Prosper Waco: An innovative approach to job retention

By Christina Helmick

In 2014, the City of Waco commissioned a study to identify innovative economic development strategies that could concurrently enhance the local economic base and provide a sustainable pathway for economically-disadvantaged Waco residents toward full-time employment. That study, called the Upjohn Economic Development Study, provided City officials with 80 pages of potential evidence-based strategies to improve Waco’s economic development efforts, which would also enhance efforts to decrease Waco’s poverty rate.

One of the strategies identified in the 2014 Upjohn Economic Study was the need for an employer resource network. The concept of the employer resource network is to connect the needs of local employers to social service agencies supporting individuals looking for jobs or needing assistance in keeping the jobs. To those who know her, it is no surprise that Ashley Bean Thornton took the lead and created the first phase of Waco’s employer resource network, called WFEN (Waco Foundational Employment Network) at the time. For about a year and a half, local employers, social service agencies and staffing agencies met to discuss how each entity can work together to keep individuals in jobs.

Combined with the findings of the Upjohn study and the success of WFEN, the City of Waco provided pilot funding to Caritas of Waco and Heart of Texas Goodwill to be the lead implementing partners of the Waco Employer Resource Network (WERN) in late 2017. WERN’s mission is to provide holistic, personalized support to local employers and employees, ensuring a strong, sustainable workforce for today and for the future.

The Network is led by a Success Coach, Spike Burt, and Liaison, Katy Schulz. The Network provides:

  • Confidential, personalized one-on-one case management for an individual employee facing challenges
  • Connection to local support services that are beyond the employer’s scope of work.

The hope is that this holistic support will result in Increased employee retention and productivity. The collaborative efforts of organizations involved in WERN are working to improve Waco’s median household income. Right now, the median household income in Waco is $37,722.

Spike Burt, the Network’s Success Coach, supports, assists and encourages each employee to overcome barriers to retaining employment. He connects employees to company, public and nonprofit resources such as:

  • Childcare
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Education (GED, ESL)
  • Utility assistance
  • Job training

The Network’s Liaison, Katy Schulz, is the central point of contact for employers. She works with organizations involved in WERN, sends out career opportunities to the Network, and coordinates the monthly Network meeting. The monthly Network meetings are focused on bridging the gap between local employers and local resources to support employees.

If you would like to join WERN (as an employer or partner agency), please email Katy Schulz at You can follow WERN on Facebook to keep up-to-date of the Network’s activities!

If you’d like to learn more about WERN and other efforts addressing quality of life in Waco, visit The Work page on the Prosper Waco website!  

Christina Helmick is the director of communication at Prosper Waco. She is a recent graduate of Baylor University with a BA in Journalism, Public Relations & New Media. Originally she is from Washington, D.C., but has stayed in Waco post-graduation.  She is an active mentor at J.H. Hines Elementary School, enjoys spending time with her family and watching Baylor football. Sic ’em Bears!

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.




Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Library’s Website

By Jessica Emmett

You can do more with your Waco Library card than ever before! We have been hard at work, listening to you and making changes that fit your 2018 lifestyle. Whether you are trying to use more local resources, improve your life or just entertain yourself, we are here for you. You can visit the library to check out books, movies and more, use computers and free WiFi, and attend awesome programs. You might know all of that—but did you know how much you can do using our website? Here are 10 things you might not know!

1. Access your library account online!

Your phone buzzes. Is it the cute guy you met at the coffee shop? Nope. It’s us telling you your book is almost due! Using our website, you can access your account to check that due date, renew your book and breathe easier. You can also view your reading history, make “to read” lists and more! Never be surprised by fines again!

2. Reserve items (in so many ways!)

When you hear about something that sounds good to read, you can go to our website right away and see if we have it. You can use the website to request it and have it sent to the location of your choice. We’ll hang onto it for up to a week, so you can pick it up.

You can even have books sent to another library in McLennan County (Hewitt, Mart, McGregor, Moody, West). Just talk to the librarian at that library and you can pick up that hot release in your hometown.

If we don’t have the book, you can do an interlibrary loan, where we borrow the book from another library in the US. Just search our catalog using the Interlibrary Loan database and you can place a request for just about anything!

