Calling all Millennials to help Curb the National Debt!

by Saul Cornejo Bravo

Throughout history there have been many times when the youth, frustrated by issues affecting society, have rallied together to invoke change in our nation. In previous decades, those issues included civil rights, education, the Vietnam War, and free speech. What made the movements of these past generations successful was hope that change could be enacted and a willingness to use the collective power people hold in our democracy to achieve it. In contrast, our generation, the millennials, are currently described as too lazy, sensitive, safe-space-confined, selfie-obsessed, and self-absorbed to care about anything going on in the world. If judged by voting percentages of 18 to 29 year olds, that assertion might be correct. Millennials’ voting participation rate peaked in 2008, when 51% of the eligible voters from the youngest voting block participated that presidential election year. In contrast, during the last midterm election only about 21% voted. Because of this, politicians have had little incentive to act in our generation’s best interest. In particular, there is an urgent issue that I, along with the other members of the MCC Up to Us team, believe must be addressed because of its impact on our generation: the national debt. This debt issue threatens the future prosperity of our country and the future livelihood of young Americans through its effect on taxes, and federal spending.

The Up to Us team at McLennan College is running a national debt awareness campaign, as part of a national competition, in the hope that we can inform our peers about the issue and inspire them to take action by participating in the political process. Our campaign is non-partisan; we aren’t endorsing any political ideology, party, candidate, or even legislation. Instead, we believe this issue should transcend party lines and ideologies because Democrats and Republicans alike have gotten us to this point, and everyone will be affected by it, whether they consider themselves liberals or conservatives. Additionally, we do not want to promote intergenerational conflict, but we believe that our current political leaders, in regard to the national debt, are making decisions hurting our generations’ best interest, because the debt accumulated today will affect society tomorrow. Our main goal is to make our peers aware of the national debt and the importance of government fiscal responsibility, because our federal budget, apart from showing how we allocate our resources, demonstrates where our values and priorities lie.

After years of continued borrowing from the prosperity of future generations by running high federal budget deficits, the national debt is close to 19 trillion dollars. This debt accumulation trend, if left unaltered, could have negative consequences for our country. For example, in 2015 we spent approximately $224 billion in interest, more than we spend on education, research and development, and infrastructure– which are investments for our future– combined. Additionally, our annual interest payment is expected to more than double to $772 billion by 2025. Therefore, we must consider our priorities when thinking about increasing the national debt because we can’t fund the government through deficits indefinitely.

Currently, major drivers of the national debt are the national healthcare programs, but sadly there has been little done to make them sustainable. Over 40%, or about 1.8 trillion dollars, of our federal budget goes towards social health programs like Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, with costs growing every year. For example, due to the baby boomer generation retiring, Social Security and Medicare, in particular, have become extremely costly and are unsustainable under current law. In 1960, the worker to beneficiary ratio was 5 to 1. In 2009 it reached 3 to 1, and by 2035 it’s projected to reach 2 to 1, which will make Social Security an even bigger burden on our budget. Granted, these programs are important for our society, but if we want to continue having them, we need to make them sustainable in a way that won’t sacrifice the future of our country.

Our current political leaders are heavily divided among political parties and ideologies, and are unwilling to solve the issue. This led to a government shutdown in 2013 and inaction to reduce our budget deficits. Additionally, politicians from both sides of the aisle continue to irresponsibly propose plans that could have a significant negative effect on our deficit, such as heavily increasing spending or cutting taxes, the government’s revenue, by trillions. Proposals like this borrow from the prosperity of future generations for immediate political benefits. Therefore, it is up to millennials, the generation that in the future will suffer the consequences of the decisions made today, to demand action and hold our politicians accountable by participating in the voting process. By joining together now, we can cement our legacy as the generation that ensured America’s prosperity by demanding fiscal responsibility and ensuring our resources are spent investing in our future.

Follow the McLennan College Up to US campaign on Instagram @MCCUotoUs to learn more about the national debt and follow their campaign.

Saul CornejoSaul Cornejo Bravo is a student at McLennan Community College and currently interns at First Friday Waco. He is passionate about community development and plans to transfer to UT Austin and major in Economics.

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.



What is Project Link? Can you tell me how it works again?

by Natalie James

 About Project Link

Three years ago, the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation, under the leadership of Executive Director Tom Stanton, began exploring ways to increase the rate of post-secondary success for Waco-area high school and college students. Over the course of many months, a group of about 40 individuals from local school districts and colleges (including school counselors, administrators, superintendents, and college presidents) assembled to discuss the challenges and barriers their students faced with college readiness, high school transition to college, and college success.

The result? After much collaboration and continued conversations, the group proposed to increase the number of counselors available to students at both the high school and college level so that students could receive consistent support for post-secondary success from ninth grade all the way through college or technical certification. This additional counseling would provide the “link” between success in high school and success in post-secondary studies.

