The Cove, A Safe Haven for Homeless Youth

By Amy Jimenez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Start the Semester off Right

By Diego Loredo

It’s a new year and for college students a new semester! That means it’s time for relentless classes, long nights of studying, and who knows what else. For me, this is my fourth semester at UNT and I’m preparing myself for another long semester.

My spring semester is looking pretty good so far. I’m taking four classes for my major, public relations, and one foreign language class (Japanese). All of my classes are after 10 so that means I don’t have to wake up too early since I don’t have any 8 am classes anymore. Also, on Thursdays and Fridays I only have one class so that makes it easier for me. I only see myself having a problem in maybe two classes; this semester should be a good opportunity to get my GPA back up.

Now it’s time to get down to business. Going into my fourth semester, I’m getting more and more accustomed to college. Because of that, I’ve developed a few ways on how to start the semester off right. Everyone has their own way of beginning the semester but hopefully these will be helpful to any college student.

Buy a calendar!

Buying a calendar for school has become a habit of mine. You can buy a regular calendar or, like me, buy a dry-erase calendar so you can easily write/erase things. Having a calendar can help you keep track of things and make sure you don’t fall behind in any of your classes. What I do is write everything that I have to do that month so that I know exactly what is due and what I still have to time to do. A calendar is an irreplaceable, and cheap, college investment.

Introduce yourself to your classmates

I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again. Introduce yourself to your classmates! At the end of each class, introduce yourself to a few classmates so that you have someone to go to in case you’re having trouble in that class. Or maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have a class with some friends. Having someone you can go to for help in a class will be your most valuable asset.

Dedicate a few hours a day to studying

This is hard for me to do, but it’s something I’m trying to get myself to do more. It doesn’t have to take up half your day, but dedicate maybe two or three hours a day to studying. It can even be just an hour, as long as you’re using a part of your day to get ahead in one of your classes. Another thing I do is dedicate a day during the weekend to study and catch up on my classes, then spend the night hanging out with friends. I’m not saying study every day after class, but make a schedule of when you’ll study for each class to make sure you get things done.

I know college can be stressful and not fun at all sometimes. But all it takes to make college enjoyable is to have a plan ready. Once you make that plan and stick to it, it can completely turn around your semester. If you stick to these three things, then I’m sure it’ll make your semester much easier. I’m looking forward to what this semester has in store for me and will do everything I can to make it as enjoyable as possible.

diego loredo - 2Diego Loredo is a sophomore at the University of North Texas. He is majoring in public relations. He graduated from University High School in 2014. Although he is still not quite sure what exactly he wants to do, he thinks he wants to work somewhere in sports PR (preferably soccer or college football). His hobbies include playing soccer and golf. He is 19 years old.

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


Part 5: Community Loan Center working to provide an alternative to Pay Day loans

(Note: This is Part 5 in a series on Pay Day lending and its effect on our Waco community. For the rest of the series, click here: Pay Day Lending in Waco. — ABT)

By Shannon Kendrick-Wittmer,

To many people, Goodwill is synonymous with thrift store, a place to find discounted clothing, furniture, or other treasures discarded by someone looking to declutter their house or make room in their closet. What most individuals don’t realize is that by donating gently used items or shopping at a Goodwill retail store, people are helping Goodwill achieve their primary mission: putting people to work. The money spent on purchases at Goodwill stays in the local community and is used to fund various employment, education, and training programs to help individuals get a job, improve their skills, and become self-sufficient. Heart of Texas Goodwill’s Learning Center services focus on job attainment, job retention, and skills building. Participants can get help improving their interview skills techniques, creating a resume, searching for a job or they can attend one of our many classes, such as Microsoft Word and Excel, GED, ESL, Parenting, and Anger Management.