3. Ask us anything!

When you’re working on a project and need one more source, we can tell you where to find it! When your ebook was there and now it’s not, we can help you! When you want to know where to find old issues of the Trib, we’ll point you in that direction! Visit our website and you’ll see a link to Ask a Librarian. Click it and ask your question—any question—and we will do our best to answer it. You’ll get your answer via email, so you can continue your important work.

4. Get your hands on a Museum Pass!

Have you used our Museum Passes? We have passes for the Mayborn Museum, Dr. Pepper Museum, Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Mammoth National Monument and the Cameron Park Zoo! They check out just like a library book, so all you need is your library card. They are so popular, though, that it pays to check if they’re available before you head to the library. Just click this link, or visit our website and search Museum Pass and you can check the availability from your phone, tablet or computer.

5. Read and listen to books and magazines on your phone!

Amazon addicts, listen up! Even though you only read eBooks, we’ve got your back! Search our catalog for the books you want and you can see if they’re available as eBooks, eAudiobooks (no changing CDs!) or both. Isn’t it great to get stuff for free?

We also have eMagazines. They’re just as beautiful and shiny as the print version, but you won’t have a stack of them to sort through every time you move! You can pick the issues you want and even “subscribe” by signing up for alerts when a new issue comes out. Catch up on your hobbies, news or even celebrity gossip (we won’t judge).

6. Learn the difference between a faux pas and foie gras!

There are so many reasons to learn a new language. Planning a trip, starting a new job, impressing your foreign-born in-laws—you never know when the skill might come in handy! We’ve got an online tool called Pronunciator that can help you learn 87 different languages. There are also ESL programs for 51 non-English languages. Access Pronunciator from our website on any Internet-able device. There’s even an app! You will sound so cultured, and we are glad to help.

7.Master the job market!

Sending out résumés and not getting a lot of bites? We have an amazing tool called Learning Express Library that can help you build a killer new résumé, plus hone your job-worthy skills, like business writing, math and time management. You can practice for tons of entrance and occupational exams—real estate, law enforcement, CDL—and even learn about workplace etiquette. This self-paced, free resource is here to help you be your best you and get your best job!

8. Discover a new passion!

Do you cook, bungee jump, play drums or collect coins? There are so many hobbies out there and keeping up with new information and trends can get expensive! We’ve got databases to help you stay on top of your current hobbies or find new ones. Databases, or eResources, aren’t just for school projects. They’re basically a big filing cabinet of information about any topic you want! If you love fixing cars, history, model airplanes or anything in between, you can learn more about it wherever you are.

9.Uncover your roots!

Are you looking for the hidden secrets of your family history? We’ve got a great Genealogy Center at the West Waco location, so definitely visit them for maximum research support. If you’re doing your research at home, we’ve got some tools to help you out, too! Resources like HeritageQuest, Fold3 and can provide you with great family history info. Set aside some time and be prepared to journey down a research rabbit hole, but you’ll have a blast learning about your past.

10. Reserve a library space for your next meeting!

Are you planning a meeting for a non-profit organization? We’ve got space for that! Each of our four locations has a meeting room for large gatherings and a conference room for smaller meetings. Our Central and West Waco locations have large study rooms, too, that you can reserve for a really tiny meeting. You can use a projector, a whiteboard and make yourself comfortable! Visit our website and click the Book a Room link to get to the self-serve room booking module. You can see what dates are available at each location and request the room. You’ll get a response via email in a couple of days. We love to be the hosts of your awesome get-togethers!

BONUS! Put your card on your phone!

Keeping up with cards can be a challenge, but keeping up with the times is easy for us! We’ve got scanners that can scan a barcode on your phone and it works just like having your physical library card. So if you leave your card at home or you have everything saved on your pocket personal assistant, we can handle it!

So, what are you waiting for? If you don’t have a Waco Library card, now is the time to get one! They are very valuable and totally free. For more information about the Library, visit

Jessica Emmett is the Community Services Supervisor for the Waco-McLennan County Library. She loves “preaching the gospel of the library” and has been doing marketing, promotion and outreach for the Waco Library for almost three years. Before joining the Library team, Jessica worked for a decade in public education, as an aide, teacher and librarian. She loves how her job lets her teach people of all ages about something she loves—the library!