In January 2015, The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation Board approved the grant proposal for Project Link in the amount of $1,020,000. Prosper Waco serves as Project Link’s “backbone organization.” They work with the multiple organizations involved in the grant to provide oversight of the project’s implementation, including collecting data, tracking outcomes, and reporting to the Rapoport Foundation.

Project Link officially launched this past fall to help students from La Vega High School, University High School, McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College. The project link team consists of one Project Link Coordinator, three Project Link High School Liaisons, and one Project Link Outreach Specialist. The Project Link Coordinator serves as the team’s lead and manages grant operations on a day-to-day basis. Three Project Link Liaisons, one at La Vega High School and two at University High School, work with students in the ninth through twelfth grade to prepare for college and workforce opportunities. The Project Link Coordinator and Outreach Specialist work together with the high school Liaisons to ensure a smooth transition to college and to provide continued support for Project Link students at the college level. Our team includes me as the Project Link Coordinator at McLennan Community College; Brandon Chappell, Project Link Outreach Specialist at Texas State Technical College; LaTishia Watson, Project Link Liaison at La Vega High School; and Marlayna Botello and Brittany Davis, Project Link Liaisons at University High School.

So what exactly do we do?

Project LinkThe goal of Project Link is to help students and their families chart a more assured and successful post-secondary journey. To accomplish this, Project Link participants develop personal relationships with professionals who provide intense one-on-one college, career, and financial advising and mentoring.

Really…who wouldn’t like having someone they can go to when they are unsure of what their next step is or when they need reassurance that they are on the right track? At both the high school and college level, Project Link provides academic and college support as well as personal and life coaching.

At the high schools, the Project Link team works to create a college-going culture by developing an environment that recognizes the value of higher education, by building awareness of post-secondary resources, and by nurturing student’s individual college and career aspirations. The participating high schools each have a dedicated space where the student can come to learn, explore, and begin to outline their own college and career path with the appropriate support and guidance to do so. Through one-on-one meetings and group sessions, the high school Liaisons help students with planning for optimum college and career readiness. They help students determine their career and college goals, think about enrichment and extracurricular engagement, figure out how to afford college and manage their money, navigate the application and registration process, prepare for SAT/ACT/TSI tests, and transition from their high school to the college of their choice. We encourage and support students as they explore and find a college that best meets their academic and career goals, and their personal needs – their true college match.

Project Link students participate in college and career nights, college application fairs, financial aid and scholarship application workshops, college tours, career days, and more. The students work on building their own educational resume by developing strong academic competencies and by participating in leadership and community service opportunities. College representatives from MCC, TSTC, and Baylor provide site visits for one-on-one advising for students who are considering attending one of these local post-secondary institutions.

Project Link is not designed to recruit specifically for MCC or TSTC, but statistically we know that many of our students for various reasons end up matriculating to one of those, so we provide additional support at those two schools.

At the college level, the Project Link Outreach Specialists provide one-on-one advising, life coaching, and other services. Students have the opportunity to participate in workshops that cover topics such as academic skills and support, careers, degrees, employability, life skills, personal wellness, computer and technology skills, and financial literacy and resources. Participants have additional opportunities to build their educational resume through community service, leadership, and internship opportunities. The goal of all of this is to help students develop the needed academic competencies, life skills, and strategies to attain their personal goals like earning their college degree, landing the job of their dreams, and achieving lifelong success.

Overall, Project Link helps to increase awareness, access and success for college readiness and retention. While building long lasting growth-oriented relationships with our students, the program allows each student to not only dream, but to make those dreams come true. At the end of the day, our program is not designed to do things for them, but instead to provide them with guidance and understanding about what steps they can make next in reaching their own dream, their own success. We can provide each of these students with all the knowledge, insight and information we have about pursuing a college or workforce degree that will land them the job of their dreams, but in the end, ultimately, we will not be the ones who will make these students successful. THEY WILL. Their persistence and hard work will be what takes them to their desired level of success. We are just serving as a beacon of light, showing them that with an advanced EDUCATION, comes great WORKFORCE and career opportunities that will lead them to be more productive members of our society and COMMUNITY. I would say that is a win, a victory, a SUCCESS for us all.

Natalie James 4Natalie James is the Coordinator for Project Link. A native of the Waco area, she has proudly worked in Higher Education for the past 10 years at McLennan Community College. She earned her AA degree from MCC, a BSAS degree from Tarleton State University through the MCC University Center, and M.Ed. from Angelo State University. She is also a proud wife and mother to two amazing daughters. If you have questions about Project Link, feel free to contact Natalie at or at 254-299-8517.


The Cove, A Safe Haven for Homeless Youth

By Amy Jimenez

His smile was unlike other smiles teenagers wear. It screamed bravery and courage, masking the pain and loneliness I could clearly hear behind his words. That day, he showed up to school. We celebrated his step forward. One step toward his goal of graduating was worth celebrating. The dream of graduation is easily clouded when your report card shows half the credits you need to walk across the stage. However, this smile showed the determination of fulfilling a mother’s dream, a dream passed on to a son who painfully works through her loss every day. His smile can get lost in the labels and numbers I see in the literature, headlines, and records. Unaccompanied. Homeless. Food Insecure. At Risk. Instead, his smile should represent a dreamer—his dreams of travel, of college, of somehow experiencing hope again.