While helping people gain the skills necessary to land a job is our main mission, we also recognize that we can’t help someone find a job without giving them the skills necessary to manage the money they earn. For many years, we have provided one-on-one budgeting services, financial literacy classes, and education on the pitfalls of using pay day lending, but we still encounter a large number of our participants who have fallen into debt because of the need to utilize pay day lenders for quick cash. This is a scenario playing out at many other social service agencies around Texas. At the state level, the 15 Goodwill agencies in Texas joined together, on numerous congressional years, to introduce bills that would enforce regulation of Pay Day lenders in Texas. Each time legislation was introduced, it was voted down.

Heart of Texas Goodwill, along with the other Goodwill’s in Texas, decided to focus efforts concerning pay day (predatory lending) at the local level. About this time the Citizens for Responsible Lending had their first meeting. It wasn’t long before we realized that our organization’s role could be to offer an alternative to pay day lending in the Waco area, in the form of the Community Loan Center.

There has been a lot of buzz in Waco lately about the Community Loan Center, who can utilize it, and how Goodwill is involved. Although it is still in its infancy in Waco, we foresee it as being a viable alternative to certain people needing access to cash quickly.

So what is the Community Loan Center (CLC)? The CLC Small Dollar Loan Program is an employer-based small dollar loan program administered through local nonprofits in Texas. The CLC recruits local employers to participate, at no cost, and the program is then marketed to the employer’s employees. Employees who participate are able to borrow up to $1,000 at 18% interest with up to 12 months to repay the loan. Employees can apply for the loan using an online portal and once approved, the funds are wired into their personal bank accounts. Repayment of the loan is done through payroll deduction, set up by the employer.

What is Goodwill’s role in the CLC? Heart of Texas Goodwill has committed to being the non-profit administrator of the Community Loan Center. As the administrator of the CLC, we will be responsible for recruiting area employers to sign up for the program, assisting those employers in marketing the program to their employees, and raising funds to be used as capital for the loans made to employees. Heart of Texas Goodwill Industries made the decision to create a separate 501c3 corporation for the new company, which will be named the Community Loan Center of the Heart of Texas. A board of directors have been appointed to govern this corporation and administrative duties will be handled by existing staff employed by Goodwill.

Where does the money come from to issue loans? The loan capital used by the CLC can come from a variety of sources, such as grants, investors, or low interest loans from banks. Heart of Texas Goodwill Industries, along with other community members, will be working continuously to seek funding sources for the capital pool. As the funds increase, more employers can be added to the program, therefore increasing the number of employees with access to the small dollar, low interest loans.

Why is the interest rate 18%? This may seem high to some people but it very modest in comparison to the 400%-600% charged by pay day lenders for similar loans. The 18% interest fee covers various items such as: administrative costs to run the program, defaulted loans, and interest payments for loans used in the capital pool. This interest rate also helps to increase the amount of money available in the capital pool.

Who can take part in the program? Only employees working for employers who have signed up for the program are eligible to take a small dollar loan through the Community Loan Center of the Heart of Texas. Currently, in the Waco area, the only employers enrolled in the program are the City of Waco and Waco ISD. Employees working for these entities may take a small dollar loan. At this time there is only enough money in the capital pool to cover these two employers. When we have more money in the capital pool, we can add more employers.

The Community Loan Center of the Heart of Texas will not eradicate pay day lenders all together, but we strongly believe it is a step in the right direction toward a more financially secure community. It provides people who need a small loan quickly an alternative to payday lending. We hope to see the program grow in the future to include many more employers. To that end we welcome the help of anyone in the community wanting to assist us in fundraising, which will be a key factor in growing the CLC in Waco. Anyone with questions about the Community Loan Center may contact me at the Goodwill Corporate Headquarters in Waco at 254-753-7337.

Shannon Kendrick-WittmerShannon Kendrick-Wittmer is the Vice President of Mission and Workforce Advancement at Heart of Texas Goodwill Industries. She has a BA in Psychology from Baylor University and a Master’s in Business Administration from Tarleton State University. She has lived in Waco for the past 15 years, worked at Goodwill for 11 years, and has been married for a year and a half to Jonathon Wittmer, a field engineer with TYMCO.

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.