Snipes tells stories of Waco health professional heroes

Editor: In honor of Women’s History Month, we are featuring interviews with local women leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media.

By Campbell Wilford

Megan Snipes, marketing and public relations consultant at Baylor Scott & White Health, serves the Waco community through her dedication to bringing to light the stories of Waco’s health professionals. Especially now during the coronavirus pandemic, Snipes’ job holds great importance as she broadcasts the idea that an appreciation for our healthcare workers is so needed. 

Megan Snipes

Snipes grew up in San Antonio and credits her hard work and character to her father, who served as a pastor. Snipes talks in depth about how it was her Christ-centered family that shaped the woman that she has become today. As one of six children, she says she learned that anything you want in life you have to work hard for. 

 “My dad would wake us up at 6 a.m. every morning for prayer, which I was not happy about as a child, as a teenager, who needs a lot of sleep. But now looking back I totally understand why, and I’m so grateful that I had that influence in my life,” Snipes said. 

Snipes said she did not have a direct career path as she worked as a TV news producer and reporter at KWTX, the CBS affiliate in Waco, and then worked as executive producer of a lifestyle show in Austin. She encourages taking every opportunity whether or not it seems to align with an individual’s goals or not. 

“Everything that happens in life I think leads you to where you’re supposed to be. Random things give you little drops of knowledge that are going to help you, that you may not even know are eventually going to help you, but they help you in the long run,” Snipes said. 

It was when Snipes’ father passed away from Leukemia in January 2016, that she discovered her passion for the role of nurses and healthcare providers. Seeing the care and the compassion that the nurses and doctors had for her dad and for her family was “life changing,” she said.

Snipes says she jumped at the opportunity to return to Waco and work for Baylor Scott & White Health. In this position, she says she loves that she still gets to work with area TV news stations while helping other people to understand the length that the healthcare workers go to in order to take care of us.

 “I want people to understand that it is not hyperbole to call our healthcare workers heroes. What they do every day is amazing, and it’s really special. I think it takes a really special kind of person to be in healthcare, so I have the utmost respect for all of them. There is no price tag on what they do,” Snipes said.

Snipes tells the stories of both the healthcare workers and the patients. She says she hopes that telling patients’ stories will help other people who are either going through the same thing or could potentially prevent the same thing from happening to them. Snipes says the team at Baylor Scott & White-Hillcrest calls what they do “sacred work.”

“Work hard at whatever you do and treat people with respect and kindness no matter who they are because you never know who is going to end up being your boss. You reap what you sow, so you continually want to be sowing kindness and continually be sowing positivity so that that is what you can reap,” Snipes said. 

Campbell Wilford is a sophomore marketing major with a public relations minor at Baylor University. She is from New Braunfels. 

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Vaccine distribution provides life-changing clinical experience for MCC students

By Madison Schick 

McLennan Community College’s Health Professions students have experienced personal fulfillment through their volunteer efforts at Waco’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics, and they have helped redefine the influences of hands-on education and what it means to learn through experience. 

Students of the Associate Degree Nursing, Medical Lab Technician, Medical Assistant, and Veterinary Technology programs participated with MCC faculty and other local medical professionals to educate, care for, and vaccinate members of the community in the fight against COVID-19. 

Students’ participation in the vaccination clinics has been eye-opening in community building and in the ability of aspiring health profession students to witness a glimpse of the impactful differences they will continue to make in the future as professionals. 

Liz Painter, RN and simulation specialist within MCC’s Vocational Nursing, administered vaccines to survivors of COVID-19, joyfully tearful immunocompromised adults, and at-risk geriatric patients hopeful to see their families in the near future. With pride in MCC and her students, Liz is also grateful to have met “such a range of people, but all so happy to be receiving the vaccine.” 

Among the thousands to receive the vaccine, MCC’s Senior Graphic Designer Clif-Ann Paris could not have been more impressed with the efficiency, efficacy, and success of the vaccination clinic. “My appointment was for 12:10 p.m., and I was given my first dose only two minutes later. I was given all the information I needed, and my wellbeing was prioritized.” 

