June 13th Teen Suicide Prevention Symposium – Prevention over Postvention: Keeping our kids safe from Suicide

By Jeni Janek

“Counselors were on campus today in response to….”

We’ve heard it a hundred times in the media and cringe at the stories that follow these words, reporting the loss of yet another youth to the tragic phenomenon of suicide. What most do not realize is the impact and response that ensues and the taxing amount of time and emotional capital spent by educators and school personnel on campus who comfort survivors, wade through the shock and try to find answers that rarely come.

When a tragedy such as student or school employee death occurs (whether it be a suicide, accident or of natural cause) Education Service Center (ESC) Region 12’s Crisis Response Team launches into immediate action to serve on-site and/or behind the scenes to help those who are caring for their students and colleagues. Our kids grow up in our Texas schools, and a school is one big family–a loss is felt across campuses and reverberates in the community.

ESC Region 12 employs specialists whose job is to do one thing: serve educators and students. There are one-to-one counterparts for nearly every role in the typical school environment. Their duties range from conducting professional development to designing resources for school personnel as they instruct and care for the 161,000 school children in our region each day. One area of this work is to help our schools in their greatest time of need: when they lose a student or an educator.

In the last seven years, ESC Region 12 has worked in this role with others to ensure that school leaders and their teams have the resources and support needed to resume operations in the wake of fatalities. Suicide has been the number one reason that the ESC Region 12 Crisis Response Team responds to schools in our region. It has become an epidemic not only in Central Texas but in our state. The national average for suicide attempts among teens is 7 percent (according to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, 2017), while Texas sits at 12 percent.

While suicide is an epidemic, it is a preventable one. It’s for this reason that the Education Service Center Region 12 has hosted the Teen Suicide Prevention Symposium for the last 14 years. ESC Region 12, Cedar Crest Residential Treatment Center, Providence Ascension Healthcare Network and the Methodist Children’s Home will present this year’s symposium on Thursday, June 13 at ESC Region 12, 2101 W. Loop 340 in Waco.

Medical and mental health speakers will share research and strategies for helping youth who struggle with suicidal ideation.

Social media continues to be a factor in teen suicide, but efforts to raise awareness about healthy practices and reporting options are making a difference in Central Texas schools. How else as a community can we make a difference? We can bring people together to discuss and implement strategies and resources that will help keep our kids safe. Educators may often be the first to see signs, but we as a community must reach out and offer more than supportive words.

Our children are living during an unprecedented age of technological advancement and interaction, but are still needing strong relationships (in school and in their communities) to help them grow up to be safe and healthy adults. They are depending on us to help them navigate challenges and not just survive, but to thrive.

Seats are available for $90 a participant, which includes a light breakfast and lunch. Click here to register: Suicide Symposium.

ESC Region 12 is a nonprofit service organization devoted to supporting educators and school personnel in their efforts to increase student achievement. We are passionate about helping schools of all sizes through effective professional development, expert assistance, direct services and alternative certifications. Click here for more about ESC Region 12.  

Jeni Janek is the ESC Region 12 Crisis Response Team Leader and serves school counselors in the Region 12 area. She is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin with a Bachelor of Science degree in Rehabilitation and Psychology and received her Master degree in Counseling Psychology from Tarleton State University. Janek is a certified school counselor and a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).  Jeni and her husband Chris live in West with their son, Trey. Their daughter, Mary Kate, is a junior at Texas A&M. Janek enjoys traveling, being outdoors, and relaxing on the back porch of their country home with her faithful dog, Beau.

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

June 21: The Longest Day

By Maggie Sanders

June 21 is the day with the most light, and that’s when the Alzheimer’s Association shines light on this sad disease that robs loved ones of memories and personality. But when you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, every day can seem to last more than 24 hours.

My mom, Vivian Benson Sanders, is living with one of the severe dementias associated with Alzheimer’s disease. At 15, she was offered a full scholarship to Rice University – located less than two miles from her home – but her father refused his permission for her to attend. Now 94, she still painfully recalls how he stole her future. 

But she doesn’t recognize me, my brothers or our children. Nor does she recall that my father passed six years ago and that our middle brother died two years before. She can’t remember how to walk and struggles with all activities of daily living. This scary smart lady who treasured words like precious jewels is losing her grasp of language, and our conversations are becoming a hodgepodge of unrelated and often unintelligible words and phrases.

When it became obvious four years ago that Mama could no longer live independently, our family decided to move her from Bryan, where my brother Ray had been looking after her, to Waco. At that point, I became her primary caregiver and began juggling work, my own family and other interests with meeting her needs. These have increased over the years, so two years ago I retired from the part-time teaching job I loved to be more available.

