial… I thought I knew a good deal about it all, I was sure I should not fail.” In one of his most iconic quotes, Winston Churchill described what he felt after he became the Prime Minister of England in 1940.

This quote also serves as the title for Andrew Roberts’ new Churchill biography, Churchill: Walking with Destiny, a New York Times best seller released last October.  On Wednesday, Feb. 13, McLennan Community College will host author and scholar Andrew Roberts, as he travels the state on a promotional tour. The book has been hailed by the Wall Street Journal as “the best single-volume biography of the man.”

MCC is honored to host this popular author and an evening of learning about a prominent historical figure, with the help of Judge Ken Starr.  “Our friendship with Judge Ken Starr and his wife Alice has taken the student experience at MCC to an entirely new level.  Judge Starr engages with our Presidential and Honors College Scholars every semester…” said Kim Patterson, executive director of the MCC Foundation and coordinator of the Roberts’ event.  “His connections in Washington and around the world are enabling us to offer MCC students learning opportunities they wouldn’t get anywhere else.”

Dr. Andrew Roberts, received a PhD from Cambridge, is a visiting professor at the War Studies Department of King’s College, London, the Lehrman Institute Distinguished Lecturer at the New-York Historical Society, and the author of 13 books.

As a journalist and historian, he has researched and written about a variety of public and historic figures, but Winston Churchill is arguably his most studied. His enthusiasm toward Churchill is obvious in the collection of memorabilia close at hand in his study, which includes a hairbrush, bow tie and invitation to the lecture at Westminster College in 1946, in which Churchill delivered his infamous “Iron Curtain” speech. Despite his interest and admiration of Churchill, Roberts makes a point to recognize the mistakes the prominent leader made in both his political and personal life. More importantly, Roberts wanted a biography that would not only acknowledge faults but also explore how Churchill grew from them. Through his missteps, Churchill developed into the historical figure he is today.

Walking with Destiny offers an understanding of Churchill from a new perspective. The last major publication about Winston Churchill was Churchill by Roy Jenkins in 2001. Since its release, works surrounding Churchill have been deposited into the archives at Churchill College. In addition to these documents, the Queen of England granted Roberts access to her father’s diaries. This marks the first time a Churchill historian has read King George VI’s personal writing.

King George VI and Winston Churchill became close during World War II, with Churchill serving as England’s prime minister under the king’s reign. Despite initial aversion toward the new prime minister, it was the efforts of the war that helped them develop a relationship. This makes King George VI’s diary the ideal collection and perspective of both their friendship and of Churchill himself. This document serves as primary evidence never seen or read in any previous Churchill biography until now.

A large reason Roberts wanted to write this biography was due to his belief that the criticism Churchill faces is a result of inaccurate sources or a lack of context surrounding specific controversies. With access to new archives and the king’s diaries, Roberts can unveil a new side of history.

“It is simply extraordinary for our students to have the opportunity to meet and hear from one of the world’s leading Churchill scholars, right here on our campus,” Patterson said. “We have always said that MCC is not like other community colleges … MCC is more like a four-year liberal arts college offering outstanding teaching and enriching experiences.”

“An Evening with Sir Winston Churchill Biographer Andrew Roberts” will be held on Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the McLennan Community College Conference Center. Admission is free to the public, but tickets must be reserved at  Copies of Walking with Destiny will be available for purchase at the event.

Cheyenne Atchison is a junior at Baylor University studying Marketing and Public Relations, and currently serves as an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at McLennan Community 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 for more information.

East Waco Voices: Da Shack Farmer’s Market

By Khristian Howard

East Waco is a source of rich, proud history. Just a mention of revered figures like World War II hero Doris Miller or of Paul Quinn College, the oldest historically black college in Texas, reminds us of the national significance of this part of the Waco community.

