Don’t go it alone! – Caregiver Empowerment Groups provide helpful support for the journey of parenting

By Kristen Drumgoole

Parenting: It’s the best, hardest job. It’s joy and laughter and fun…and heartache, worry, and weariness. Behavior challenges, financial strain, traumatic experiences, and many other things can be roadblocks to family bonding and growth.

MCH Family Outreach exists to offer support to families facing such challenges. We support families in a number of ways – through caregiver education, connecting families to community resources, and planning for achievement of goals set by family members. One of the unique ways MCH Family Outreach seeks to support families and caregivers is through Caregiver Empowerment Groups (CEGs). CEGs are regular meetings designed to offer support and empowerment to caregivers through education, discussion, and the opportunity to connect with and learn from others who are on a similar journey. These groups are always open to new members, so you are welcome to drop by any of them at any time.

Here is a quick overview of the Caregiver Empowerment Groups we currently offer:

Adoptive & foster parent CEG: This group offers monthly meetings to support adoptive and foster parents. The next meeting will be Friday, March 22, from 6:45-8:30 PM, at First Baptist Church, Woodway, 101 N. Ritchie Rd. Childcare is available with a prior RSVP. To RSVP or get more information, contact Marissa Smith at or call 254-750-1263.

Grandparent & relative caregiver CEG: This group is open to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – anyone who has taken in a child of a family member or friend. Raising a relative’s child as your own comes with a unique set of joys and challenges, and this group exists to support caregivers through this journey. The next meeting will be Monday, March 25, from 10:00-11:00 AM at the MCH Family Outreach Center, 524 W. Waco Drive. Childcare is not provided. For more information, contact Kristen Drumgoole at or call 254-750-1263.

Spanish language CEG: This group is open to all parents and caregivers who speak Spanish. The next meeting will be Wednesday, March 27, from 12:00 PM-1:00 PM at La Puerta Waco, 500 Clay Ave. (First Baptist Church, Waco, 2nd floor). Childcare is provided. For more information, contact Ana Chatham, at or call 254-750-1263.

Family fun CEG: This group is open to all families who want to build attachment and bonding by having fun together! Parents and children will learn skills like healthy communication and appropriate rules and boundaries in the home, through play and family fun. The first meeting will be Saturday, April 13 at the MCH Family Outreach Center, 524 W. Waco Drive, from 10 AM-noon. Please RSVP to this group by emailing Maegan Bennight at or calling 254-750-1263.

Wherever you are on your parenting journey, MCH Family Outreach exists to support you! Please call 254-750-1263 to find out more about our free services and determine how we can best serve you and your family.

Kristen Drumgoole has been a Case Manager with MCH Family Outreach for one year. She holds her MSW degree from the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor, where she is also an adjunct instructor. Outside of work hours, you’ll likely find Kristen at her church (Calvary Baptist) or dancing up a sweat at the REFIT Studio. She has called Waco home for the past 6 years.

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.

Pedal car partnership provides authentic, real world learning (and pay!) for high school students

By Clay Springer

Last May, three local entrepreneurs came to me with a challenge.  They had purchased a 14- passenger bicycle car six months earlier and launched “Waco Pedal Tours” (WPT), a startup providing entertainment tours in Waco’s downtown.

Cory Dickman, Jake Cockerill, and Danny Abarca are true entrepreneurs, ready to bet it all in the belief that their product, a pedal car, could play a vital role in shaping the downtown experience for locals and guests alike. But, by the time they came to me, they were emotionally drained.  It turns out the pedal car they had purchased was a hodge-podge of mis-matched imperial and metric parts that the previous owners had thrown together with a working philosophy of “get the next tour finished and worry about the rest later.”

Keeping this Frankenstein pedal car running was a nightmare. They had spent countless hours doing cross-country searches and talking to engineers and designers and still they had no solid replacement parts.  I signed on to help with the project, and we spent additional countless hours researching, brainstorming, designing, and working with the best old-school machinist in Waco until we finally had the pedal car back on the road.

Even after my involvement with WPT, however, problems with the old pedal car were a constant problem: holes in watered batteries, cracked brake drums, split axle shafts, electrical shorts, etc. The original pedal car was built in China and then shipped to America for final assembly. Most problems related to a metric or Chinese version of something not being compatible with what was readily available for purchase in Waco, Texas.

