McLennan County Leadership Response Team formed to respond to COVID-19

Press Release – The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, Ascension Providence, Baylor Scott & White, and the Family Health Center have formed the McLennan County Leadership Response Team to work and plan together on a local response to reports on the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.  Meeting weekly as a group, we are actively monitoring patients for risk factors and working to ensure our local health care system is prepared to respond to the situation as it unfolds.

There has been a lot of information in the news about COVID-19. If you are healthy, your risk is relatively low and recovery is high.  The good news is that the same steps you can take to stay healthy during the flu season will protect you from many viruses, including the flu and COVID-19. The Response Team has prepared a list of important facts to help people understand the current situation.  This is a rapidly evolving situation and the Response Team will provide updated information as it becomes available.


  • There are NO diagnosed COVID-19 cases in McLennan County. 
  • At this time, if you have not traveled to an effected area or have not had contact with someone with COVID-19, your risk is low.   Any respiratory symptoms you might have are more likely to be flu or another respiratory illness.
  • Most cases of COVID-19 are not severe. People with a greater risk of developing serious symptoms are Older adults; People with chronic conditions; and People with compromised immune systems.


  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty Breathing


  • Facemasks are NOT recommended for people who are well.  The use of facemasks are crucial for health care workers and other people who are taking care of someone infected with COVID-19 in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • You should only wear a facemask if a healthcare professional recommends it.


There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infection. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District (PHD) encourages everyone to follow preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60%-95% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a lined trash can.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces with regular household products.

Isolation and Quarantine

  • Your healthcare provider or the Public Health District may ask you to stay at home in order to slow the spread of the virus.  Please follow the instructions given to you.


People with questions can call the Public Health Information line at 254-750-1890 which is available Monday through Friday from 8am – 5pm.


This is an rapidly evolving situation and Public Health District will provide updated information as it becomes available.  The most trustworthy sources for information are:

  • Waco-McLennan County Public Health District;
  • Texas Department of State Health Services;
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and
  • World Health Organization.

Better Living for Texans: Oh-so-lively citrus fruit

By Lindsey Breunig

In 2020, the Better Living for Texans posts will continue, and we are excited to announce that monthly posts will start focusing on a seasonal fruit or vegetable.  Material shared will include the nutritional value/benefits, how to select and store, cook and use, and other fun facts regarding the chosen fruit or vegetable! Have a request? Feel free to share and let us know!

Per USDA dietary guidelines it is recommended we consume 1 – 2 Cups of fruit daily. Fruit may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed, it all counts! In general 1 cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or ½ cup of dried fruit can be considered as 1 cup from the Fruit Group.  Like vegetables, we want a variety of color on our plate and in our diet, one way to vary your plate is by choosing fruits that are in season! As we transition into the winter months one may traditionally label winter colors as “darker” and “warmer,” but today’s highlighted fruit is not the case! Winter season is “when you’ll find the bright greens, eye-popping yellows, and oh-so-lively oranges.” Let’s bring out the bright colors and talk about citrus fruits!

Citrus includes but is not limited to oranges. Other types of citrus fruits are lemons, limes, mandarins (tangerines), grapefruit, and kumquats. (source) When shopping for citrus look for a peel that is smooth in texture versus a thicker bumpy peel. Avoid citrus that has soft or mushy spots. Citrus fruits come from a tree and do not continue to ripen once they are picked. For juicy citrus choose a heavier a fruit, and for good flavor take a whiff and know a sweet fragrance often means good flavor. For continued best quality of the fruit, store in the refrigerator’s crisping drawer. Citrus will keep in the fridge for several weeks compared to a few days to a week if stored on the counter. (Source). Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C and folate. Vitamin C is important for growth and repair of all body tissues, helps heal cuts and wounds, and keeps teeth and gums healthy. When it comes to citrus fruits there are a range of options available.

Orange juice is a common staple for many, but one must use caution to ensure it is not the only source of fruit. Juice should make up half or less of total recommended fruit or vegetable intake. Whole or cut-up fruit will provide dietary fiber and reduce sugar intake when compared to juice. Think about how many oranges it takes to make a cup of juice – about 3 oranges! Though naturally occurring, the sugar from one orange compared to a cup of juice adds up quick!  If you don’t mind the flavor, try cutting your juice with water to reduce sugar. Additionally, when selecting juice, read the nutritional label on the back to verify there are 0g of Added Sugars.