What does East Waco have to offer now? There are several gems in the community that continue to sustain the residents, preserve its culture, inspire change, and fuel its heartbeat… but you may have to look for them. One such gem is Da Shack Farmer’s Market. Located in a quaint and quiet part of the neighborhood at 925 Houston Street, “Da Shack” (like the name implies) may not impress you from the outside. However, once you walk through the doors and enter the green oasis that is their garden, you realize it is a hub for nutritious food, education, beauty, and serenity.

Donna Nickerson, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Da Shack, sat down for a brief interview.  She shared about how the farmer’s market began, and talked about her dreams for benefiting the community.

First, how did they come up with the name?  “I wanted something that was catchy, something that was different. As far as the name, ‘Da Shack’ is not a place where it’s fancy…it’s just simple.” she explained.  “We try to implement simple things – even with gardening. We try to utilize our resources and try to communicate that with the community as well. That way they know you can use what you have. You don’t have to be fancy with things, just use what’s available.”

What should a visitor expect from Da Shack?  For Donna, the most important thing is for customers to leave with an education, even if they do not buy anything. “When they come here, they are going to learn about healthy eating, organic growing, gardening. Our goal is not to just provide healthy organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs…but also to educate them on how to grow and start gardening.” Da Shack is a place where there is something for every potential gardener. For folks who do not want to grow their vegetables from the ground, Donna and the others at Da Shack can give advice and guidance on how to start with pots, vegetable cans, or even in water.

Donna’s passion for educating people on how to improve their health shares roots with her profession as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist. Da Shack provides an avenue for addressing both physical and mental health.  In fact, Da Shack is now offering mental health services to the community. Donna is registered with most insurance agencies and is also providing sliding scale and pro-bono sessions for visitors to learn about behavioral health, managing stress, and more. When asked about why she chose to connect therapy to the farmer’s market, she stated, “Behavioral health is a barrier for a lot of people. If it is not addressed, it creates walls for individuals. Healthy people understand stress and how to cope with it…If you are in good condition physically, you’ll be in good condition emotionally, and vice versa because they work hand-in-hand…not a lot of psychotherapy services are present [in East Waco] and it is a big need.” Furthermore, she wanted “people in the community to come to a place where there is serenity, relaxation, warmth, and resources.”

In recent years, Waco has been a hub for social and economic transformation. Businesses are seeing a new promising market, families are finding supportive communities for their children, and students continue to flood to one of the oldest, most respected universities in the South. The work that Da Shack does in the community could be done downtown or in Woodway or Hewitt, so…why East Waco? When approached with this question, Donna gives a nod to the importance of managing perceptions about the neighborhood. She sees promise in East Waco, she says, and wants Da Shack’s location to be a catalyst for collective impact around healthier living there. “…As long as people continue to develop, as long as people continue to have a positive outlook, there’s really a lot of potential here, it’s just going to take a lot of collaboration. A lot of the key people that are willing to do something really need to be connected.”

Da Shack is a special place for East Wacoans, and for the rest of the city as well. They offer organic products that range from houseplants and outdoor plants, to vegetables and herbs, to instructional sessions about plant benefits and growing.

Beginning February 2nd, they will be accepting SNAP as a way to eliminate any financial barriers for the community – though their products are already priced at a fair rate to ensure affordability. In addition to this, they will soon be implementing smoothies for those who would rather drink their veggies, greenhouse classes and tours for students and non-profits, and monthly donations to families in need in East Waco.

Da Shack Farmer’s Market has taken a creative approach to marrying hobbies with service, nutrition with mental health, and the public sphere with privately-owned business. Ventures like these build on the historic positive energy of East Waco and move the whole community of Waco toward a healthy future.

Khristian Howard is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Georgia State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has a passion for empowering communities through service, and seeks to connect advocacy to creativity. Currently, she is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Texas Hunger Initiative Waco, where her work focuses on fostering collective impact to improve health and eating habits in East Waco. When she is not working, you may find her sharpening her culinary skills or exploring new poetic and artistic pathways.  

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.