Teenagers just like this student bring me to a place of humility, of wanting more for them, and dreaming big dreams alongside them. My heart for high school kids led me to work with Waco ISD Homeless Outreach for the past two years, a phenomenal department that works with families and high school students who are homeless as defined by the McKinney-Vento Act. Unaccompanied homeless youth (UHY) are students who experience homelessness and are not in custody of a parent or legal guardian. Right away I learned about the extensive issues homeless high schools students face, including risk of dropping out, family conflict and violence, low self-esteem, sex trafficking, and other deep wounds.

  • In the U.S., 1.6 million youth experience homelessness.
  • 20-40% of unaccompanied homeless youth were abused sexually in their homes
  • 40-60% of UHY were abused physically
  • 20-40% of UHY have been thrown out of their homes because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or pregnant.[1]

Many of our students don’t realize they are homeless. To them, staying at a motel or sleeping on a couch or in a car is just life and they are fighting to keep up with their school work and jobs. Their stories are really tough to hear, but it’s a privilege when they bravely share them. Stories I’ve heard from our students in Waco range from unsafe living conditions, abusive relationships, couch surfing, incarcerated parents, and aging out of a life in foster care. Some students have confided being kicked out because of whom they love. The calls that really punch your gut are ones from our partners at UnBound, who prevent and intervene when girls have been trafficked. Hearing that students from Waco High and University High have been rescued from a trafficker will never get easier, but it sure ignites a desire to find ways to care for them and prevent it from happening again. These stories are also filled with winning medals at track meets, making the top 10% of their class, reuniting with mom, receiving a scholarship from Mary-Hardin Baylor, and walking across the stage at graduation. On paper, we call them “Unaccompanied Homeless Youth”. But when you get to know them, you instead begin to see them as resilient, persistent, tenacious, and brilliant.

The Cove Logo - OfficialThe Cove began as a dream of Cheryl Pooler’s six years ago after hearing the stories of homeless families in Waco ISD. With over 1,300 homeless students, Cheryl, Waco ISD’s Homeless Liaison, has meticulously fought for each student and their families to have access to resources and dignity throughout their education in Waco ISD. Cheryl and I share a soft spot in our hearts for high school students. When you have the privilege of meeting a high school student who is experiencing homelessness, you’ll never forget his or her story.

Cheryl has shared the vision for a safe place for students to come after school where they could feel valued, cared for, and loved. In order to prevent chronic homelessness, research points to creating an empowering space that offers not only a place to shower and do laundry before finding a temporary place to sleep, but one where students can receive counseling and medical screenings, meet with an adult who can walk through life with them, make a connection to a job training program, and involve youth in the planning and leadership. The Cove’s Student Advisory Committee is made up of both teenagers and young adults who have experienced homelessness, and their input has been invaluable as the Cove is being formed.

But today the Cove is not just a dream. It is becoming a reality. I have felt so humbled at the response from the Waco community. Waco has rallied around the issue of youth homelessness and has been welcoming and supportive of starting the Cove. The Cove is not just one organization. It’s truly a community effort to love, care for, and empower the most vulnerable youth in our city.

Hopefully to open this spring of 2016, the Cove will be an after school nurturing center for the over 60 unaccompanied homeless youth in our district. At the Cove, students will have access to tutoring, a computer lab, family style dinners, counseling services, medical screenings, haircuts, space to recharge, and maybe even play basketball. Our high school students themselves have contributed greatly to this process of developing the Cove along the way. Their insight and experience is the greatest we have to truly care for and end youth homelessness in our city.

As a local Wacoan, I am so excited for a Waco where former students from the Cove are the nurses who care for our families, the real estate agents who help purchase our houses, the head caterers at our local weddings, the teachers changing the lives of our kids, and the mayors who continue the legacy of bringing positive, collective change to the place we call home.

If you’d like to get involved, we’d love for you to join us in the adventure. Please feel free to email You can also visit our Facebook page or find us at

Amy JimenezAmy Jimenez has been a Wacoan since 2009 after moving from Cincinnati, Ohio. She graduated from Baylor in 2012 with a degree in International Studies. She has interned with Waco ISD Homeless Outreach, the Cove, and also works for the Texas Hunger Initiative. She will be graduating with her Master of Social Work this May from the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work. Amy adores her best friend and husband, Blake, her dog, Marsha, and is passionate about seeking justice and loving people well here in Waco.  Feel free to contact Amy at or (254) 300-8443.

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.

[1] National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. (n.d.). Unaccompanied Homeless Youth. Retrieved from

Faith Community Health: Empowering Faith Communities with Sound Health Care Concepts

By Donna Stauber

Waco is witness to a new era in health care. A new ministry called Faith Community Health at Baylor Scott and White-Hillcrest is helping shift the paradigm of health care by combining the caring strengths of faith communities with the clinical expertise of health care providers to improve the health of our community.