Fortunately, my mom is in a good memory care facility, but I still spend a lot of time and energy with her.  She’s among the nearly 400,000 Texas adults over 65 who have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. And I am just one of the approximately 1.5 million family members and friends caring for a loved one in the same situation.

The care takes its toll on our bodies, minds and spirits — and drains family finances. In Texas last year, caregivers provided approximately 1.6 billion hours of unpaid care with a total value of $20.5 billion. We deal with stress, lack of sleep and lack of support. We are reminded to take care of ourselves, but that doesn’t always seem possible.

My caregiver’s journey has been eased thanks to the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter. Even before I moved my mom to Waco, I had helped with the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and that helped me tap into some of the resources the group offers. I’ve since attended several support groups and the annual caregivers conference.  I continue to work with the walk committee and try to volunteer with other projects as needed.

Locally, the Waco Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association provides a range of caregiver support groups where family members can meet others sharing similar situations.

  • Heart of Waco Caregiver Support Group, 6-7 p.m., Second Monday of each month at Heartis Waco Assisted Living and Memory Care. Contact Donna Ginsel at 254-717-4805 or Bobby Don Saylor at 940-595-9355.
  • Hillcrest Senior Health Center, 10-30-11:30 a.m., Second Wednesday of each month at the Hillcrest Senior Health Center. Contact Renee Shepherd at 254-537-3731 or Laura Ellis at 254-202-6500 or Bobby Don Saylor (above).  
  • Early Stage Support Groups. Separate sessions allow Caregivers and Persons with Disease to meet separately for support, information and socialization. Prescreening is required. Contact Christine Schroeder-Moran of the Waco Alzheimer’s Chapter at 254-754-7722.
  • The Gathering Place provides social interaction and support for caregivers and their loved ones. The program meets from 10-11 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month at Austin Avenue Methodist Church.  Contact Sandi Snowden at 713-553-7061, Pam Butler at 254-755-2248 or Bobby Don Saylor (above).
  • The annual Caregivers Conference, always the first Friday in March, is an excellent opportunity to hear about the latest research and to gather tools you can use in your own journey.
  • This year’s Waco Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be Saturday, October 5, at Brazos Park East.

To learn more about these resources or to ask questions, contact the Waco Chapter Alzheimer’s Association at 254-753-7722 or  alz.org/northcentraltexas

Maggie Sanders, left, with her mom, Vivian Benson Sanders

Maggie Sanders is a freelance artist and writer. She retired from McLennan Community College, where she worked in the public information office and taught marketing.

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

Better Living for Texans: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

(As I’m sure most of you probably know, one of our Prosper Waco community goals is “McLennan County residents will live healthier lifestyles and access the best available care.” With that in mind Act Locally Waco is teaming up with Better Living for Texans to bring you a monthly blog post full of tips for healthy living. For more of the posts in this series, click here: Better Living for Texans.– ALW)

By Lindsey Breunig

Summertime is here! You might be free from the classroom or still stuck in the office, but we cannot hide from the fact that with summertime comes higher temperatures. Recently I have found myself turning the fan on or up to combat the heat. As Texas begins to warm up, we need to protect our bodies from the hotter temperatures. Keep safe by remaining hydrated which means we are replacing water that has left our bodies. Today the focus is water because what better way to replace water than with water!?

Plain and simple water is critical to our overall health. It is widely accepted that humans can survive for more than a month without food, but only a few days without water. Water helps transport nutrients to working muscles, while also transporting waste products through urination, perspiration, and bowel movements. Water also helps digest our food and lubricates our joints, organs, and tissues, and protects your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues. Additionally, water keeps your temperature normal, so no wonder you need more water during the summer season! As temperatures begin to increase let’s think of ways to get more water in our diet.  

While sweet drinks are delicious, it is better to choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. This helps in preventing cavities and with weight management. Substituting water for one 20-ounce sugar sweetened soda will save you about 240 calories.

If you enjoy the sweet side of sodas try switching to 100% fruit juice. To reduce even the natural sugar, try to mix the juice with water. Now, before you call me crazy, (trust me it has happened) try by adding just a little water. For example, start with a ratio of ¾ juice to ¼ water – it might not taste as sweet, but you can slowly work your way to less juice and more water. Before you know the flavor is still there, sugar is reduced, and you have saved money!