Precut fruit can be convenient and a great snack option, but often has a higher price tag. Luckily during citrus season mandarin (tangerine) oranges are often on sale and make for a great snack.  Trying to find the best deal? Always compare the unit price to see the best deal. See the example below, what would you choose?

 Inspired to add more citrus into your winter cooking? Check out some of these great recipes!

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

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

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.

Uniting the Community to Curb Binge Drinking

By Jessica Wheeler-Macias

Over the last 6 years, a group of concerned community members has been striving to reduce substance use and misuse in Waco and surrounding communities. The Voices Against Substance Abuse, or VASA, community coalition consists of representatives from various community sectors, such as education, law enforcement, faith-based organizations, community services, substance abuse prevention programs, businesses, local government, volunteers, parents and youth, all working to reduce the use and misuse of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs among youth and young adults. The coalition’s efforts in addressing these issues target the communities as a whole through the use of environmental strategies such as media campaigns, presentations and policy development.

 The coalition is currently conducting a media campaign targeting a specific method of alcohol misuse: binge drinking. For clarification, we’ve provided answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding binge drinking and its effects.  

What is binge drinking?

The simplest answer to this question is that binge drinking is the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in short period of time. However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking as the consumption of 5 or more standard drinks for men and 4 or more standard drinks for women in a single setting at least 1 day in the past 30 days. A standard drink would be 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits of liquor.

 How dangerous is binge drinking?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has identified binge drinking as the most common, costly and deadly pattern of alcohol misuse. Alcohol affects many of a person’s vital functions, leading to slurred speech, unsteadiness, altered perceptions and slow reactivity. For a young person, alcohol can alter the development of their brain, causing lasting damage to memory, motor skills and coordination. The amount of alcohol consumed and how quickly it is consumed, amplifies the amount and onset of the effects of the alcohol. Binge drinking is associated with many health problems, such as accidental injuries, violence, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, chronic diseases, cancer, memory and learning problems and alcohol dependence. Binge drinking is a serious problem, but it is preventable.

 Who is binge drinking?

According to the CDC, 1 in 6 US adults, most commonly between the ages of 18 and 34, binge drinks about four times per month, consuming about 7 drinks per binge. That’s 17 billion total binge drinks consumed by adults annually. However, it’s not just adults that are binge drinking. The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey-2017 states that, nationwide, 13.5% of high school students were binge drinking.

 Is binge drinking the same as alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is a chronic disease that affects all aspects of a person’s life and continues despite serious health, legal and family problems. Binge drinking is a harmful pattern of alcohol misuse that can contribute to alcohol dependence but can be stopped.  

How can binge drinking be prevented?

There are several environmental strategies that can help prevent the excessive use of alcohol, including:

  • Pricing strategies, such as increased alcohol taxes;
  • Limiting the number of alcohol retailers and the days and hours of alcohol sales;
  • Consistently enforcing laws against underage drinking and impaired driving; and,
  • Screening and counseling for alcohol misuse.

However, the first step is educating individuals and communities about the dangers of alcohol use and misuse through presentations, media and substance abuse prevention programs.

Jessica Wheeler-Macias is the Voices Against Substance Abuse Community (VASA) Coalition Coordinator a program of VOICE.

Jessica has worked in the field of drug prevention education for the past five years and has a decade of experience working as a certified elementary school teacher in the State of Texas. She is the mother of 9- year-old Max Macias and 8-year-old Will Macias. Drug Prevention and community partnerships are her passion and she is happy to assist in providing your groups with presentations, booth events, as well as collaborate with your organization to create fun drug-free community events.

 For more information, resources, to schedule a presentation or if you are interested in joining the Voices Against Substance Abuse (VASA) coalition please contact VOICE at 254-741-9222 or

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.

Top 10: Eating Gluten Free in Waco

Top 10  “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019: # 5

By Ellie Triplett

If you avoid gluten for any reason, eating out can be a challenge. If you’ve been doing it for any amount of time, you’re probably an old pro at the basics of avoidance when it comes to regular menus. But what about when you want something as classic as a cheeseburger? Where do you go for your macaroni and cheese cravings? Where can you find gluten-free pancakes? Or, the golden chalice of gluten-free eating, where can you go for pastries? Never fear, my friends, you are in luck. I am here to tell you that you are living in a town with a growing culinary culture, with restaurants that provide an impressive array of allergen friendly dining options. What follows is a very basic, non-comprehensive list of where to find your fill of sans-gluten treats in good ol’ Wacotown.