What’s next for McLennan Community College? Dean of Health Professions Glynnis Gaines reflects, “We always talk about community service, and it is a part of who we are, but this has really opened new doors” for students and faculty. Nursing students from Baylor University, Texas State University, and Texas Christian University make up only a few of participating institutions across the state that join MCC in education and service through active volunteerism at COVID-19 vaccination clinics across the state. 

Madison Schick is social media and communications specialist at McLennan Community College. A literature enthusiast and graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Madison studied environmental science, English, and history, and still loves all things related to reading and writing. Her other interests include connecting with old friends, trying new restaurants, and spoiling her two rescue cats, Remus and Chewy, with lots of love and treats.  

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org. 

Vaccines are the new toilet paper

By Suzii Paynter March

Everybody needs it and there is not enough. Rumors fly, promises of millions are made, but national news notwithstanding, it’s only the local supply that matters. The city, the county, medical providers, pharmacies, hubs, hospitals are all at the ready… and ready… and ready. Could somebody turn on the spigot? Vaccine production, running water? It is a frustratingly bleak reminder that the systems we put in place matter. 

When it comes to Waco and the meager amounts of vaccine we are being sent from Texas State Health Services, I’m wondering, “Is the State of Texas Health data up to date? Do they know Waco-McLennan has grown in the past 5 years? Is our dose allocation up to date? Or are they using 10-year-old Census data to determine the number of vaccine doses we need?” I mean, can people in Austin count?

Good people are working hard, but they are pioneers forging a way through the we-have-never-had-a-pandemic underbrush, not motorists driving down a well-travelled Interstate highway of frozen medicine delivery. 

Remember the fits and starts that riddled Katrina response? The unintended health consequences for first responders from 911? Things got better when subsequent hurricanes hit, and new protections are now in place for first responders. As a nation we are not slow learners, and I take comfort in believing that we are able to learn and adapt. 

Back to bathroom tissue. Last March the run on the tissue aisle at HEB meant they draped the aisle to hide the poor stock boys so they could get product to the shelves, pull down the draping and then scurry off the floor to safety before the rush of shoppers. There was an early morning hour set aside for elderly  shoppers and other experimental measures employed by stores to try to meet demand and spread the essential tissue widely. 

If you are 1b, are you calling and emailing every place you can think of?  I am. Back in November I was prepared to wait patiently until April for my vaccine because I thought none was available…. THEN we were told vaccine was available for 1b NOW. Then I shifted from patient patient to eager patient, urgently looking for my dose! 

I sincerely believe the spigot will come on and vaccines will be available. Waco has a system for delivery through public hubs and private sources, and there are many places and populations that need support. The need is going to get bigger and bigger, and we have to plan and build for tomorrow as well as today. 

So my pledge is that even while I am anxious for my dose, I can still be a part of the build out –  I can call, volunteer, organize my workplace, my family, keep up to date and help my friends get connected, too. The city needs volunteers as vaccinators, as paperwork and crowd management volunteers, and as ambassadors for various neighborhoods and in various congregations and pockets of the community. Call the city number to help: 254-750-1890.

Suzii Paynter March is chief executive officer of Prosper Waco, our community’s collective impact initiative. She is a graduate of Baylor University, with a lifetime of experience in organizational leadership and public advocacy.

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Mayor’s opening remarks for Jan. 27 COVID-19 press conference

By Mayor Dillon Meek

I want to thank our hospital personnel and our health district and city staff members working around the clock while being caring and compassionate and undoubtedly exhausted. Thank you!

Our local hospital systems, our city staff, our county judge, and myself are in close, regular contact with one another as we discuss and monitor data regarding our hospital capacity and hospital personnel and monitor whether or not there will be a need for an alternative care site. To date, this still seems more improbable than probable. Our hospitals and our Waco-McLennan County Office of Emergency Management have developed robust plans to keep our population safe should the number of hospital patients increase to a degree of serious alarm. 