If you enjoy the fizz of sodas try switching to sparkling water. There are many brands and flavors on the market but try the plain and add your own sweet flavor. Something I have done is add a splash of juice or frozen fruit that will infuse the drink. You may have seen the drink infusers at the store or online which take water to another level by adding new flavors to plain or sparkling water. When using plain water, you can let the fruit infuse over a couple hours. Think of your favorite juice combos and try to recreate! Some fruit and veggie combos to try are below:

1. Strawberries + Kiwi + Cucumber

2. Cucumber + Lemon + Lime

3. Orange + Lemon + Lime

4. Raspberries + Lemon + Mint

5. Blueberries + Lemon

In addition to drinking water, we can also get water through the foods we eat. Eating foods with high water content adds volume but minimal calories to the diet. Foods with high water content promote a feeling of fullness. Fruits and vegetables are two food groups that have generally high-water content.

Fruits that are high in water content are: watermelon, citrus fruits, grapes, apples, papaya, and strawberries. Vegetables that are high in water content are: carrots, bell peppers, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, squash, and broccoli. Did I mention a favorite? Great, stock up for the summer!

This month we have two refreshing fruit and veggie drinks to try from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Dinner Tonight program! (https://dinnertonight.tamu.edu/) The below recipes will be more flavorful than infused water but full of natural sweetness (0 grams of added sugar). Check them out and this summer, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Aguas Frescas Watermelon and Lime (https://dinnertonight.tamu.edu/recipe/aguas-frescas-watermelon-and-lime/)


  • 5 cups seedless watermelon cubed
  • 3 cups water divided
  • 5-6 mint leaves
  • 1 lime sliced for garnish
  • 1 cup Ice


  1. Combine watermelon, 1 cup of water, and mint leaves into a blender untill liquefied.
  2. Pour the watermelon mixture into a 2 quart pitcher, add 2 cups of water and ice, stir together.
  3. Garnish the drink with thinly sliced lime rings and enjoy.
  4. Serve or store in refrigerator up to 2 days.
  5. Tip: Use a strainer when pouring the liquefied watermelon into the 2 quart pitcher for a thinner consistency.

Aguas Frescas Cucumber and Lime (https://dinnertonight.tamu.edu/recipe/aguas-frescas-cucumber-and-lime/)


  • 2 medium Cucumbers peeled and sliced
  • 5 cups water divided
  • 1 Lime with peel wedged
  • 1 cup Ice


  1. Combine cucumbers with 3 cups of water in blender until liquefied.
  2. Using a strainer over the mouth of a 2-quart pitcher, pour half of cucumber mixture slowly to strain the liquid.
  3. Add the wedges of a lime to the other half of cucumber mixture in blender. Blend together for a few seconds until chopped up into medium pieces. **Note: Blending the lime longer or into smaller pieces may give a bitter taste.
  4. Pour the remaining mixture over strainer.
  5. Add 2 cups of water and ice into the pitcher and stir well.
  6. Serve or store in refrigerator up to 2 days.

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.

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

MCC Board of Trustees shares guiding values

By  Phillip Ericksen

In May, the McLennan Community College Board of Trustees, a seven-member board of elected officials that represents different parts of the county and provides oversight of the College, approved a new set of values meant to guide all decisions related to student success.

Here are the new values:

People matterWe will be honest, humble, respectful, and gracious to our students and to each other.  We best serve our students, colleagues, and community when we work as a team. 

Inclusiveness mattersWe will seek to appreciate and understand our students and each other, actively seeking different viewpoints.  We will work to create a civil, welcoming environment where our diverse community of students and employees learn, teach, and work together. 

Integrity mattersWe will work with the highest level of integrity, taking responsibility for all of our actions. We will tell the truth and seek to be fair in our decision-making and actions.

Communication mattersWe will be open, collegial, and courageous in our communications with students and with our colleagues. We will listen before we speak.  We will communicate decisions and the reasons for them.

Excellence mattersWe will strive for excellence in all that we do.  We will actively plan for the future, seeking new and innovative ways to accomplish our mission.

A new mission statement was also approved:

Our mission is to educate our students – improving their lives and enriching our community.

So why are these words important? They set the stage for the future of MCC – a college that serves almost 9,000 students and places them on a road to success while offering services meant to combat food insecurity, mental health setbacks, and more.

MCC President Dr. Johnette McKown said a series of listening sessions with students, employees, and community stakeholders helped shape the values. The College’s leadership team read two books that provided important background during the process: “Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization,” and “Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution.”