Jessica enjoys lots of hobbies, including cooking, disc golf and running. She loves to read (of course) and usually has three or four books open at a time. When she’s not doing outreach, Jessica spends a lot of time in a very lonely office, so be sure to say “hi” if you see the Library table at your next Waco event!

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.

Five Things Everyone in Waco should know about the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

By Alfred Solano

Hello Waco! While I am certainly not new to Waco, I do feel like I am re-introducing myself. As the new President/CEO of the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (CTHCC), I do feel like I am looking at my hometown through a new lens.  And, while I am a long-time member of the CTHCC, even serving as board chair for a few years, I am looking at the Chamber through a new lens as well.  I am trying to get a focus on how Waco sees us…how YOU see us.

I am also learning as much as I can, as fast as I can, about this fine organization so that I can share that information with you.  I want to convince you to get involved with the work we are doing, either as a member, a partner or a supporter.  With that in mind, here are five things I have learned, that I think everyone in Waco should know about the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

  • We are open to everyone. – The CTHCC was founded in 1975 and is a nonpartisan business membership organization open to the entire community. Our belief is that the Central Texas community will continue to benefit from the economic advancement of the Hispanic population the fastest growing market segment of Central Texas. Our membership roster includes individual supporters, some representing large National Businesses, with the majority of the members representing Small Businesses.
  • We are a key source of information for the community. – The CTHCC hosts a Monthly Luncheon, Annual Banquet and many other events that are open to the Chamber members and non-members alike. At the luncheons local leaders from the public sector as well as local business women and men share their initiatives in a comfortable group setting. City, County, State, and Nationally elected officials are regularly represented at and actively participate in luncheon programs. The Annual Banquet regularly hosted at the Waco Convention Center brings together hundreds of people representing all areas of Central Texas and features local or nationally known public and private sector keynote speakers. ABC news correspondent John Quinones and Former San Antonio Mayor & HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros are examples of the caliber of speakers we have featured at our banquets.
  • We are terrific partners. – The CTHCC partners with the Cities of Waco and Bellmead, LULAC (League of United Latin America Citizens), various local initiatives including City Center Waco, Start-Up Waco, and Prosper Waco.  We are an active participant within the McLennan County Chamber Alliance (a ten Member Chamber alliance), numerous local foundations (Cooper, Waco, Rapoport and United Way), and TAMACC (Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce) to name a few partners. The purpose of these partnerships is to enhance the economic prosperity of the Greater Waco area by collaborating with as many resources as is necessary.
  • We help Wacoans find good jobs. – The CTHCC regularly hosts job fairs at our activity hall on LaSalle or at the Bellmead Civic Center.  We work to host these fairs in conjunction with Workforce Solutions of the Heart of Texas, and Workforce Management Partners Group.  As a Chamber of Commerce our overarching goal is to improve economic development in Central Texas and the focus on quality employment opportunities is the cornerstone of our efforts. We will continue working with educators in Waco ISD, McLennan Community College, TSTC and Baylor, Tarleton and Texas Tech to play a role in the advancement of our local students, so that they may realize their potential.
  • We have space to rent. – As a community organization, we know that finding the space for meetings and events is sometimes an issue in Waco.  The CTHCC offices at 915 LaSalle and the 2,400 – square foot activity hall is available for rent 7 days a week. The hall is used for monthly luncheons, business meetings, job fairs, Birthday parties, our Back-to-School bash, and our neighborhood Christmas party for families and many other events.

As a new member of the Staff it is my hope that by sharing a snapshot of the past and present efforts of our Chamber we may encourage others to join our efforts. Our team, both staff and our tremendous volunteer network, are ready to assist where our talents may enhance the community. The future of the CTHCC is bright because we have a solid foundation of membership, community partners and friends due in large part to the efforts of past leadership.  Twenty-two days on the job and I couldn’t be more excited for the work, and humbled by the support. See you around town!

Alfred Solano is the new President/CEO of the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as of as of June 1, 2018.  Alfred was raised in Waco and enjoys spending time downtown with his wife Rachel. After 35 years in the copier industry, he is looking forward to working with local community partners from the CTHCC perspective.

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.