We realized it was time to build from the ground up. We wanted a frame that could be repaired with parts from local stores or junkyards in 24 hours or less. We wanted a better suspension for a more comfortable ride on bumpy roads. We spent hours scheming possible new additions to the bike: water misters for hot days, on board hot chocolate tap for winter, karaoke, massive sound system, air-ride suspension for comfort, Mario Kart (a personal favorite and I still remain the 9-time undefeated champ at the annual RAPS Mario Kart races!), and so much more.

We had lots of ideas for improvement based on customer comments… added space between pedals and bar for folks with long legs, a space to lock up personal items or coolers, a step with a handle for loading and unloading, and an extra seat or two. We wanted a technical service manual and a troubleshooting guide.

Of course, all of this conversation about new features and improvements led to some dreaming about scaling the product up into multiple pedal cars and serving as a vendor for other entertainment startups.

Cory, Jake and Danny knew we could build a better pedal car, but the crossroads of time and money spent to get the original bike on the road again had taken its toll. As we dreamed up design ideas and worked through trade-offs we kept up a running cost analysis on building a new pedal car.  How could they afford it?  Who would build it?

The pedal car project fascinated me. I was drawn to the problem-solving challenge of working on a vehicle that seems simple from the curb but is oddly sophisticated below.  I began to wonder if this was a job that my students at Rapoport Academy Public School (RAPS) could do.

For over a decade the RAPS robotics team has competed every year in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). This competition focuses on technical skills like DC electronics, CAD, CAM, CNC machining, pneumatics, LEDs, fasteners, gears and pulleys. One problem we have always faced while competing in FRC is the time commitment. Our students have to balance their time between wage earning jobs and after school activities like robotics.

Just like that, the idea was born: bring students on at WPT as full W-4 employees! The students could earn OSHA certification and be covered under workers comp insurance. This would help students balance having a job to earn an hourly income and earning class credit. Unlike in a regular robotics project, in this build we wouldn’t have to fundraise the cost of the materials, so we could spend more time teaching fabrication techniques and safety.

We formed a team – four RAPS high school students, three partners from WPT, and one teacher (me!)  – we were in it not just to build a product, but to build a company.

It is almost impossible to list all the good outcomes and highlight moments that have come from this project: The close personal interactions between the students and owners; the opportunity to learn project management, marketing, finances / loan structure; the opportunity to connect STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) learning from the classroom to real experience in the field. Students were pressed to quickly learn how to read, interpret and fabricate blueprint drafts. They learned how to communicate within a team to get a project up and running.

The brightest highlight by far has been the four high school students themselves. Each student brought a unique skill set and personality to the team. I have known these students since they were in the 5th and 6th grades and it was an incredible experience to go from being a teacher in front of a class to working alongside them on a daily basis. We worked through conflict together.  We got in trouble with management for playing music too loud together. We spent time talking about cars, college, and life… but most of all we learned together.

In the beginning this project was about welding some tubes together, throwing axles and brakes under it, adding a little paint, installing a stereo, and sending a pedal car down the road. It soon transformed into a project about high school students developing the skills to be successful in college, career, and life.

Yes, you have to know how to align gears, and calculate weight-to-gear ratios to build a pedal car, but those are skills we can teach in a classroom. You cannot teach the rush you feel when you meet a high-stakes deadline, or the satisfaction that comes with successfully managing a project that relies on three different people with six different parts progressing at once, or the attention required to improve a design by listening to customers. You have to experience these things. I have learned many, many things through this work-based learning partnership, but one of the most impactful things I will take from it is, “You cannot simulate authentic real-world learning.”

After two weeks of rigorous testing over spring break we will fix and fine tune any problems that arise with the new pedal car. Then we will bring on another set of talented students to help write the technical guides that will accompany the pedal car, to use RAPS drones and cameras to video and photograph the pedal car for marketing packages and social media posts, and to serve as drivers for tours.

This new pedal car is a prototype, created from our imagination.  It is full of imperfections with improvements to be made, but I guarantee you this: our RAPS team is up for the challenge and we are just getting started. So, go take a ride on the new pedal car, your dollars will support local education and you might just have one of the builders from our team as your driver!

Waco Pedal Tours and Rapoport Academy Public School entered into a formal partnership to promote Entrepreneurship and STEAM education together. From trade and technical disciplines to entrepreneurial finance and marketing, local companies like Waco Pedal Tours are the key to the success of our next generation.  I applaud WPT for taking a risk on a couple of knuckleheads with power tools (me included). 

Rapoport Academy focuses on entrepreneurship in STEAM disciplines. We are looking to partner with more companies to meet the interests of every student. I would personally love to connect you with some amazing young talent to help grow your idea or established business.