Pastor readingBaylor Scott and White-Hillcrest is partnering with local faith communities to provide training and support to volunteer Faith Community Caregivers to attend to their neighbors and community members during the entire span they are receiving medical care. These volunteer Faith Community Caregivers are supported through the education they receive at a 6 hour training on personal boundaries, resources, and listening skills just to list a few of the training topics. This team works closely with health care providers and other community groups to ensure people receive the care and resources they need.

churchFaith Community Health operates according to four principles; Right Door, Right Time, Ready to be treated and Reassured-Not Alone. It aims to help to direct people to the Right Door, or avenue of care such as seeing a primary care physician, clinic, or outpatient center in the hospital. It urges people to seek treatment at the Right Time, learning the importance of preventative care and how to recognize symptoms earlier. It also helps those needing medical treatment understand what they need and why so they can be Ready to be Treated. Finally it Reassures those facing health issues they are Not Alone. Facing illness can cause feelings of anxiety, isolation or fear. Faith Community Health not only provides support in physical healing but also the support of a calm presence during trying times.

ladiesDonna Stauber, Ph.D., Program Manager, Innovations, Spiritual Care Delivery, is exploring the ways Faith Community Health can best serve the Waco area. For the past few months, Stauber has been training volunteers to be Faith Community Caregivers around the Waco area. Pictured above is the training at Family of Faith Worship Center in North Waco. For more information or how to receive training for your church, contact Dr. Stauber by email at or by phone at 254-855-0579.


Donna StauberDonna Stauber has over 25 years of experience in health education, nutrition, wellness, leadership development and motivation. Presently as Program Manager, Innovations, Spiritual Care Delivery for the Baylor S&W System, she is working at her dream job of connecting faith communities with healthcare. Donna also teaches as adjunct faculty for the department of Health and Human Services at Baylor University. She has three children and 9 grandchildren and has been married to her best friend George for 28 years and loves to fish, bird watch, float, and farm.

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.


Holding a Story is Sacred…”Dixie Fund” helps Women Leave the Sex Industry

by Emily Mills

The weight of holding a story is a sacred one. Holding your own narrative, really owning your story is powerful. I learned how to own my story through an unlikely source. Commercial sex exploits, women working in the sex industry, invited me into the journey of self-discovery. Over a decade ago, I began reaching out, extending myself to women in strip clubs. Looking back, I know now why I was there. It wasn’t about saving “them”… it was about knowing myself. Through the sacred journey of holding their stories, I began to own mine.

Like many of the women I met, I too experienced childhood sexual abuse. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I was with this term. I was no victim. I was a survivor. I didn’t “need” anything from anyone. I would learn how to do life on. my. own. And this attitude is EXACTLY the story of a commercial sex exploit. What a perverted sense of pride I had found in “pulling myself up by the bootstraps”. My addiction bore the markings of religion, theirs the sex industry. What was the difference? Both of us used something to make us feel powerful. Needless to say, God has continued to save me daily through the work of Jesus Said Love, a ministry sharing the revolutionary love of Christ with women in the commercial sex industry. I have learned that I am she, and she is me…and we’re in this life together.

1.13 wild torchLast year, we embarked on our first gala-esque fundraiser, Wild Torch. A night carrying the story of the women we reach through the visual and performing arts. It was purely magical. This year, Wild Torch will blaze on April 11, 2016, at the Hippodrome. Our concept is to swim up the river a bit and through the arts answer the question, “Where does the life of a commercial exploit begin?” And while we can’t make grand assumptions and sweeping generalizations, the statistics and data are flooring:

  • The average age of entry into the commercial sex industry is 12 years old for a female.
  • Upwards of 80% of commercial sex exploits were sexually abused as children.
  • 70% of all human trafficking victims in the US come through the commercial side.
  • The number one risk factor for human trafficking is poverty.
  • 89% of women in the commercial sex industry say they want out but have no other means of survival.

For more facts and information visit:

While the data is gut wrenching, Wild Torch will display the remarkable story of three women who have beat the odds of the industry! Through powerful dance, song and film we will share and celebrate their resiliency! The funds raised this year will go toward The Dixie Fund, a transition fund for women escaping the industry. Through this fund we not only are able to alleviate financial crises due to leaving the industry, but also empower women with funding for entrepreneurial endeavors!

Last year’s funds went to refurbishing the new JSL headquarters at 1500 Columbus. This year, funds raised for The Dixie Fund will help us transition women out of the industry through educational programs and job training, employ former exploits, and launch businesses! Come carry fire with us at Wild Torch 2016! Find out more at

emily mills flippedEmily  Mills received her B. A. in Communications from Baylor University. While at Baylor, Emily participated in various opportunities to serve the marginalized and lead worship. This began her passionate pursuit to “put feet” on the songs she was singing.  In 2003, while leading worship at a conference for women exiting the sex industry, these two worlds collided and Jesus Said Love was born. Emily continues to lead worship around the country with her husband, Brett. They have three children: Hattie, Lucy and Gus. To learn more about Wild Torch, visit or our website Contact us at

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.