It seems logical to start with breakfast. If you are looking for pancakes, Café Cappuccino (with three locations at 100 N. 6th St., 1101 Richland Dr., and 903 N. Hewitt Dr.) is known for its amazing, plate sized pancakes, and now they come in gluten-free! I have personally ordered and enjoyed them.

Uptown features wonderful vegan and gluten- free waffles at Luna Juice Bar (1516 Austin Ave.). In carrot, matcha, and strawberry, the waffles are made with oat flour, gluten-free flour, or coconut flour and topped with coconut whipped cream, and are DELICIOUS. Pair them with a smoothie, or a cold pressed juice and you’ve got a perfect breakfast. Luna Juice also has a full menu of delicious salads, soups, and wraps, if you need a quick lunch later in the day.

Down the street at Harvest on 25th (112 N. 25th St.) you can continue your breakfasting or slide right into brunch with gluten free muffins, pancakes, or avocado toast. They offer ways to make their entire menu gluten-free and also offer gluten- free pizzas.

Since we’ve moved on to lunch, and specifically pizza, it is worth mentioning that Poppa Rollos (a long time local favorite at 703 N. Valley Mills) offers a good gluten-free version, and both Slow Rise Slice House (7608 Woodway Dr.), and 900 Degrees Pizzeria (315 S. University Parks) have cauliflower crusts which are keto friendly as well as being gluten-free.

If you’re craving a hamburger, look no further than Tom’s Burgers (6818 Sanger Ave.) It is a mom and pop burger joint that has just recently been brought to my attention for their gluten-free buns.

A newer option with gluten-free buns and bread is Revival East Side Eatery (704 Elm Ave.). They have a full menu, including soups and salads, so you’re sure to find something for everyone.

If you’re looking for the kings of comfort food (in my opinion), macaroni and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches, look no further than The Mac House (3428 Franklin Ave.). Their artisan sandwiches and macaroni creations are amazing, and worth every penny and every minute you’ll spend waiting (it’s a bit, y’all, but worth it!).

Which leads me to my favorite way to splurge on gluten-free food; the pastries. Fabled Bookshop downtown (215 S. 4th St.) has gluten free lemon poppy seed cake as a part of their newly opened café, alongside literary themed drinks and other snacks. However, Baked Bliss (1114 N. 15th St.) is truly the sweet spot for sweets (see what I did there?) with cinnamon rolls, cranberry orange scones, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, blueberry muffins, and bacon cheddar scones (if you’re feeling the savory side of things) all offered gluten-free daily. You can pre order their gluten-free bread, which they bake on Wednesdays in a completely gluten-free kitchen, on Tuesday mornings.  They also have gluten-free cakes, cupcakes, lemon shortbread, and pecan shortbread cookies, all of which can be made ahead of time for special events.

Phew! It’s a lot! A couple of things to note as we wrap up. Firstly, I am not a food blogger, or really any type of blogger. In many of these cases, I have eaten and enjoyed the food, but this is not true across the board. As a result, I did not attempt to describe in too much detail the experience of eating the food, so as to be fair. Secondly, this is by no means a comprehensive list. If your restaurant, or your favorite restaurant was left off the list, it is in no way meant as a slight. I polled my friends, asked for help, and sent out a few cursory messages asking for clarification on menu items. The result is this post. If I made a grievous error, leave us a comment! Share your knowledge! Thirdly, it is important to keep in mind that there are no certified gluten-free kitchens on this list. Most things will experience some level of cross contamination, and you are, as always, advised to check with your servers and express your level of allergy, and make an informed decision for yourself.

Happy (and safe!) eating, friends!

A couple of other resources…

Ellie Triplett is a book lover, weaver, former bee keeper, and enneagram four.  She lives and works (and eats) in Waco alongside her spouse and their three children. 

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.

