In the wake of another tragedy…here’s my “do something!”

By Cynthia Cunningham

It has happened again. Precious lives lost. National outcries of blame. Social media arguments. Never did I imagine that this would become our “normal” reality.  Living in a world where our children and teachers were not safe in the classrooms.

It is a natural reaction for us to have extreme emotions when these shooting happen.  Social media explodes with everyone’s opinion.  It gets ugly.  Everyone feels that their opinion is right and they stubbornly refuse to see things from another view point.

It’s not enough.  I applaud the students that are using their voices following this tragedy to do something.  This is what it takes to make a change.  We can no longer do the same thing and expect change.  We see that it doesn’t work.  It’s time for action.

I am reminded of something I would tell my daughter often during her teen years.  It’s Julia Roberts’s line in a movie called “Step Mom.”  She is telling her step-daughter that she as two choices in life: do the same thing with the same results, or do something.  Life is going to happen whether we do something or nothing.  Why not do something?

Throughout our nation’s history, it took someone doing something to make a change:

  • March 13, 1913, Alice Paul spearheaded the suffrage parade, a gathering in Washington D.C. to call for a constitutional amendment for the right for women to vote.
  • December 5, 1955, Martin Luther King Jr lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott and lead the American civil rights movement.
  • September 8, 1965, Delano Grape Boycott labor strike, with Cesar Chavez, demanded equal wages to the federal minimum wage.

These major events took someone deciding to do something!  Imagine a world where each of us did something.  It might not be pretty in the beginning.  Think of all the struggles of the above three events.  They were not successful overnight.  But they did not give up.  And as a result a change was made.

Consider what changes are needed that could prevent these tragic events. What could you do to make a change?  It sure doesn’t help to just complain on social media.  Re-think your actions.

Sounds like this latest tragedy had a lot of missed signs. Missed opportunities for help and to prevent this awful outcome.  But we can’t know what we are not taught.

So here is my “Do Something”.  I am proud to be a part of This movement was launched by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and their partners to increase awareness that most mental illnesses are treatable and to offer messages of hope and recovery to Texans and their families.

The goal of Okay to Say is to change the conversation and perceptions around mental illness, which ultimately can lead to:

  • Growing understanding, advocacy and support for the mentally ill.
  • Improving access to community services for diagnosis and treatment.
  • Accelerating progress in the quality and delivery of mental health care.

If we make it okay to talk about our mental health, it would be just another health issue that had no embarrassment.  Then those living with issues would feel no shame to seek help. With more people bravely acknowledging issues, more services would be needed.  This could lead to more united voices asking for change.  Our government would recognize that we must have better mental health care.  It takes us all talking about it to raise awareness and end the stigma that has caused so many to hide their struggles.

If you want to take it a step further, educate yourself!  Most of us have taken a CPR class.  We now know how to help someone having a medical crisis.  But few of us know what to do when someone is having a mental health crisis.  So educate yourself!  Take a Mental Health First Aid class.

Some things you learn about in a Mental Health First Aide class:

  • Mental Health Problems: Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Psychosis, Substance Use Disorder, Eating Disorders
  • First Aid for: Suicidal Thoughts, Self-Injury, Panic Attacks, Traumatic Events, Acute Psychosis, Alcohol Abuse and Aggressive Behavior

We have the Mental Health First Aid classes available in our community!  Just reach out if you want to learn more:

  • NAMI Waco offers Adult Mental Health First Aid
  • HOTRMHMR offers Youth Mental Health First Aid

See how easy it is to do something?  If more people took these trainings, they would know how to help when they see the warning signs.  They would not have to look back and have regrets for not recognizing a sign.  We can do better!

All it takes is you making taking the step.  Just do something!  Be active!  Start a movement… in whatever you are passionate about.

Cynthia Cunningham, a Wacoan since age 2, is the Executive Director for NAMI Waco.  She lives with her husband of 28 years, Bobby, and two spoiled dogs and one royal cat!  Her passion is educating others about mental health.  She can be contacted 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.