Part 1: Developing the Right Solutions to the Problem of Payday Lending

By Dillon Meek

There has been a lot of talk lately (at least in my world) about payday and auto title loans and how our community should respond to the presence of this industry in our community (assuming there should be a response at all). This is the first post, in a series of posts, to address the topic of payday lending in Waco, Texas.

Other posts that will follow this one will include discussions on alternatives to payday lending that are available to borrowers, laws regulating payday lending (including the option for a local ordinance), and personal stories from people in our community who have been effected by payday lending.

But first, let’s look at what payday lending is, why it’s a problem and why we as a community need to respond.

Let’s Start at the Beginning: What is a Payday Loan?

Payday and auto title loans are high cost, small-dollar loans. They are offered with little-to-no consideration for a borrower’s ability to repay. Payday loans require proof of employment and access to a bank account via a post-dated check or electronic ACH authorization. The initial term is typically two weeks – until after the next paycheck. Auto title loans are secured by a car title; the amount loaned is based on the value of the car and they have terms of thirty days. They are both marketed on the basis of speed and convenience to people.

So What’s the Problem with Payday Loans?

Most payday loans are predatory. While there are no legal definitions in the United States for predatory lending, an audit report on predatory lending from the office of inspector general of the FDIC broadly defines predatory lending as “imposing unfair and abusive loan terms on borrowers.” Here are some signs that a payday loan is predatory:

  • Triple digit interest rate. Payday loans carry very low risk of loss, but payday lenders here in Waco typically charge fees equal to 400% – 500% APR.
  • Unlike when a bank issues a loan, predatory lenders do not consider a borrower’s ability to repay. Payday lenders allow (and often encourage) consumers to borrow the maximum allowed, regardless of their credit history, wages, or ability to repay. If the borrower can’t repay the loan, the lender collects multiple renewal fees and makes more money. In other words, the more unsuccessful the borrower is, the more successful the lender is.
  • Loan flipping (extensions, rollovers or back to back transactions). Payday lenders earn most of their profits by making multiple loans to cash-strapped borrowers. 90% of the payday industry’s revenue growth comes from making more and larger loans to the same customers. Often times this leads to a cycle of debt.

How is Waco Affected?

  • $10.5 million is drained from the Waco economy annually as a result of these institutions.
  • There are 36 storefronts in Waco, Texas. None are locally owned.
  • On average, 12 cars are repossessed each week by auto title lenders.
  • 3 out of 5 payday loans in Waco are to borrowers who pay more in interest than they do in principal.

Source: Texas Appleseed analysis of Texas Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner 2012 and 2013 Credit Access Business Quarterly and Annual Data Reports. Store location data is based on the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner CAB licensing data for August 2014.

How Do We Respond?

A local Waco group, Citizens for Responsible Lending, is advocating and working hard for (1) the community to develop alternatives to payday loans, (2) education and awareness in the community regarding this issue, and (3) the city council to pass an ordinance regulating payday lending in Waco if the state and federal legislatures will not. Because Texas law does not prohibit predatory lending practices, 26 cities in Texas have passed a uniform ordinance. The other posts in this series will address each of these responses in more detail.

What I know is this: predatory lending is happening in Waco, Texas, and in order for our community to become financially secure, we need to engage a discussion about how we are going to prohibit our citizens from being exploited by this industry.   You can participate in this discussion this Tuesday, December 8, at 6 pm at the City of Waco Operations Center at 1415 N 4th St.

Dillon Meek-2Dillon Meek serves on the Waco City and is general counsel for a local investment company.  Prior to that he served as an associate attorney at Haley Olson, PC, where he represented local governments, financial institutions, and energy companies.  He is engaged to Lindsey Myers, a Waco ISD school teacher.  You can contact him at

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.


Youth Empowerment Services: Community Support Helps us Provide Help

By Kiera Collins

Y.E.S. (Youth Empowerment Services) is a Medicaid waiver program. The purpose of Y.E.S. is to keep at-risk youth who are in danger of out of home placement or inpatient psychiatric treatment in the home with the family unit. I am a behavior specialist at Klaras Center for Families. As a behavior specialist, I tutor and mentor my assigned clients, many of whom participate in the Y.E.S. program.

The Y.E.S. program is 12 months long. In those 12 months we work on school issues, learning deficits, vital skills, goal setting, seeking natural supports, communication skills, coping mechanisms, safety plans, and many specially designed undertakings that will benefit the family unit as a whole. Our goal is to empower the family and give them a better foundation to build upon.

These goals are accomplished by providing community based services for the child and parent. Some of those services include art therapy, equine therapy, recreational therapy, adaptive aides, community living specialists, and family support specialists.