Our local doctors continue to advise us of the seriousness of this virus, and I urge our community to also make wise decisions in the days ahead by following these doctors’ calls to wear masks in public, follow safe distancing protocol, and wash hands. Following this doctor-endorsed protocol makes this situation not fearful.

As a reminder, at the present time, Texas mayors and local governments have almost no policy-making authority. Gov. Abbot has implemented and has control of the regulations and mandates – from wearing masks to closures of bars to occupancy requirements. The governor has issued an order stating we cannot issue more restrictive orders than him. We have not heard any word from the governor’s office that this might change.

The Waco-McLennan County Emergency Operations Center is working with the Texas Department of Emergency Management and DOCS Health Testing to provide free COVID-19 testing to the community. When you register online, it does ask for your insurance information. You do not have to have insurance to receive a test. For people with insurance, there is no out-of-pocket cost or copay to get the test. Please go to COVIDwaco.com to register.

The Emergency Management Center previously received a refrigerated trailer to be used as a temporary morgue. This refrigerated truck is currently housing 19 remains.

Vaccinations

This is a time for hope! People in McLennan County are getting vaccinated and we celebrate that.

As a reminder, there are many local organizations giving vaccines; we call these “ vaccine providers” or just providers. A list of these providers is on COVIDwaco.com and includes CVS, HEB, Brookshire Brothers, Baylor Scott and White, Ascension Providence. One of these many providers is our  Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.  

Of these providers, two were selected by the state to serve as vaccination Hubs to get vaccinations quickly to all eligible 1A and 1B recipients, regardless of residence. These two hubs are the public health district and Ascension Providence. Hub sites get larger quantities of vaccines than other providers. This week, the public health district received approximately 1,500 doses and Providence received 1,950 doses.  

As a reminder, local government has no authority or control over any provider but does work to collaborate and partner with providers when they are able and willing.

Public Health District vaccination clinic

Yet again, staff was able to administer all doses without wasting any vaccine. Many vials even contained more than the average 10 doses per vial and staff made sure to utilize all of it — 1,618 people were vaccinated in the two-day clinic. I am so thankful for the care and effort our staff, partners, and volunteers put into every aspect of these events.

We have received another shipment of 1,500 doses and are hosting another vaccine clinic this week at the Waco Convention Center on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. We were glad to be able to make a weekend clinic day available for those who are unable to make it in during the normal workweek.

We did not open a registration portal for appointments for this clinic. Staff worked from the waitlist to schedule appointments and reached out by email and by phone to the contact information provided in the waitlist. Staff is working diligently to make sure this is a fair and equitable process.

I acknowledge that many citizens have tried to register for the vaccine with us and were unsuccessful, and that this process has been frustrating for so many. The registration process was unable to accommodate the initial volume, but processes have improved, and the website will be continually updated to provide clarity. Be encouraged to continue to log on to the website, read updates in emails, and sign up for the public health district’s waiting list.  

If you did not get an appointment for this week’s clinic, please be patient. Demand continues to far outweigh supply and the Health District is still only receiving 1,500 doses per shipment. We will continue to get consistent shipments of vaccine allocations from the state, and we will continue to move through the waitlist and to host clinics. We are not scheduling appointments until the allocations have been physically received.

If you have signed up through any of the prior lists, you are on the waitlist. We did not throw out any of the previous lists or contact information.

Please, continue to encourage those you know who are eligible for a vaccine to get on the waitlist, or help them register if they are unable. Just make sure that the name on the waitlist is the name of the eligible individual getting the vaccine. The waitlist link is available online at COVIDwaco.com (look for the big red button labeled Vaccine Waitlist Registration) and the call-center is available to assist with any questions or registration at 254-750-1890.

You are being responsible, good citizens in signing up for the waitlist. The list is 20,000 – a testament to how well our citizens are responding and Waco should be proud. Your Public Health District is committed to working through the list, and residents should know that, by signing up, they are helping Waco understand who needs a vaccine and how to best get it to people with different needs.