Karla’s story: how group prenatal care helps prevent 40 weeks of guesswork

By Carlos Hinojosa

Centering Pregnancy is a fairly new concept that seeks to take prenatal care out of the exam room and into a comfortable and communal setting. It blends regular prenatal visits together with support groups of expecting mothers with similar due dates.  Expectant mothers meet for their monthly check-ups, where physicians and nurses facilitate sessions and answer questions that the mothers and their partners have about different aspects of pregnancy.  The goals of Centering Pregnancy are to increase the amount of time providers can spend with their patients, improve birth outcomes, help patients build a community of support, and impart a level of knowledge to the patients so they can best care for themselves.

Karla, one of Family Health Center’s patients, recently went through the program herself.  Karla has been a patient of Family Health Center since she was born. Her care at FHC actually goes back even further.  Her mother was an FHC patient and received her prenatal care here as well, but didn’t experience anything quite like Centering Pregnancy.

When Karla learned she was pregnant, she and her husband were very excited – and a little nervous. There was so much to learn, and neither Karla nor Juan knew quite what to expect. Karla’s doctor talked to her about Family Health Center’s Centering Pregnancy program, and Karla’s mother encouraged her to go.  Karla was glad she did. “It was an open and fun way to learn about what was going on inside of me.” 

Each meeting, participants gathered in the Centering room at FHC, and one by one, mothers-to -be stepped back into a private area to have their vitals checked and measurements taken to track their progress.  After everyone had seen the doctors, the class sessions began.  Resources books were issued, and classes featured different activities corresponding to what was happening at that stage of pregnancy.  Classes also allowed ample time for questions. “I always had questions, but Juan had even more questions than I did,” Karla said. “You could be sure that if you had a question and were afraid to ask, someone else would ask it.”

The group sessions used the activities to help foster conversation, and those conversations helped everyone get to know each other.  Members of each class are encouraged to keep in contact with one another after the classes were over, and Karla has maintained a friendship with one of the members of her group.  “It’s nice to know other people who are going through the same things I am, and it helps to be able to talk to someone else.”

When the time came for Karla to deliver, she felt prepared and confident.  She didn’t feel overly nervous, and she thanks the team at FHC for preparing her so well. “Centering Pregnancy taught me all of the things I needed to know before my daughter arrived.”

Centering Pregnancy is just another tool Family Health Center is using to improve the health of our community and make a difference for the families we serve. When asked her thoughts on the program as a whole, Karla said, “It was so great that I tell all my friends who are pregnant to go! The next time I have a baby, I plan to go again.”

Carlos Hinojosa serves as Development Director for Family Health Center in Waco. He holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and has been living in Waco for 18 years. When not at work, Carlos loves to spend time with his wife and two sons taking walks, making up silly games, and perfecting the art of dad jokes.

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.

Get to know the Family Health Center: Mental health in Waco’s low-income communities

By Rae Jefferson

May is National Mental Health Month, which means there’s no better time to talk about the way mental health is approached by our community. In 2018, Family Health Center (FHC) provided more than $2.2 million in behavioral health services to patients in McLennan and Bell counties. It’s important to note that majority of the patients at FHC qualify as low-income and receive services through Medicaid, Medicare, or out-of-pocket payments. We strive to provide full-scope, compassionate care in the form of medical, dental, and behavioral health services.

Although participation in our behavioral health services is increasing each year as patients learn about our programs and their own mental and emotional needs, it is still one of the lesser-utilized programs at FHC. There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that not every patient needs behavioral health services. But FHC is also aware that, in our quest to offer high-quality behavioral health care to primarily low-income populations in Waco, we’re up against challenges like stigma, financial limitations, and patients who don’t know how to identify their own mental and emotional needs.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports one in five American adults will experience mental illness in a given year. The definition of mental illness is sprawling and ranges from mild cases of depression or anxiety to debilitating battles with post-traumatic stress disorder or schizophrenia. Despite the prevalence of mental illness, studies show that individuals from low-income households, communities of color, or religious environments are less likely to seek medical care for mental health concerns. Furthermore, people of color are at higher risk of mental and emotional distress, with African Americans alone being 20 percent more likely to experience major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicide. The majority of FHC patients fall into one or more of these categories, often making it a challenge to treat patients who feel they can’t seek help.

FHC takes several approaches to providing accessible behavioral healthcare. We accept patients with and without insurance and can charge on an income-based sliding scale. Of all the barriers to mental health care, we strive to make finances one of the easiest to conquer.

Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH) is FHC’s way of practicing healthcare that allows patients attending a regular doctor’s appointment to see a behavioral health specialist, called an Integrated Health Manager (IHM), in the same visit. These Licensed Clinical Social Workers are on-call to provide mental and emotional support to patients while also determining diagnoses and treatment recommendations to the physician. This process eliminates the need for making follow-up diagnostic appointments or delaying treatment for the patient.

FHC provides traditional counseling through our Family Counseling and Children’s Services Program. We also organize support groups for patients who are pregnant, nursing, or fostering a child. Although these groups are not immediately related to traditional behavioral health services, they often provide emotional support in a group setting that facilitates community-building and leads to a healthier emotional life.

Although we’re already working hard to address mental health needs among low-income Wacoans, we’re always looking for ways to improve these efforts by expanding our programs and partnerships. This summer, the behavioral health team is launching a program in which patients can receive counseling services via in-home visits. This will help address patients’ transportations issues and allow them to explore mental health concerns in a familiar environment.

FHC is one of many organizations in town stepping up to the challenge of providing mental health services to low-income individuals in Waco. We hope our work and the efforts of others can push the needle in such a way that stigma and barriers, both real and perceived, can begin to fall away.

Rae Jefferson is a creative, Netflix binger, and marketing professional, in that order. Originally from Houston, she stuck around Waco after graduating from Baylor University with a B.A. in Journalism, PR, & New Media and a minor in Film & Digital Media. Now she’s the Communications Director at Family Health Center, where she gets to spend each day serving Waco. When she’s not working, find her at home snuggled up with her dog-daughter, Charlie, watching “The Office” for the hundredth time.

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.

East Waco Voices: Getting East Waco Back on its Feet – Move East Waco 2019!

By Khristian Howard

If you have been around Waco for a while, you may recall “Move East Waco,” the fitness series that got East Waco up and active two summers ago. We are thrilled to announce that exciting six-week campaign for health education, fitness, and community will be back this summer to continue the impact it began in 2017. Packed with incentives, fun, and most importantly, FREE workout sessions, “Move East Waco 2019” will give you the motivation you need to begin or continue your fitness journey. This year’s series will begin on May 16th at 6:30 p.m. at Oscar DuCongé Park (1504 J.J. Flewellen) and will feature some new and familiar faces to give previews of the workouts and health lectures that will follow in the subsequent six weeks.

Success During Summer ’17 & Hopes for this Year

Move East Waco had its debut in the summer of 2017, and immediately proved to be a hit within the community. Cuevas Peacock, community organizer and co-creator of Move East Waco, shared that in 2017 they saw over 100 people attend the kickoff, and [an] average 15 people at the various workouts. This year, Cuevas and the team hope to double the participation numbers, and to implement some new tracking measures that will provide a more comprehensive report of the program’s impact. Cuevas has garnered support from several East Waco community members, many of whom were key players in the success of Move East Waco ’17. These team members include, Tara Briscoe, Victoria Calhoun, Vivian Vonner, Ashley Royal, Sandra Dorsey-Butler, and Van Davis, to name a few. Some of the main organizations represented are Grassroots Community Development, Live Well Waco, Baylor Health & Wellness, and more. 

To ensure that the goal of doubling participation is met, the team has secured various incentive donations from places like, Gold’s Gym, Refit Waco, Orange Theory, Jamba Juice, Da Shack Farmer’s Market, and more. Additionally, participants can expect a wide variety of workouts and demonstrations ranging from Zumba, line dance, and hip-hop aerobics to cooking demos, healthy food budgeting classes, and stress relief exercises.

As mentioned above, this summer will mark the second installment of Move East Waco. With the help of health and fitness instructors and local businesses providing services and incentives, the program proved to be a huge success in its first installment. Still, you may be wondering, why do a health and fitness series…and why in East Waco? Cuevas Peacock gave us a glimpse into the motivation behind Move East Waco. He shared some troubling statistics about health in East Waco.