I have been able to make community contacts with Angie Veracruz from Central Texas Artists Collective (CTAC), Cherie Hudson at The Cutting Edge Salon and Spa, William McKeever at D20 prints, and Brazos Books. Ms. Veracruz provides our clients with bi-weekly art sessions. Ms. Hudson provided four deserving parents with donated services to promote self-care. Mr. McKeever provided wood block t-shirt printing sessions, and Brazos Books offered a discount on the books we purchased. We have also received donated books from Half Price Books and I ran a successful book drive with Usborne books.

We have been able to provide better services, activities, and support to our clients at Klaras Center for Families in part due to the Y.E.S. waiver program and in part due to the community support that we have received. It is important to encourage our clients by showing them that they have a team of people that want them to succeed. In 12 months we can transform a life and give a family hope for the future.

Kiera Collins-1Kiera Collins, born and raised in New Orleans, La., is a behavior specialist at Klaras Center for Families. She is a lover of words and all things weird. She is a writer, poet, and artist that spends her days thinking creatively and outside the box. Follow her blog:

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 Diaper Bank: Keeping Little Bottoms Clean, Dry and Healthy!

by Ellen Filgo

When my older son finally potty trained at age 3 years and 4 months, it was a relief to not have to change the diapers of my articulate, stubborn little boy who clearly could use the toilet (but just didn’t want to). It also meant that I no longer had two children in diapers. That’s right, our family had two in diapers for more than a year! It was a relief on our budget to save that money. Diapers are expensive. They can cost up to $100 a month per baby, which can stretch even a middle class family’s budget.

Now imagine you are the 1 out of 3 families in the country who struggle to afford diapers. There are 5.8 million babies in the United States aged 3 or younger who live in poor or low-income families. Not having enough diapers can mean that babies are left in soiled diapers longer or that parents re-use diapers that are meant to be single use. This can lead to health risks for the babies, such as rashes or infections. A clean supply of diapers is also required at the vast majority of childcare centers. If parents can’t provide them, they may not be able to enroll their children in early childhood programs, or even be able to enter the workforce themselves. Lack of access to diapers can sometimes hinder a parent in getting or staying employed at the job they need in order to become more financially self-sufficient.

There is no state or federal safety net program that allocates money for diapers. You cannot buy diapers with SNAP (food stamps) or WIC (a federal program that helps provide food for women, infants and children). Many existing social service organizations, focusing on hunger, homelessness, abuse or pregnancy try to provide diapers to the families they serve, but they rely on irregular donations and they are often lacking larger sized diapers for toddlers.

WDBlogo3 smallThis is where the Waco Diaper Bank comes in. Our mission is to collect donations of diapers in order and distribute them to those other social service organizations. We will focus on diapers so that they can focus on their main missions. Our main way of collecting diapers will be through diaper drives. These can be organized by the volunteers working with the diaper bank, or by other people – Girl or Boy Scout groups, schools, fraternities or sororities, businesses – anyone can organize a drive! The Waco Diaper Bank will distribute the donations to our partner social service agencies. If individuals want to donate money, we can take that too! We can use it to purchase diapers in bulk, which can be a cheaper way of collecting diapers.

To kick things off, the Waco Diaper Bank is hosting a community wide December Diaper Drive from the 1st to the 14th of December. All sorts of churches, organizations and businesses have signed up to be drop-off locations for donated diapers. We’ll take everything – all brands, sizes, packages; we’ll even take loose diapers, opened packages or the leftovers from a “diaper cake!” You can find the drop-off locations and more information about the diaper bank at our website .

About a year ago, when I first heard about what a diaper bank was, I immediately knew that Waco needed a diaper bank, for two reasons – well, actually three! First, because of the high rate of poverty in Waco. There are a lot of little bottoms that need to stay clean, dry and healthy here in town. Secondly, because of the existence of so many great social service organizations that are already doing wonderful things. Collaboration is the watchword here in town and the diaper bank model is inherently a collaborative one. And the third reason was something that I knew about Waco, but hadn’t really FELT until we started our diaper drive promotion – Waco is a town with a great big heart. There may be a lot of need in our community, but there is also a lot of love and a willingness to give and share. And that’s why I believe my hopes for the Waco Diaper Bank will ultimately become a reality.

Ellen2014Ellen Filgo is a research librarian at Baylor and a Wacoan of 8.5 years. She loves living in Sanger-Heights with her husband, her stepson and her two energetic little boys. She has been known to get sidetracked researching the answer to a random question casually asked in a Facebook post.

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.



Every Ghetto, Every City

by Saddiq Granger

“…every ghetto
made me regret my days in the new Jerusalem.
you know it’s hot
don’t forget what you got
looking back…” – Lauryn Hill

I often hear banter about the trappings of my culture with no idea of the heritage or tradition enshrined in them, or the adaptations made through generations of struggle. I hear comments made with no idea of the beauty and complex symbolism inherent in cultures that can trace their roots to the dawn of time, that hold the oldest creation stories. The story of my culture is the story of humanity, it is the main tree that all branches are believed to have sprung from.

blue carI am from the “Ghetto” — a word borrowed from the Italians in Venice during a time in which they segregated the living quarters of the Jews — 27th & Berks in Philadelphia to be exact. I’ll provide you with pictures but if you don’t believe me look it up.