Homelessness comes from any number of causes

By Major Anita Caldwell

Homelessness could involve my son, your sister, your father who just didn’t want you to know about their problem and didn’t want to be a burden to you.  Homelessness is not caused by The Salvation Army or any other organization; but our goal is to end homelessness by all means possible.  The homeless belong to Waco and McLennan County.  They belong to all of us.  They are the people created by God who walk a broken road.  They are the broken souls of our community, our county.

While at our community kitchen, I had the privilege of interviewing five of our homeless citizens of Waco.  They represented our veterans, college students, mentally ill and those waiting on disability.  Here are their stories.

As a teenager, Ellen had experienced a difficult time and was sent to the Methodist Children’s Home.  At age eighteen, she was released and with nowhere to go, she chose to live on the streets of Waco.  As I sat with her on the green grass beside the Community Kitchen, I asked her how long she had been on the streets and her reply was ten years.  She felt safe in Waco and besides, all her resources were located downtown including the food stamp office, the health center and her lawyer, who was working on her disability case due to a car accident.  She said she really didn’t need The Salvation Army but appreciated the clothing we provide her from time to time.  She wanted to talk with her grandfather, so I called him, but her grandmother had just had a stroke and he could not invite her to come home.

Bob is a veteran with PTSD.  He admits that he can’t keep a job but says that he can hold signs for stores going out of business.  He has family in Waco and this always brings him back home.  He said that The Salvation Army was the only safe place to stay.

Jake has COPD and was approved for disability two years ago but so far had no received any support.  All his resources are located downtown Waco, so he lives in his car and eats one meal a day at The Salvation Army while waiting for payments to begin.  He worked all his life as a welder, but his illness no longer permitted him to work.  He is angry with life and not open for much conversation.

Peter said that he was a foreign exchange student who left school and had been homeless for four months.  All he wanted was a job, a bed, and a shower.  He is only nineteen years old and had studied at TSTC.  From his experience, there are just too many rules.   He recognizes rules are not always easy and they are a choice necessary to reach goals.

Peter’s father had been a veteran but died and his mother is in a nursing home. He had lived with his parents in Waco much of his life, but that home had been sold.  His greatest fear was the Illuminati who had set dogs to chase him and bite him.  His one goal in life is to create signs that make people smile.  I quickly realized that Peter would not be able to work but needed the care of PATH and Mental Health.

When these people cross the path of The Salvation Army, we encourage them to enter a true program for change.  We invite PATH from MHMR to meet with those who are mentally ill.  We contact our veteran’s liaison to meet with the veterans who need help (and we work together to find them housing when possible.  If individuals are suffering from addiction, we offer to take them to a free Salvation Army six-month rehabilitation program.  We provide safe shelter, hot meals, a place to shower, and refuge from the streets.  Our case managers also provide guidance and work to identify the underlying cause of crisis, finding ways to resolve these issues and implement permanent solutions.  Our goal is to help mend the broken road they’re on.  Those we serve are created by God; they are His children. The Salvation Army is committed to meeting human need without discrimination and without judgement. We don’t ask their religion, heritage or orientation.  Our call is to walk with them from a place of street life to permanent housing, regardless of what that might take in time or patience.  Jesus asks that we care for the “least of these” as if it was Himself.   This we will continue to do with honor, respect and diligence thanks to a supporting community which recognizes that the faces of our homeless, and how we care for them, reflects the character of our community and the character within ourselves.

Major Anita Caldwell was born in Olean, NY, to a family of ministers.   She attended and graduated from Kentucky Mountain Bible Institute with a BA in Religion.  Her MA is in Pastoral Leadership from Olivet Nazarene University.  She and her husband, Bradley Caldwell are Majors in The Salvation Army and are Regional Coordinators for this area.  They have served as ministers of the gospel in The Salvation Army for 24 years.  After serving in three USA appointments, they were transferred as Regional Leaders in Moldova, Romania, Russia and the country of Georgia over a twelve-year period.  They received their Waco assignment after serving at International Headquarters in London, UK.

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.

*Names changed throughout to protect privacy.