He stated, “Throughout our nation, 12% of residents report being in poor health, in Waco the number rises to 13.2%; however, in East Waco, the number grows even more to 18%.  Nationally, 29% of residents are obese, but in East Waco, the number grows to a staggering 45%.”  Move East Waco is a solution that Cuevas believes will be a significant factor in decreasing these numbers. “It is our belief that by increasing the amount of physical activity among the residents of East Waco we can begin to lower the high obesity rate and improve the community’s overall health.” Ultimately, Cuevas summarized the goals of the program as a way to “[demonstrate] various ways for our community to get up and get moving, along with providing access to vendors that could address various health issues…[along] with the hope to Move East Waco towards adopting a healthier lifestyle.”

We Want to See You There!

This year’s kickoff event will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 16th, at Oscar DuCongé Park Park in East Waco (1504 J.J. Flewellen), next door to G. W. Carver Middle School. There you will be able to learn easy fitness practices that can be practiced at home. Additionally, this kickoff will give you a preview of each instructor who will be heading up classes throughout the rest of the program. Classes will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. from May 21st to June 27th. Do not hesitate to take advantage of free access to health and fitness materials provided by local professionals – and access to great giveaways that can assist you in living a healthier, fuller lifestyle. Join us as we “Move East Waco” closer to maximum wellbeing!

Click here for “Move East Waco 2019 Schedule

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

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.

Change a habit — avoid diabetes!

Tuesday, March 26, is American Diabetes Association (ADA) Alert Day®, and the YMCA of Central Texas wants residents of McLennan County to know their risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, as well as preventive steps they can take today to reduce the chances of developing the disease.

In the United States alone, diabetes affects over 30 million people; another 84.1 million Americans have prediabetes, yet only about 10 percent are aware of it. These statistics are alarming, and the impact on the cost of health care (in 2012 alone, the ADA estimates that diabetes cost the health care system $245 billion) makes preventing the number of new cases of type 2 diabetes more important than ever before.

The nation’s struggle with obesity and type 2 diabetes is no surprise but the number of people with prediabetes is a growing issue, especially when so few people realize they have the condition. Prediabetes is a condition in which individuals have blood glucose levels that are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Often preventable, people with prediabetes can reduce their risk for developing type 2 diabetes by adopting behavior changes that include eating healthier and increasing physical activity. People with prediabetes are at risk for not only developing type 2 diabetes, but also cardiovascular disease, stroke and other conditions.

As the leading community-based network committed to improving the nation’s health the YMCA of Central Texas encourages all adults to take a diabetes risk test at Several factors that could put a person at risk for type 2 diabetes include family history, age, weight and activity level, among others.

“Diabetes Alert Day is the perfect time to not only determine our own risk for prediabetes, but also encourage our family and friends to determine their chances of developing the disease,” said Crystal Hernandez, Program Manager for the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, Waco Family YMCA. “Studies show that people with prediabetes can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by making simple lifestyle changes that include eating healthier and increasing physical activity.”

The YMCA of Central Texas is helping people potentially reduce the risk of developing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes by offering The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program.

Some basic lifestyle changes that contribute to weight loss and an increased focus on healthy living can decrease the risk for type 2 diabetes. Among these are:

  • Reduce portion sizes of the foods you eat that may be high in fat or calories.
  • Keep a food diary to increase awareness of eating patterns and behaviors.
  • Be moderately active at least 30 minutes per day five days a week.
  • Choose water to drink instead of beverages with added sugar.

Incorporate more activity in your day, like taking the stairs or parking farther away from your destination.

Speak to your doctor about diabetes risk factors, especially if you have a family history of the disease or are overweight. 

To learn more about the YMCA of Central Texas’s Diabetes Prevention Program, please visit or contact Crystal Hernandez at 254-776-6612 or

Baylor Scott and White – Hillcrest Seeking Bilingual Spiritual Care Volunteers!

By Matthew Hoffman, MA, BCC

We began, about three years ago, the “Good Friends Volunteer Spiritual Care Program” out of a conviction that within our city, there is a “community of healers,” who if given proper training, in some very basic spiritual care and visitation ministry, under the help and guidance of our professionally trained Staff Chaplains, could come into the hospital context and make a difference in the lives of people in need.  

Since we began this volunteer program, with now, visits numbering into the thousands, having taken place, this hypothesis has born itself out to be true, that there are everyday people, who can stand as “healers,” in sacred places, like that of a patient’s room, and by doing so, can make a profound, health giving difference in the trajectory of people’s lives.