Growing up I realized something. The people I was looking at, everyone around me, they were all asleep. No matter how intelligent, they were they were gone as sure as if they had been snoring. So, as a young bull, I engaged in this period where I thought I was the only one who knew what was going on. As an adult, it sometimes seems like I was right.

This lesson was a milestone for me. I learned that consciousness is a choice, and if you have a choice, you have a question.

I was born in the hood; I am ghetto. I know the commandments: look four ways before crossing the street, never let nobody know how much dough you hold, never let them know your next move, never trust nobody. If you don’t know these then you don’t know my side of town; it’s no East Waco. My neighborhood is called the Bad Lands–also known as City Killadelphia. I come from a hood that depends on the drug trade as its main economic support system. These drugs are chef’d in higher income communities where people can afford supplies and have a working knowledge of chemistry. Then they flip’em in large quantities in our hood where they are then sold back to members of upper class (mostly the Caucasian community) and of course local clients (mostly Black or Latino). This serves a few purposes, one of the most important, in my opinion, being that the negative fallout from drug use and selling is not witnessed in places besides “the hood.”

policeMost of my white peers and I don’t have the same cultural norms to use as a frame of reference. I don’t know very many White people who lived in my community; I saw a sea of Black hopelessness and struggle, people who worked hard and got little for it. As a young child the only correlation I could blame it on was to my skin.

My mom is a hard worker, single parent, straight-A college graduate with a medical degree, who has had more jobs than I can count, most of them what we would call a “hustle” to try and support me and make a better life for herself. I watched and learned from her. My entire life my mother has been a force to be reckoned with it seems. I have never seen her bow to nobody. I learned from these early times in my life to be strong because I had to be, to be self-reliant because there would be no one else. I learned the wealth of achievement and success Africans as a people had contributed to the world. I couldn’t reconcile my feelings of remorse for my condition (skin, ghetto) and this deep love I had for myself and my culture and my family who are all hard working and intelligent. It was a conflict for a long time, until I became conscious of the fact that my skin did NOT equal ghetto. Although I could have told you every fact about Black history, Africa, and the state of our “post-racial” society, I felt this longing to escape, a fleeing from myself and the boxes that (I) had come to mean. It was not about hating being Black, but hating being poor and having some intrinsic sense, even then, that the two were connected.

I began to question what it meant to “Be.”

I am, because…… I am, because, it is? Because it happened? Because I did?

What was shaping me? Was it my external world? My home life? At the time I thought it was a universal consciousness, and now I’m pretty sure it is.

muralGrowing up young gifted and Black in my neighborhood is an experience in isolation. To be and not to be a part of a culture you clearly belong to is an adjustment. It dawns on you slowly that when they look at you, they are not seeing you; that you do not matter. They are seeing your talent, some unspoiled light in a world long gone dark for them. You are their prodigal son, some Black Moses that they silently cry to for release. That dependence — the yearning for release and acceptance — breeds envy and doubt. It causes questions of self-worth, poisons unity. The reality is no one makes it out. No matter how far you run, you can never leave your past.

Sure you leave the neighborhood and “do better,” but then you catch a few words that put you right back where you came from.

There is this perception across the color line that you pick up on early, it usually sounds something like

“if they would just” or “I don’t see why” or ” why do they have to” and is usually finished by something that should have been left unsaid.

There is a misconception that because we have lived so close for so long, our culture should have assimilated by now. There is a lack of realization that cultures of color — no matter how recent or long ago their immigration — are still different cultures. They are cultures equally as valid as a means of self-expression as White culture, and with drawbacks and failings just like White culture. In my opinion White culture has been enshrined as a story we are fed, so sacred that when presented with new evidence we cling to the old like a leech. I can point to more than a few historical examples. A college history class makes you realize how much of our national his-story is fabricated. But, the dis-value placed on African-American history, art, science, medicine and culture has hurt our communication. It has led to these subjects being regarded as a topic for radicals and rabble rousers.

When’s the last time you read a great Black book?

When your hand goes up in history class you hear, “Why don’t they just learn normal history like everyone else,” or ” not everything is about being Black.”

I chuckle, because it is. I am learning that this skin I’m in means something different to everyone and life presents me with the challenge of proving most of them wrong. I am learning that “normal” history is the result of one people conquering another and selling its own version of events as the only one.

I wrestled with how to present this, about how to make understanding possible, and I felt like understanding would be impossible until we understand the fissure in experience. I felt like no matter how inconvenient, this conversation can’t be put on pause, or halted. I can’t stop being who I am or having my heritage because it would be more convenient to be perceived as something other. Everything I am I owe to the hood, my talent and my skills are all born and bred there. I may have learned the king’s English, the violin, and other skills after, but my childhood in the hood taught me that you are never living for yourself, and all things are temporary. How much of me is still the boy from the projects? Is the difference between me and other young kings opportunity, or is there something special about us few, proud, brave who make it out?

