By Ivy Orr Hamerly, Christina Chan-Park, and Rebecca McCumbers Flavin
In 1920, 20 million new voters won the right to vote. That same year, the League of Women Voters began helping these new voters learn how to exercise their voting rights. Almost 100 years later, the League of Women Voters is still protecting democracy and empowering all voters.
After the 2016 election, we looked for a way to be more politically active while still bringing people together and uniting around shared values and concerns. We found the the League of Women Voters does exactly that. We are inspired by the work that the LWV does to “empower voters” and “defend democracy.” This mission speaks to our calling as educators and involved citizens.
The Waco chapter of the League of Women Voters was active for many decades, but had been dormant for the past few years. In 2017, we revived the Waco chapter, and the LWV of Texas generously provided training and moral support. The W.R. Poage Legislative Library hosted our earliest meetings and is co-sponsoring our candidate forum next month. Our fellow Wacoans invited their friends, distributed voter guides for the 2017 Texas election, learned how to register voters, and more.
One of the things we like about the League is that it is strictly non-partisan and neither supports particular parties nor endorses specific candidates. This does not mean that the League is apolitical. The national and state Leagues are among the most effective grassroots organizations in the United States. The League lobbies Members of Congress and state legislatures about various issues ranging from voting rights to campaign finance reform to environmental sustainability. Both the national and Texas Leagues have websites that provide a wealth of information and tools for all citizens.
Who can join League of Women Voters?
That’s easy – everyone! The League is open to men and women of all ages who want to learn more about our democratic processes and be more civically engaged. Whether you have never voted or have never missed an election, the League is for you. We welcome Wacoans of all political parties as well as those who identify with no party at all.
What kind of work is the League of Women Voters-Waco doing right now?
Candidate Forum: To help Wacoans prepare for the primary election on March 6, we will hold a candidate forum on Tuesday, February 13, at 5:30 PM at the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame. All candidates running for McLennan County Judge, Criminal District Attorney, and Precinct 2 and 4 Commissioner have been asked to participate in this event. The format will be speed-meeting, so everyone who attends will have a chance to meet all the candidates.
Voters Guide: We are writing a non-partisan voters guide for the general election in November. We are working with the LWV-Texas to make sure Waco voters have unbiased information about candidates for local, state, and federal offices.
Voter registration and turnout
Voter Registration Drives: On Saturday, January 27, we will have registrars on-site from 10 AM – 2 PM at the Old Navy at Central Texas Marketplace and from 12 PM – 4 PM at the West Waco Library. If you are not yet registered in McLennan County, or if you need to update your registration, stop by and let us help you.
Voter Turnout: We will also have more information about early voting days, times, and locations at our tables.
Follow us on Facebook to learn about voting rights and voter education on the local, state, and national level. Join the 200+ people who liked/followed our page in 2017. We hope to add 100 more in 2018. Search for League of Women Voters of Waco (@lwvWaco).
If you are not a Facebook user, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to join our email list.
How can you get involved in League of Women Voters of Waco, and how much time does it take?
The level of commitment is up to you! You can simply like us on Facebook or become involved in planning an event.
Why should you join us?
We need you, and Waco needs the League! We can work together as neighbors to serve our community today. We can hold our leaders accountable. We can educate ourselves on the issues. We can make democracy work.
Ivy Orr Hamerly is the Coordinator of LWV-Waco. She is a Senior Lecturer in Political Science at Baylor University where she teaches Comparative Politics and researches legislative oversight of executive leaders.
Christina Chan-Park is the Co-Communicator of LWV-Waco in charge of voter education. She is the Science Librarian at Baylor University where her research focuses on scholarly communications, specifically data management, bibliometrics, and academic identity.
Rebecca McCumbers Flavin is the Co-Communicator of LWV-Waco in charge of voter registration and turnout. She is a Senior Lecturer in Political Science at Baylor University where she teaches courses in American constitutional law, Model United Nations, political philosophy, and politics and religion.
By Angelo Ochoa
It’s Eight o’clock…. Do you know where your kids are?
If you were to ask this question to parents of the students in the Academy of Business and Finance at University High School, the answer would be easy. “Yes I do. They are still at school preparing income tax returns for the community.”
This year will mark the 14th year for a tax program that a lot of folks in the Waco community have been taking advantage of for years, many since the beginning. But, this is not your average, ordinary, everyday income tax site for two very important reasons.
- All of the services are provided FREE of charge.
- It is run by the students of the Ron E. Smith Academy of Business and Finance at University High School.
So, here is some background….