How could your business and our students mutually benefit from the tools, training and facilities that RAPS has to offer? How can we create some authentic student learning experiences together? There is a little something for every passion in entrepreneurship and it takes every person pedaling for the bike to move forward.

Clay Springer currently serves as STEAM and Career and Technical Education Director for Rapoport Academy Public School. Clay started his educational career at Rapoport Academy in 2010 as a teaching assistant for Quinn Middle school before becoming a classroom teacher and advocate for STEM and Authentic education. Clay and his wife, Joi, welcomed their first child, Shepherd, on Thanksgiving day 2018. They enjoy spending time on the Brazos River on old boats that Clay boldly claims someday will be as good as new.

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.orgfor more information.

5 more things to know about Family Health Center

By Rae Jefferson

Family Health Center has a long history of working to serve the primary care needs of low-income and uninsured patients in the Waco area. With 14 clinics across McLennan County, FHC is constantly expanding and working to improve the scope and quality of care offered to patients. Here are five programs and strategies we use to offer the best medical, dental, and behavioral health care we can to our community.

Reach Out and Read program supplies books to all patients aged 6 months to 5 years.

1. We address social problems that negatively affect the mind and body. Social determinants of health are conditions within a home, school, workplace, and community that influence health risks and outcomes. According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, “unstable housing, low income, unsafe neighborhoods, or substandard education” can have a negative effect on a person’s health, both physical and mental.

While addressing these health concerns is often complicated, FHC has implemented a few programs to help find solutions. Low literacy levels are shown to increase “adverse health outcomes, including increased mortality, hospitalization, and in some cases poorer control of chronic health conditions.” Reach Out and Read is a national program that supplies free books to FHC patients aged 6 months to 5 years. The program, currently sponsored by the Junior League of Waco, helps doctors and parents ensure young patients have tools to develop literacy skills that can improve health outcomes later in life. Books are available in both Spanish and English for all age levels.

Additionally, FHC has formed a Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) with Greater Waco Legal Services, which helps medical providers understand and treat legal issues affecting the health of patients. The MLP allows medical professionals at FHC to refer patients to legal services, and for the legal team to have a physical presence in the medical clinic to consult with patients and providers about how to address health-harming legal needs. The partnership also educates medical staff on how to recognize health-harming legal needs during patient visits. Interactions between patients and medical staff or the legal team are confidential, and citizenship status is never shared with outside parties.

2. We offer unconventional approaches to managing health and promoting wellness. If you’re around FHC long enough, you’ll realize we care a lot about treating our patients in ways that will create lasting change in their lives. Through unique prescription programs, we give patients the tools to succeed in achieving a healthy and active lifestyle. Physicians can give patients a prescription for exercise, allowing them free access to the Wellness Center, located in our Madison Cooper Community Clinic. Fitness advisers work with each patient to evaluate exercise needs and abilities. Baylor University and individuals in the community have graciously donated all equipment in the workout facility.

Physicians also have the ability to give patients a Produce Prescription, which provides them with a free box of produce each week while the program is in season. Each box includes seasonal produce grown and provided by World Hunger Relief, Inc., as well as recipe cards to assist patients as they prepare meals.

3. We offer support groups that can improve health and well-being. Centering Pregnancy is a program that allows expectant mothers to find support and familiarity with one another. For some patients, familial support is limited or nonexistent. The groups allow them to find much needed community while decreasing chances of experiencing complications during pregnancy and delivery. Foster care groups are also available, and allow families with foster children to share their joys, challenges, and support for one another.

Herbs planted in the raised garden beds outside the Wellness Center.

4. We are developing a greenspace in a Waco neighborhood. The Community Gathering Space is under development at our main clinic at Colcord Avenue and N 16th Street. In the future, the plot of land, adjacent to the Wellness Center, will be a greenspace with sitting areas and a walkway. It will also feature a small garden mirroring vegetables in the Produce Prescription boxes, which will allow patients to see the produce at all stages of growth and encourage a foray into home gardening. We broke ground in January and have already built a few raised garden beds and a portion of the walkway.

5. We bring behavioral health care into the exam room. Physicians in the U.S. often report that their patients do not have access to adequate mental health services. Furthermore, mental health diagnoses made by primary care doctors are often incorrect. Integrated Health Management is a method of treating patients that brings more accurate mental health care into exam rooms and gives them more time with a team of healthcare professionals. During routine visits, patients who would benefit can choose to see a mental health professional, also called an Integrated Health Manager, during the same visit to quickly receive a diagnosis and discuss treatment options. This process allows patients to more easily access mental health resources without sacrificing quality of care.