As we continue to move forward with these clinics, it is so evident that these events are a community effort. So much goes on behind the scenes that makes these clinics run smoothly. I would like to thank our community partners who have helped the Public Health District make these clinics happen:

•      Baylor Scott and White-Hillcrest

•      Baylor University, Louise Herrington School of Nursing in Dallas

•      McLennan Community College, School of Nursing

•      Tarleton State University, School of Nursing

•      American Medical Response, EMS services

•      Central Texas Medical Reserve Corps and all who have volunteered through that great organization

•      Heart of Texas Red Cross

•      McLennan County

•      City of Waco Fire Department, Office of Emergency Management, Police, IT, Waco Convention Center, and the many employees who have pivoted to help work the call-center on weekends and after hours

•      I would particularly like to highlight this week that Waco Transit is providing free rides to the Public Health District vaccine clinic through the Demand Response Van Service. Call 254-750-1620 24-hours in advance of your appointment to schedule your ride.

•      City and county leadership and the Public Health District staff are working hard with limited information about shipments of vaccines. Communications are and will continue to be challenging, and your patience is appreciated. We will continue to communicate through our weekly update emails, our website, this press conference, social media, town hall meetings (one of which was recently done with a variety of leaders including Commissioner Pat Miller and Council Member Andrea Barefield).

Some telephone numbers to call

•      Public Health District-supported bilingual call center (254-750-1890) to provide vaccine information and/or assist clients with registration for the vaccine clinic through the online registration portal,

•      City Public Information bilingual Hotline (254-750-5606) with recorded, up-to-date COVID-19 and vaccine messages and resources.

Mayor’s opening remarks for today’s COVID-19 press conference

Mayor’s Opening Remarks

Transcript with Headers Added

COVID-19 Press Conference, Jan. 20

By Mayor Dillon Meek

I appreciate everyone taking the time to join us. . . .

I’ll talk briefly on hospitalizations. Thank you to our healthcare providers. You are extravagantly serving us and we are thankful.

Hospitals and Doctors

Our local hospital systems, our city staff, our county judge, and myself are in close, regular contact with one another as we discuss and monitor data regarding our hospital capacity and hospital personnel and monitor whether or not there will be a need for an alternative care site. To date, this seems more improbable than probable. 

Our hospitals and our Waco-McLennan County Office of Emergency Management have developed robust plans to keep our population safe should the number of hospital patients increase to a degree of serious alarm.  

Our local doctors continue to advise us of the seriousness of this virus, and I urge our community to also make wise decisions in the days ahead by following these doctors’ calls to wear masks in public, follow safe-distancing protocol, and wash hands. Following this doctor-endorsed protocol makes this situation not fearful.

State Control

As a reminder, at the present time, Texas mayors and local governments have almost no policy-making authority. Gov. Abbot has implemented and has control of the regulations and mandates – from wearing masks to closures of bars to occupancy of requirements of businesses.   The governor has issued an order stating we cannot issue more restrictive orders than him. We have not heard any word from the governor’s office that this might change.

Testing

The Waco-McLennan County Emergency Operations Center is working with the Texas Department of Emergency Management and DOCS Health Testing to provide free COVID-19 testing to the community. When you register online, it does ask for your insurance information. You do not have to have insurance to receive a test. For people with insurance, there is no out-of-pocket cost or co-pay to get the test. Please go to COVIDwaco.com to register.

Temporary Morgue

The  Waco-McLennan County Emergency Management office previously received a refrigerated trailer to be used as a temporary morgue. This refrigerated truck is currently housing 23 remains.

Vaccinations

I will give a brief update on the Health District, which is but one vaccine provider in McLennan County, and then Judge Felton will discuss the other 20 vaccine providers in our county, as well as the vaccination process at the national and state level. (As a reminder, other vaccine providers include HEB, Veterans’ Affairs, CVS, Family Health System, and the hospital systems, as well as the Health District. Our Health District and Providence have both separately been designated as  vaccination hubs.)