In 2004, Ms. Angela Reiher, then assistant principal at A.J. Moore Academy, and Mr. Ron Smith, a teacher in the school’s Academy of Finance, contacted the IRS about opening up a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Site at the school. The IRS, who provides the tax software and the Site Identification Number for e-filing purposes, offered to help as long as the school could guarantee to prepare at least a hundred returns. The goal of the IRS’s VITA program is to offer free tax help for low to middle income people, persons with disabilities, those who speak limited English, and the elderly. To everyone’s surprise, the students of the Academy of Finance were able to prepare over 300 tax returns the first year! And, what started out as a creative way for students to put into practice what they were learning in the classroom, has only grown larger each year. In fact, in the thirteen years since our doors opened, our students have completed over twenty-two thousand tax returns totaling over thirty-nine million dollars in refunds for the Waco community. What makes this so meaningful is that these, often much needed refunds are directly deposited in local banks and credit unions and are spent right here in the Waco community at local business.
As a teacher, I often try to put myself in the shoes of these students and ask myself if I was the kind of high school kid who would have stayed after school and volunteered until late in the evening preparing taxes for complete strangers. I have never gotten an answer that I liked that wasn’t me lying to myself.
Ruth Rodriguez, a senior, who also volunteers in the Trojan Branch of Educators Credit Union located on the University High School campus has been a part of the tax program since she was a freshman. She has completed over 305 hours of community service and she is the first smile you see when you walk in the door. She says, “My main job here at the tax site is to sign people in and verify identification and social security cards. Probably my favorite part of what I do is getting to meet new people. Most of the people we help are really grateful for the service we provide, and even though I don’t really know them they seem to really want me to do good things with my life. They love to offer advice on what I should and shouldn’t do once I graduate from high school. As a freshman I was afraid to talk to adults, other than teachers or my family, and usually not even them, now I feel confident in answering their questions, explaining their tax returns to them and listening to stories about the struggles of being an adult.”
Shelby Reyes, a senior, who also volunteers at the Trojan Branch of Educators Credit Union and who has over 347 volunteer hours, echoed Ruth’s thoughts, but Shelby’s roots in this program run a little bit deeper. “My sister, Jennifer, also did taxes in this program from 2008 to 2012 when it was still A.J. Moore Academy,” she says. “My sister always enjoyed being in business classes and doing taxes and I can see why. The Academy of Business and Finance has really helped me throughout high school to decide what I want to do with my life. Doing taxes has become a passion for me because I just love helping people. I started doing taxes as a 9th grader. I was scared at first because, honestly, who would think a high school freshman could do someone’s taxes and not mess them up. My teachers, Mr. Ochoa and Mrs. Moore, did a good job preparing us and they were always there to help out and the people getting their taxes done are usually really patient. I stayed as often as I could because I love hearing people’s stories about their successes and failures in life…people love to tell their stories. There are always interesting people that come in and you never know what or who each night might bring. Every year there is this man that comes in with big bamboo sticks and tells all of the kids what a great job we are doing and that we’re all ‘lookin’ stylish.’ Before he leaves he always holds up those big sticks and prays over us and the school. I’m going to miss seeing him every year after I graduate.”
Student opinions about the program all seem to be pretty similar. “I love when people give me advice.” “I love helping out the newer students who might be a little scared.” “I love that people need my help doing something difficult that can impact their lives.” “I’ve learned that people can be very different. Some can be rude and some can be kind and patient and when I grow up I get to decide which of those I want to be.” The one phrase that is typically heard most during tax season is, “What are we eating tonight?” As student volunteers, these kids literally ‘will work for food’. So naturally we have more volunteers on the nights we are eating hot wings than the nights we are having ham sandwiches. We have been very fortunate, in the past, to receive donations from many local restaurants and churches, as well as donations and grants from the community to help feed the kids, but it continues to be a struggle.
Before a student can volunteer at a VITA site, even if they are just holding the door or passing out pencils, they are required to be certified through the IRS. This is not an easy task to complete and ultimately, it is up to them to decide if they want to volunteer. It is not a requirement and their grade is not affected by it. For them, the reward is the activity itself. The students know that if they were not here to help, people might have to pay someone for this service. They are at this great place between childhood and adulthood where they have not yet started to become motivated by their own economic self-interests. For the kids in this Academy, we have to remind them that actions always speak louder than words, especially those actions that honor themselves, their families, their school, and their community.
As a teacher, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a timid freshman, scared of the world, doing their first tax return for a complete stranger grow into a senior, beaming with confidence, and explaining to a customer the difference between standard and itemized deductions.
It is really impossible to describe just how beneficial this is to the students at University High School. From a very young age we place a lot of expectations on students with their only rewards being good grades and an assurance from an adult that, “it’s important to your future.” This doesn’t always work, and in my experience, sometimes rewards can often produce less of the very things we are trying to encourage. I have noticed that, while they are volunteering, the students get to experience something they do not often get every day… gratitude. Overwhelming gratitude from the people they are helping. It is not often a high school student gets to hear, “Thank you, thank you for being here and helping me with this. You have no idea how much this means to us.” Our students get to hear it many times a night.