Rae Jefferson is a creative, Netflix binger, and marketing professional, in that order. Originally from Houston, she stuck around Waco after graduating from Baylor University with a B.A. in Journalism, PR, & New Media and a minor in Film & Digital Media. Now she’s the Communications Director at Family Health Center, where she gets to spend each day serving Waco. When she’s not working, find her at home snuggled up with her dog-daughter, Charlie, watching “The Office” for the hundredth time.

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.

Goodwill “Rise” program provides an alternative path to an accredited high school diploma

By Tiffany Gallegos

A lot of people are familiar with the retail side of Goodwill. Did you know those donated items fund Goodwill’s services and programs to help put people to work and build their skills for successful careers? If you’re thinking “no,” don’t worry! I must admit, before I started working at Heart of Texas Goodwill four years ago, I was not aware of the mission side of Goodwill. I also did not know there are 161 independent, local Goodwills across the U.S and Canada that customize mission programs according to the needs of the community. I have a passion for community development, so once I learned how Goodwill operates, I jumped onboard to help carry out the mission of building an inclusive workforce. Part of my role at Heart of Texas Goodwill is to share our services and programs with the community, so I invite you to engage with me in this blog post and beyond (I’m a fan of coffee meetings) to explore what we do and how we can work together as I share an exciting update for our new program, Rise, an accredited online high school.

2019 has been an eventful year so far and it is only March! In January we had our first woman step into the role of CEO/President (shout out to Shannon Wittmer, our former Mission Vice President who does not like shout outs but I’m doing it anyways).

We also implemented Rise to kick off the new year. The purpose of the Rise program is to help individuals advance their careers and achieve financial stability by obtaining an accredited high school diploma.

We found in a community assessment conducted in 2018 that people without high school diplomas earned the least yearly income in our territory and often struggle to advance their job skills and earn higher wages. As a result, we decided Goodwill could offer an alternative path for people to earn a high school diploma. Rise’s career-based curriculum is delivered through Ed2Go, an online learning platform that allows students to work through the program self-paced. This also gives folks, especially those that need to work or meet other obligations, the flexibility to work around their schedules.

Completed high school credits and/or GED testing can be transferred and credited towards completion of the program as well. What I love most about this career online high school is that there are no quizzes or testing. Instead, the course gives students small wins as they build competencies and progress through the program. This is great for people like me who have testing anxiety and/or have faced obstacles in a traditional classroom setting. At the same time, students have access to online counselors through Ed2Go that know the curriculum and are trained to address educational trauma. We also have a wonderful program specialist that will provide weekly check-ins and coaching to help students successfully complete the program.

Our mission for Rise is to foster a culture of lifelong learning by connecting students to postsecondary education training options. In addition to working towards a high school diploma, students can receive a career certificate in the following fields: Food and Hospitality, Retail Customer Service, Office Management, Professional Skills, Child Care and Education, Transportation Services, Homeland Security, Certified Protection Officer, Hospitality, and Home Care Professional.

Our program specialist will work alongside Rise students after they obtain a high school diploma to help them move into higher wage jobs and pursue additional education/training. This could look like enrolling in a technical/trade school, apprenticeship, college/university, or a workforce training program that offers industry-recognized certifications/credentials.

I think overall, providing an alternative path to obtaining a high school diploma is one way our organization can help upskill our workforce and build an additional pipeline of students accessing postsecondary education and training.

I have to say I’m excited we are in the process of enrolling our first cohort and are able to provide financial assistance to six students. If you or someone you know would like to talk more about Rise enrollment, program fees, financial assistance, or perhaps sponsoring a student for Rise, feel free to reach out to me at 254-753-7337.

I also can’t wrap up a blog post without giving a shout out to our four Job Connections in Waco, Temple, Belton, and Killeen. We have awesome staff at each of these centers that can help folks with job searching, resume writing, interview skills training, and beginner/intermediate computer classes at no cost. We are able to provide all of these services thanks to our community donating goods to our retail stores, so next time you clean out your closet or are tidying up your home, consider dropping by your closest Goodwill store to donate!

Tiffany Gallegos is the Development Director at Heart of Texas Goodwill and has called Waco home the past 10 years. She graduated from Baylor University in 2011 and earned her Master of Social Work degree from the Diana Garland School of Social Work in 2015. She is the proud mom of a soon-to-be toddler and enjoys gardening, home projects with her husband, and spending time with friends and family. Feel free to contact Tiffany at or 254-753-7337.