Consciousness comes when you stop looking for a new way to do things and make your own, when you start to question why, why you believe the way you do. Think about the world from your perspective and then shift it slightly until you are viewing yourself from across the room; really give it a shot.

No matter what you do, what you think, or who you know — your actions change you. At the end of the day every experience everyone has ever had has led up to you. Essentially, I am because I exist.


Saddiq GrangerSaddiq Granger is a native Philadelphian, violinist and aspiring community organizer now residing in Waco, 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.

November is National Hospice Month: Loving Care at the End of a Tough Journey

(Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series on Hospice for National Hospice Month. Here is the link to Part 1: National Hospice Month, Part 1: “I don’t want to read about dying!)

by Tammera Ryan

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” ~ Henri Nouwen

We got to be involved with a patient that touched us. His name was Robert.

Robert had lived a rather interesting life. Throughout his 58 years, circumstances had left him homeless, living on the streets; finding his way where he could, and disconnected from his sister.    Although that is important, we won’t dwell on that part of his life’s journey.     Because sometimes in life, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

If you read last week’s blog, you will remember that I said I would share a patient’s story. This is one that makes me proud to work for a not-for-profit hospice, specifically, Providence Hospice. Providence has never had to turn anyone away regardless of payment source. Providence Hospice offers many programs in the community: bereavement support to anyone who needs it, children’s grief programs, a specialized Veteran’s Program, a Pathways program and more.

Now, back to Robert. I mentioned that Robert’s circumstances had left him homeless. He was found by another homeless gentleman laying between two buildings. He was in obvious pain due to a terminal illness, had not been able to have a bath in weeks, had a hard time communicating, and needed help desperately. Somehow, Robert’s friend managed to get him to a local physician’s office.   Fortunately, that physician contacted her friend; a Providence Hospice Social Worker.   With very few questions asked, the wheels were in motion for Robert to get great care at Providence Hospice Place.

Robert was given a private room at Providence Hospice Place. He got immediate medications to help relieve his pain and received a much needed warm bath in the facility’s state-of-the art bathing system. He got undivided nurse’s attention, and received a hospice physician visit every day he was there. Perhaps just as important, that same social worker who got the call that someone needed help made sure she found him clothing, shoes, and other basic life necessities.

Now that Robert was safe and his physical pain was managed, Robert knew he needed something deeper. Robert had lost his faith. He knew he believed, but he had no way of connecting with his spirituality.   With the help of the Providence Hospice Chaplain and through many heartfelt conversations and a complete bearing of his innermost thoughts, he began to reconnect and found his faith again.

After five days of care at Providence Hospice Place, it became necessary for Robert to be moved to a long-term care facility.   When it came time to make that move, he was not worried about his new clothes or the few other items he had collected.   The one thing he wanted more than anything was to take with him the Bible that had been laying by his bed.  Of course, the staff let him take that Bible.

Robert was at peace living in the facility. He enjoyed his meals and the new friendships he made. The Hospice staff who visited him at the nursing facility always found the Bible he had taken with him right beside him every time they visited. They could tell it was being read.

A few more weeks went by and Robert grew weaker and weaker. He continued to thank the Providence Hospice team who took him in, who clothed him, who bathed him. He talked about a sister. One day the nurse sat with Robert helping him to write a letter to his sister.

A few more days went by and on a peaceful night, Robert took his last breath….a Bible laying by his bed. That Bible was given to the hospice nurse who was with him those last moments.   Inside the Bible, in feeble hand-writing, was written a name and address. The nurse knew it was the sister he had talked about. The nurse was able to connect with his sister and was able to tell her of how he was at peace, of how he was well cared for during his last months, and of how well he “lived.” That same Bible where her name was written was given to Robert’s sister.  She was very thankful because she had lost track of her much loved brother. Robert’s sister eventually took his ashes and had them scattered over his parents’ grave.

Volunteers are an integral part of our hospice agency’s ability to care for patients such as Robert.   Medicare hospice guidelines require that at least 5% of the work that hospices provide be done by volunteers.   Providence Hospice exceeds these requirements with a great group of highly trained volunteers. If you are looking for a special place to serve using your unique skills and abilities, I hope you will consider volunteer opportunities with Providence Hospice. Our Volunteer Coordinator, who has been with us for over 19 years, is dedicated to finding the right opportunity to match your talent.

His circumstances had left him lonely and disconnected.   He touched us! He lived! He mattered! His name was Robert.

Tammera Ryan-2Tammera Ryan has worked with Providence Hospice for the past Thirteen years.   She has held various roles within the agency including Community Liaison, Executive Director, and Director of Business Development.   She has been married for 27 years. Together, she and her husband have raised their two sons and are very happy to have welcomed a daughter – in- law into their family four years ago. Her favorite quote comes from Ghandi, “Be the change you wish you see in the world.”

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.