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District is one of the local vaccine providers committed to serving the public and operating with complete transparency and with that I move into my report.   

Today is Day 1 of the second vaccine clinic. We are running the clinic today and tomorrow and distributing the second 1,500 dose allocation that we recently received from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

We have heard the many frustrations with the clinic registration process, and I want you to know that we are listening and we are continually looking at ways to make changes to the process and make it as equitable as possible. I would ask for your patience for our Health District and city staff — they have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and now through this vaccine distribution process. This is just the second allotment that we have gotten as a function of being one of the state’s 28 vaccine hubs and we made a number of changes to the registration process over the past week.

Some of the things we did differently for the registration process this weekend were to:

— Announce 24 hours ahead of time that appointments would be made available.

— Open up registration at two different times to provide accessibility for those who may work on weekends.

— Reserve a percentage of appointments specifically for people calling because they do not have online access.

Throughout this process we have communicated and worked with area churches, non-profit and social service agencies, and community leaders to try and ensure that our vulnerable populations are not being left out of this process. I thank them for their help.

In the first clinic, about 87% of appointments were made by McLennan County residents. Just over 7% of individuals vaccinated were African American and just under 9% were Hispanic. 88% of individuals were white.

This week, 77% of appointments were made by McLennan County residents. Again, about 7% are African American and just under 14% are Hispanic. 86% are white.

We are committed to evaluating our process and making adjustments to ensure that it is equitable and that everyone will have a fair and equitable opportunity to get this vaccine . 

Ultimately, the 1,500-dose allotment we are getting is nowhere near enough to meet the demand we are seeing within our community. This weekend online registration appointments were full in less than 10 minutes on Sunday and in less than 5 minutes on Monday. In just over a 36-hour period Sunday to Monday, our call center received almost 20,000 calls. We had 8 call-center operators on Sunday and 12 on Monday — these staff were able to answer and speak with 571 callers in less than an hour on Sunday and 491 callers on Monday.

For future clinics, there will not be a registration period like what has been hosted these past two weekends. The Health District has established a wait list for the vaccine. If you have already attempted to sign up for appointments and either signed up for the wait list through the registration portal text number or through the email newsletter you will be on this wait list. We have almost 14,000 people on the wait list, and it continues to grow. 

Beginning today, a wait list registration link is available on COVIDwaco.com or by calling in to the call center at 254-750-1890 for assistance registering. 

The Health District will contact people from this list to fill cancellations and to schedule appointments for future clinics. All vaccinations continue to be by appointment only. There are no walk-ups accepted at the vaccine clinic. 

Thank You

We are excited to continue this vaccination effort in Waco and McLennan County. I would like to thank the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District staff, supporting City of Waco departments, and all of the community partners who have made these clinics possible and thank you for the efforts to date. You are doing important work in our community.

Lastly, I would like to invite our community to tune in to a  COVID-19 vaccine town hall meeting that will take place on Jan. 21, 2021 from 7-8 p.m., featuring Commissioner Patricia Miller as moderator, Dr. Terri Woods-Campbell, Dr. Peaches Henry, Council Member Andrea Barefield, Dr. Jimmy Hunter, and Chet Edwards. This town hall will be available on Channel 10, as well as the Waco City Cable Channel.

Taking a shot in the arm to stop COVID

By Ferrell Foster

Neighbors figure large in human interaction. They give us friendship, help, and encouragement as we face the varied opportunities and challenges of life. And because we care about both ourselves and our neighbors, we get vaccinations.

Tuesday afternoon, I rolled up my sleeve and took a literal shot in the arm. I was one of 424 people vaccinated on the first day of the “first large-scale public COVID-19 vaccination clinic in McLennan County,” as reported by the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Our Waco-McLennan County Public Health District and all others involved in this clinic deserve applause for this beginning. The process was smooth and efficient — in and out pretty quickly. Volunteers from McLennan Community College’s nursing program and Waco’s Family Health Center, plus the Waco Fire Department, ran the clinic. 