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.orgfor more information.     

East Waco Voices: Feeding the (Healthy!) Body and Soul at Carver Park Baptist Church – Part 2

(Carver Park Baptist Church is helping to lead a healthy food revolution in East Waco through their food related ministries.  They have so much going on that we couldn’t squeeze it into one post. This is Part 2 of the story.  Click here for Part 1.  – ALW)

By Khristian Howard

Carver Park Baptist Church stands as one of the main resources for food in the East Waco community. Their food pantry, open every first and third Friday, serves 120 to 150 people each month. Though doors do not open until 9:30, a line of people from almost every Waco zip code can be seen stretching around the building as early as 8 a.m. Led by Helen Lewis and a team of volunteers from Carver, TSTC, and the community, the food pantry at Carver Park Baptist has proven to be a major resource and lifeline for the residents of East Waco.

In a recent chat with Mrs. Evelyn Moore, one of the leaders of the Carver Park Culinary Arts Ministry, we learned some of the history behind how Carver Park responded to the need for food in the neighborhood and evolved into the fully stocked pantry they run today.

Reflecting on the early days of Carver Park Baptist, Mrs. Moore remembers the events that inspired the opening of their food pantry back in the 80s. “We had a small one [food pantry] that we partnered with TSTC in the 80s. We would carry milk, baby food, and other sustainable things like cereal.” The food pantry effort was a response to the newly adjusted programming at TSTC that allowed women to attend. Mrs. Moore stated, “…young girls that were coming to TSTC were coming with babies and other things trying to improve their lives, and there were many needs not being met because the program was not designed for women.”

In addition to the resources for TSTC students, the church would keep a small selection of shelf stable items for nearby residents who came seeking help.  Usually though, they had to purchase foods to help these individuals to fill in the gaps. Moore stated, “We would have food drives and canned good drives and stuff, but it just was not substantial enough to help all of the people who would come in…so a lot of times they received a check or someone took them grocery shopping.”

 In its beginning, Carver Park’s food pantry was a product of collaboration with a sister church in the area, Lake Shore Baptist Church. In the beginning each church had its own food pantry working to fill food gaps and addressing the needs that affected not only their congregations, but the surrounding communities. Food pantries, however, while a widely popular idea among churches, are generally difficult to keep afloat at a sustainable level. Eventually, the pantry at Lake Shore Baptist closed, and the two churches agreed to have those clients use Carver’s pantry instead.

Eventually, the church gained the capacity to host a full food pantry in partnership with Central Texas Food Bank (CTFB).  The CTFB provides a consistent, low-cost source of food. Partnerships like the one that Carver Park has with CTFB are vital to the sustainability of a pantry. The food that organizations like CTFB provide supports nutritional variety and health.

Helen Lewis keeps a nutritious diet in mind when placing orders with CTFB. She makes a careful selection of fruits, vegetables, and meats, and encourages pantry visitors to try new veggies and fruits before picking up sweets and other shelf stable goods. Her goal is to create a balance of both.  

 While the partnership with CTFB helps keep the pantry is well stocked, Ms. Lewis depends on relationships and collaboration with the community to supply many items as well. One such relationship is with Caritas, who provides in-kind toiletry donations. In addition, the senior group at Carver Park Baptist contributes by having a baking supply drive every February.

Volunteers from the church and TSTC help out on pantry days. Regular pantry users check-in quickly, and volunteers help new clients complete the short intake process that gauges family size and what benefits they can receive.  Once the pantry guests are checked in, volunteers also assist with selecting and carrying food to their cars.

Ms. Lewis and her team have also found a way to reach clients who are unable to physically come to the pantry. The team prepares boxes for clients that are referred to them.  These boxes are delivered to each client’s residence or kept at the ready for neighbors and loved ones to pick up.

Carver Park Baptist is just one example of a church stepping up to meet needs in the East Waco community. Other churches in the area have developed systems to address needs for food assistance, childcare, mentorship, and more. A network is growing of people who have made it their goal to take care of their own in a place where outside services do not always cover the needs. The ladies at Carver Park’s food pantry have shown that a mixture of inside and outside support may just be a reliable model for sustaining a healthy food pantry.

Khristian Howard is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Georgia State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has a passion for empowering communities through service, and seeks to connect advocacy to creativity. Currently, she is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Texas Hunger Initiative Waco, where her work focuses on fostering collective impact to improve health and eating habits in East Waco. When she is not working, you may find her sharpening her culinary skills or exploring new poetic and artistic pathways.  

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.