I am not sure exactly what it is that keeps these students excited about staying and doing taxes in the evenings. Whatever it is, their motivation comes from somewhere deep within. From a part of themselves that has a desire to serve others and finds joy in doing that work. It is not just about athletics and academics. It is about integrity, building good character, and nurturing the hearts and minds of students that want to go out into the world and change it for the better.
If you would like more information about our program, please visit www.uhstaxes.com.
Angelo Ochoa teaches Financial Analysis, Accounting 1, and Income Tax Accounting for the Ron E. Smith Academy of Finance at University High School. He was formally with Central National Bank before taking the opportunity to teach business courses at A.J. Moore Academy. He is in his 8th year with Waco ISD and serves as the Site Coordinator for the school’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site.
(During these last few weeks of December we will be reprising the Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts for 2018 from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?) approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics. It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites. There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts of 2018. Merry Christmas! — ABT)
Answering a call to provide compassionate care to those in need
by Paige Reinke
When I think about what led me to a career in healthcare, I can’t help but think of the time I spent in a pharmacy growing up. My mom worked in a pharmacy, and I always enjoyed science and health classes in school, so becoming a pharmacist seemed like a natural fit. It wasn’t long before I realized that my desire to help others made becoming a pharmacist more than just a career path, it was a calling.
Our Mission calls us to serve all persons with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable, to provide care that sustains and improves the health of individuals and communities and to be advocates for a compassionate and just society—and that is what Ascension Medical Mission at Home is all about.
Multiple barriers prevent many in our community from getting the care they need, especially dental and vision services. Ascension Medical Mission at Home offers free health, social and support services to those who might not otherwise have access. It’s also more than just a day of free healthcare. This event helps establish patients with follow-up care and connects them to various resources available in our community.
For our first Ascension Medical Mission at Home in 2016, I served on the steering committee. I knew it would be a lot of work, but that it would be worth it. I also knew this special day of care would make a difference in the lives of many, but the impact extended far beyond what I had imagined.
A well-orchestrated team of over 600 associates and community partners worked in harmony to bring this day of free care to our community. We provided medical, dental and vision services to nearly 1,000 people.
I was humbled by the stories of gratitude that quickly began flowing in: a woman who had been struggling with pain from an infected tooth for three years, got it pulled; a dad who had been saving for months to buy his son glasses got them for free; women who received mammograms for the first time; many who got prescriptions they needed to improve health, enhancing their quality of life.
When asked to serve on the steering committee again for this year’s event, I jumped at the chance. No doubt, this experience will forever be imprinted on my heart, as my life was enriched just as much as it enriched the lives of those we served. I feel so fortunate to be a part of something so big and look forward to serving our community again on January 27. (Here’s a link to the flyer in English and Spanish.)
The Waco Convention Center will be turned into a medical arena, outfitted with medical bays, a pharmacy, and areas for spiritual care, and vision and dental services. Patients will be served on a first come, first served basis. Registration will go from 8:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. The following services will be provided for free, no insurance necessary:
- Medical care for the entire family
- Dental for adults only
- Vision for the entire family – Child prescriptions will be filled on-site while adult prescriptions will be mailed or delivered to a pre-designated location.
- Spiritual Care – Prayer partners will roam the facility to pray with the patients but will also have a more private area for more serious discussions
- Foot washing – In the spirit of representing Jesus, we will provide a foot washing, toe nail trimming and foot massage to all who wish to participate.
- Diabetes screenings for adults only
- Breast Health Exams
- Lab Services – Full lab services provided
- Pharmacy – Prescriptions filled at the event
- Shoes and Socks – during triage, patients will be assessed for the need for new shoes
- Flu Vaccines – adults only
- Food – volunteers will be passing out water, fruit or granola bars to patients. Caritas will also be on-hand to distribute food and provide resources for the future.
- Community Services – Community resources will be on-hand to assist patients with personal or family needs.
Other Ascension sites across the nation have held medical mission events in their communities. This is the fifth Ascension Medical Mission at Home event in Texas. Ascension’s Seton Healthcare Family in Austin has hosted three. To see the impact of our first Ascension Medical Mission at Home event in Waco, watch this video. For more information go here.
Paige Reinke, Pharm.D., is the Clinical Coordinator in the pharmacy department at Providence. Providence is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system. Her main responsibilities are managing the pharmacy clinical programs at the hospital and antibiotic stewardship. She earned a doctorate of Pharmacy degree from the University of Texas. She met her husband, David, in pharmacy school and he is also a pharmacist at Providence. They have two children who attend school in China Spring.