“We anticipate these values of People, Inclusiveness, Communication, Excellence, and Integrity will guide our future and our culture,” McKown said. “We must all be working together to make a difference for our community. These values frame our vision for today and for the future.”

The values reflect MCC’s strategy for the next 10 years: help all students succeed, take care of people, impact the community, and develop resources to fund success.

For example, College administrators plan to redouble their efforts in addressing students’ pressing personal issues, like transportation, food insecurity, and financial insecurity. Partnering with local entities to solve these problems and exploring ways to cut costs should take pressure off students looking to advance in their careers and improve their lives.  

Improving communication and collaboration across campus will also help all employees serve students and the community. McKown, for example, hosts monthly hour-long events for faculty and staff known as “Coffee and Conversations,” where she can hear their feedback.

Living out these values on campus and in the community will further position MCC as an institution that is welcoming, affordable, and relevant within higher education.

Phillip Ericksen is the marketing and communications specialist at McLennan Community College. For about four years, he was a journalist at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering higher education and local government. He enjoys following the news, reading books and drinking coffee. As a San Antonio native, he is an avid fan of Mexican food and the Spurs basketball team. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Baylor University.  He can be reached at pericksen@mclennan.edu.

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

Voices For Our Community’s Children: Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

By Anna Futral

(This post is part of a series of posts about CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates.  For the rest of this series, click here: CASA-2019. – ABT)

I would imagine that many of you reading this grew up in a pretty good home.  I grew up on 30 acres outside Fredericksburg TX with four (mostly) fabulous siblings and two parents who worked hard to care for us, keep us safe and raise us into mature adults.  I had an amazing childhood.

But there are many children in our community right here who barely get a childhood at all, much less a safe and happy one.   Children like 9 year old Amanda who, after trying to hide her bruises for months, through no fault of her own, finds herself in the backseat of a stranger’s car, the few belongings she was allowed to grab crammed in a trash bag beside her, being driven to the home of more strangers, foster parents, where everything is new and different.  At her young age, life as she knew it has been turned upside down and she has no idea what the future holds.

This is the point when CASA can enter the scene, a point of fear, loss, confusion and unknown.  When a child is removed from their home by CPS due to abuse or neglect, and sent to live with relatives or foster parents, a Court Appointed Special Advocate can become a strong presence in the child’s life.  The CASA works alongside other professionals to make sure that child’s needs are met while they are in foster care, to learn their specific case situation and make recommendations to the judge across the case regarding the safety, permanency and best interest of that child. 

There are almost 700 children in foster care in McLennan County, but only about 150 of them have a CASA volunteer.  We are in need of many more advocates to step up and be a voice for children in our community.

A Court Appointed Special Advocate can come from all walks of life and does not need to have prior experience with the child welfare system or child development.  Our advocate team includes grad students, working professionals, stay at home parents and retired individuals.  While some come from a background of personal or professional experience with child welfare, most are regular community individuals who just want to directly affect the life of a child for the better.

We are looking for caring, committed adults who meet the following criteria:

  • At least 21 years of age
  • Pass screening, background check and training requirements
  • Able to make a one-year minimum time commitment to a case (about 10-15 hours per month)
  • Able to keep information confidential and work within established program guidelines

Our agency provides flexible, quality training to prepare our volunteers for their advocacy work and then matches each new advocate with a full time CASA staff member, a CASA Supervisor, to guide and coach them in their volunteer work.  This volunteer to Supervisor relationship is where the rubber meets the road for our quality advocacy, as the Supervisor provides knowledge and support while empowering the volunteer to be a strong voice for their appointed CASA child.  Our volunteers are highly valued members of our CASA team and we do all we can as a staff to set them up for a meaningful volunteer experience.

To learn more about CASA of McLennan County and the need for more advocates, visit our website at www.casaforeverychild.org or find us on social media @casamclennan. 

If you have questions or are ready to begin advocating for children in foster care, email our CASA Recruiter, Kate Gilbert, at recruiter@casaforeverychild.org.

Stay tuned for further weekly installments of our CASA story, with upcoming posts from a CASA Supervisor and two advocates!

Anna Futral is Executive Director, CASA of McLennan County. Though born and raised in Fredericksburg, Anna has called Waco home for fifteen years.  She is a graduate of Baylor University, where she received her Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting and a Master of Taxation.  She and her husband, Trent adopted their three children in 2016 after over two years of caring for them and loving them as a foster care placement.  When she’s not busy leading CASA forward or chasing her kids Anna enjoys reading, spending time with good people and working with her husband on their 119-year-old house in the heart of Waco.

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