I arrived 15 minutes early for my Tuesday afternoon appointment, went through the various steps, and received my shot promptly and on time. After the shot, I waited the required 15 minutes before leaving. Eighteen hours later, I have had no reaction to the shot other than a sore arm reminiscent of the shingles vaccine I received a couple of years ago.

The clinic will give 1,500 vaccinations by appointment this week (already booked up), but this is just the beginning. My age got me into this group, and it was good to see other Wacoans taking advantage of the opportunity.

I am concerned that people with little or no Internet access are at a big disadvantage when appointments are made online, but I hope our health district is working for ways to connect with this important part of our community — maybe with some appointments being made through community organizations, rather than online.

Large-scale vaccination is not an easy job, but we have started, and that is good for the health, education, jobs, business, entertainment, and government. Let’s keep #WacoSafe.

Ferrell Foster is acting executive director of Act Locally Waco. He also is senior content specialist for care and communication with Prosper Waco.

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Better Living for Texans: New year, available curriculums, & partnering with you

By Lindsey Breunig-Rodriguez

Every year we like to provide program updates and share new curriculum. Do not worry, next month we will back to regular scheduled fruit and veggie facts.

Greetings from the McLennan County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service! My name is Lindsey, and I am the Extension agent for the Better Living for Texans (BLT) Program. BLT is a nutrition education program for adults and youth who are SNAP participants or SNAP eligible, and in October we kicked off our 26th year of serving Texans.

Programs are free and rooted in research. Evidence-based information empower individuals, families, and communities to make positive changes for healthier lives. Whether we meet in-person, online, virtually, or through a combination of methods, we are here to serve you. This monthly update will feature our available curriculum. You will see that BLT is for all Texans.

Curriculum Highlights: 

FOCUS: NUTRITION

A Fresh Start to a Healthier You! – Target Audience: Adults

Promotes increasing fruit and vegetable intake, food safety, and food resource management.

A Fresh Start to a Healthier You! – ONLINE – Target Audience: Adults

Promotes increasing fruit and vegetable intake, food safety, and food resource management.

Conducted completely online.

Get the Facts – Target Audience: Adults

Teaches how to read Nutrition Facts Labels and identify portion sizes, sodium, fat, and added sugar found in foods.

Healthier Carbohydrates -Target Audience: Adults

Promotes a healthful eating pattern to prevent or delay diet related chronic diseases

Be Well, Live Well – Target Audience: Older Adults

Promotes nutrition and physical activity specifically targeting older adults

Color Me Healthy – Target Audience: Preschoolers and Kindergarteners

Provides fun, innovative, interactive learning opportunities on physical activity and healthy eating.

Balancing Food & Play – Target Audience: 3rd-5th graders

Promotes good nutrition and healthy weight; physical activity; limiting screen time; increase fruit and vegetable intake; drinking milk with meals and water with snacks.

Choose Healthy – Target Audience: Middle Schoolers

Teaches about MyPlate, physical activity (energy balance), making healthy food choices, and choosing healthy drinks.

FOCUS: GARDENING

Growing and Nourishing Healthy Communities – Target Audience: Adults

Teaches how to build gardens and grow fresh vegetables.

Learn, Grow, Eat and GO! – Target Audience: 3rd-5th graders

Enhances gardening skills and increased fruit and vegetable intake

FOCUS: PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Walk Across Texas! (WAT!) – Target Audience: all ages

Promotes increased physical activity through tracking miles walked

Walk N Talk – Target Audience: all ages

Promotes increased physical activity – WAT! with added nutrition messages in a discussion format. Discussion topics are: 1. Fruits and Vegetables, 2. Rethink Your Drink! (hydration, flavored waters, sugary drinks, etc.)