Here in Waco, we are seeking to take the “Good Friends” program and pilot a new version of this to help mobilize volunteers from local bilingual/Spanish speaking congregations to the help advance the care of our Spanish only speaking patients.  Coming into a hospital can be a very anxiety producing experience.  How much more so if you speak a different language than the majority of your healthcare team?  By being a member of the Good Friends program as a bilingual volunteer you will be a welcomed presence offering prayer as desired, a listening ear and making people aware of the other spiritual care resources that would be available to them.  

  • Through the Good Friend Program you will be trained in areas of:
  • How to minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of the sick.
  • Discover the unique nature of hospital ministry.
  • How to care for people of diverse religious traditions and cultures.
  • Being a ministry of presence
  • The ministry of active listening

If you would like to be part of the Good Friends program as a bilingual volunteer, or if you just want to grow in your ability to care for sick within your own faith community (for pastors, who would like to send members to this training for added help in their congregation, please do so!), join us on Monday, March 25 from 1-430pm at the Allison Auditorium at Baylor Scott and White Health-Hillcrest Hospital. You can RSVP to Chaplain Matthew Hoffman @    

Chaplain Matthew Hoffman is a Board Certified Chaplain who serves at the system level as a Manager of Baylor Scott and White Health’s Faith In Action Initiatives (CTX).  He oversees the development of various spiritual care programs in many of BSWH’s hospitals within its Central Division, as well as its local and international humanitarian aid and medical missions programs. 

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.

Thanking the people who feed our leaders

By Craig Nash

When asked what her favorite part of the job is, Lakaisha Clark, the cafeteria manager at Parkdale Elementary School in Waco, gestures toward a room full of kids eating breakfast and replies, “This.”

“I don’t know what other people say about the kids here, but when I look out across this room, what I see are a lot of leaders,” she said. She loves speaking to kids individually and giving them encouragement to see in themselves what she sees in them.

That ability to see the potential in others is likely one of the reasons she is in her current position. When this school year began, she was hired as a cafeteria worker at Parkdale. The management with WISD Child Nutrition Services quickly saw her leadership abilities and promoted her to Cafeteria Manager. The school has seen a drastic increase in both attendance and breakfast participation this year, which has had Clark overseeing a lot of changes in her cafeteria service. New workers have been added and physical changes to the building were made to accommodate an extra line for students to enter in.

She is at the school by 6:00 am and by the time she leaves around 3:00, has served Parkdale students over 450 breakfasts, 600 lunches, as well as afternoon snacks. All of this while managing a team of workers, placing and receiving orders, and tending to regulations associated with operating a USDA program. According to Assistant Principal Wendy Moulds, Ms. Clark does all of this with a smile on her face and an infectious, upbeat personality that lifts the spirits of students, faculty and staff.

At the Texas Hunger Initiative, we are convinced that addressing poverty and food insecurity requires a multi-pronged approach that includes policy makers, business, community leaders and non-profit organizations. But the foot soldiers on the front lines of ending childhood hunger are the Child Nutrition departments at our public schools. Food Service directors of these departments, like Cliff Reece at Waco ISD and Dave Thiel at La Vega ISD, oversee massive, complicated programs that have one goal in mind: To feed children. They are often the unsung heroes in our community, working behind the scenes to provide nutrition assistance to tens of thousands of kids in the Heart of Texas Region.

Usually food insecurity in families means that meals are spread thin, or difficult decisions have to be made about purchasing choices. But occasionally it means that school breakfast will be the first meal a child has eaten since they left school the previous day. Cafeteria Managers and food service workers like Lakaisha Clark recognize this, which gives them a sense of mission and intentionality about the work they do.

The first full week of March every year is National School Breakfast week, which is set aside to recognize the importance school breakfasts have in all of our communities. This week in the Heart of Texas, student athletes from Baylor visited campuses in Waco and La Vega ISD’s to celebrate the role Child Nutrition Departments play in the health and wellness of our kids. You should consider joining them in this celebration by taking some time this month to speak a word of encouragement to the Child Nutrition staffs of our local schools. Their work is done with great care and a deep love for the children in our communities.

Craig Nash is the Regional Manager for Child Hunger Outreach at Baylor’s Texas Hunger Initiative. He enjoys talking and writing about Waco, Country Music, and Faith. He blogs 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.