If you have questions, want to plan and brainstorm, or want to hear more, please reach out to Lindsey at McLennan County’s Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office:

Phone, 254-757-5180 or email, Lindsey.Breunig@ag.tamu.edu 

Due to the continued spread of COVID-19 and the challenges it poses to communities across Texas, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and many others continue to practice public health recommendations. Whether we are communicating online or face-to-face know that program content will always be research-backed to help individuals navigate decisions for themselves and their families. For information on resources, ideas, and programs for yourself and family visit Texas A&M AgriLife’s HUB

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP. To learn more about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or to apply for benefits, visit www.yourtexasbenefits.com


Lindsey Breunig-Rodriguez is an Extension Agent for the Better Living for Texans program with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She is originally from Grapevine but now calls Waco home. A graduate from Baylor University, 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 Ann 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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

Finding unity through the crisis

By Jamie Willmann

In a time where much dissension exists, where the world is hurting out of a lack of love and community, and where isolation has hindered social interaction, we can find a sense of connection in the most unexpected places.

There is benefit in meeting someone who is experiencing the same trials or pain we are going through. Though we may all come from differing backgrounds, we can find unity in this COVID-19 disaster by digging a little under the surface. Underneath, we still find persons who have emotions and feelings that are directly affected by the state of the world. 

Finding commonality in trials breeds possible connection. When we relate to one another, sympathy is present. It creates a sense of safety knowing that someone knows what we are experiencing. We may not feel as lonely in our trials anymore, and it creates an internal sense of validation. 

People across the world are experiencing an influx of changes to their normal routines. By nature, we are adaptable to new environments and changes, but the pandemic is entirely on a new scale. It is bringing new situations that we never thought possible. 

We are not designed to be isolated from others. We crave community and the presence of others. As we now adjust to something that goes against our nature, problems arise. Anxiety increases, and irritability becomes present. 

In the moments when you feel COVID-19 has shattered your daily life, imagine that you are standing at the edge of potential for growth. Although you may feel anxious, depressed, or fearful, you also share in the fact that there is growth that can come out of this. You, however, have to choose that path. 

The first step is acknowledging you need help and then accepting a helping hand from your neighbor. 

There is a conception of mental health that needs to be stopped. Many believe they must appear as if they have it all together, which then inhibits them from receiving the help that could change the trajectory of their daily lives. We must break down these expectations to allow others in to help us.

Whether you are facing job loss, money problems, sickness, or family loss, know that you are not alone. Nowhere does it say that you have to do this on your own. 

Our Crisis Counseling Program (called Texans Recovering Together) is made possible by a dedicated group of professional counselors. 

— We are a team of people devoted to providing accessible, caring, and responsive services. 

— We are here to listen to you, to build you up, and to provide you with what you need to press on. 

— We are a network of community support that is here by your side. 

By empowering our communities and taking a strength-based approach, our services provide empowerment to the community and resilience to combat the fear. We believe that we are better together, and we want to help you through these hard times.

Call us at toll-free at (866) 576-1101 to speak with a counselor, or request counseling here.

We are #TexansRecoveringTogether. We are here to help you recover. 

Jamie Willmann was raised in a Christian home and was taught to serve and love others at an early age. She has a passion for making people smile and brightening people’s days. Jamie came from Wisconsin three years ago to attend Baylor, where she graduated with a degree in international studies. She now devotes her free time to self-care, exercising, relaxing in nature, and fellowship with friends.

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.orgfor more information.

10 Waco organizations collaborate to promote free mental health services

City of Waco

Strategic Communications Workgroup  

MEDIA RELEASE  

Ten Waco organizations are partnering with Heart of Texas MHMR to  promote free, confidential mental health services available to all Central Texans. Mental health needs have risen with COVID-19, and these organizations want community members to know there is help available at no cost to the recipient.  

Heart of Texas MHMR is participating in the Texans Recovering Together Crisis Counseling Program that provides short-term interventions to help people impacted by COVID-19. The program is available to anyone impacted by COVID-19 and is designed to reduce stress and provide emotional support, as well as connect folks with other agencies that can help in the recovery process. All services are free, anonymous, confidential, and available by virtual visit.  

While many organizations are working together to promote a safe, healthy environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health can’t be overlooked. The uncertainty brought on by the virus coupled with job loss, financial burdens, education complexities, and health concerns has led to an  increase in stress, anxiety, and other mental health needs across the county. Texans Recovering Together  is here to help our community get through this crisis.  

The organizations participating in the campaign include McLennan Community College, United Way of Waco-McLennan County, Prosper Waco, Baylor University, Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Waco Foundation, the City of Waco, and McLennan County.  

Each participating organization will promote a series of social media posts on specific days in an effort to  widely spread messaging about mental health assistance. The Communications Co-op, co-funded by the  City of Waco, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, and Waco Foundation, will provide grants to each organization for social media promotion of the mental health campaign. 

The Strategic Communications Workgroup is one of four committees established by Mayor Kyle Deaver in an effort to provide accurate information to all residents of Waco and McLennan County.

For more information, contact Natalie Kelinske, director of communications & donor services for Waco Foundation, at nkelinske@wacofoundation.org  or 254-754-3404.

Waco leaders stress safe practices & flu shots


By Ferrell Foster

Five Waco civic, health, and school leaders Wednesday encouraged the people of Greater Waco to think of their neighbors and to be careful how they are involved in gatherings and celebrate the Labor Day weekend. They also stressed the importance of getting a flu shot.

With the holiday coming and football season upon us, Mayor Kyle Deaver asked residents to do these activities “smartly and safely” so the community can remain open. “Take care of yourself and take care of each other.” He made the comments during the weekly City of Waco News Conference related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jerry Maze, executive director for Education Service Center Region 12, noted, “What happens in the community shows up in the schools,” and that can be both good and bad. “If everyone works together and makes good decisions, we get better outcomes.”

Dr. Brian Becker, of Ascension Providence Hospital, called special attention to the holiday weekend, noting that following standard safety procedures is important for our public health and to our neighbors.

Dr. Marc Elieson, of Baylor Scott & White-HIllcrest, also spoke to the importance of wearing face masks, distancing, and proper hand hygiene. ”Be wise,” he said.

A number of questions were asked about schools and Baylor. For students, “it’s so much more about what’s happening off campus,” Mayor Deaver said. “We know this is hard; it’s trying for everyone, … but it’s the way we keep schools open and having football” and other activities.

Dr. Jackson Griggs, of the Family Health Center, praised the efforts of Baylor University to test and then isolate students exposed to COVID-19. “I’m impressed with efforts by Baylor to mitigate the risk.”

Current hospitalizations are down some, but the hospital representatives said their in-patient numbers usually lag behind case counts by about a week. And case counts have been rising in McLennan County.

The current “Effective Reproduction Rate” for McLennan County is 1.07, Mayor Deaver said. Anything above 1 means the disease is expanding, not contracting. The Rt is a measure of contagiousness or how many people one COVID-19 person infects.

In his closing remarks, Dr. Griggs highlighted the importance of bringing down the positivity rate. In recent weeks that rate has hovered just under 15% in McLennan County, which is above the state rate. More testing helps identify people with COVID-19 and also lowers the positivity rate. “Anyone with subtle symptoms needs to come in and be tested,” Dr. Griggs said. The first step is to contact your primary care physician.

The head of Family Health Center also emphasized the importance of flu vaccinations. “We need to keep flu rates down this season,” Dr. Griggs said. There’s a lot we don’t know about flu and COVID-19 infections in the same person. “Flu vaccines are imperative.”

It is especially important to promote the flu vaccines in “communities of color” because they have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19 and have “historically lower vaccination rates.” 

The news conference is aired at 1:30 p.m. each Wednesday at WCCC-TV for the public to view.

Ferrell Foster is senior content specialist for care and communication for Prosper Waco. He also serves on the Act Locally Waco Board of Directors and helps the website with blog posts related to health, education, financial security, and equity.