Get to know the Family Health Center: Mental health in Waco’s low-income communities

By Rae Jefferson

May is National Mental Health Month, which means there’s no better time to talk about the way mental health is approached by our community. In 2018, Family Health Center (FHC) provided more than $2.2 million in behavioral health services to patients in McLennan and Bell counties. It’s important to note that majority of the patients at FHC qualify as low-income and receive services through Medicaid, Medicare, or out-of-pocket payments. We strive to provide full-scope, compassionate care in the form of medical, dental, and behavioral health services.

Although participation in our behavioral health services is increasing each year as patients learn about our programs and their own mental and emotional needs, it is still one of the lesser-utilized programs at FHC. There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that not every patient needs behavioral health services. But FHC is also aware that, in our quest to offer high-quality behavioral health care to primarily low-income populations in Waco, we’re up against challenges like stigma, financial limitations, and patients who don’t know how to identify their own mental and emotional needs.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports one in five American adults will experience mental illness in a given year. The definition of mental illness is sprawling and ranges from mild cases of depression or anxiety to debilitating battles with post-traumatic stress disorder or schizophrenia. Despite the prevalence of mental illness, studies show that individuals from low-income households, communities of color, or religious environments are less likely to seek medical care for mental health concerns. Furthermore, people of color are at higher risk of mental and emotional distress, with African Americans alone being 20 percent more likely to experience major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicide. The majority of FHC patients fall into one or more of these categories, often making it a challenge to treat patients who feel they can’t seek help.

FHC takes several approaches to providing accessible behavioral healthcare. We accept patients with and without insurance and can charge on an income-based sliding scale. Of all the barriers to mental health care, we strive to make finances one of the easiest to conquer.

Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH) is FHC’s way of practicing healthcare that allows patients attending a regular doctor’s appointment to see a behavioral health specialist, called an Integrated Health Manager (IHM), in the same visit. These Licensed Clinical Social Workers are on-call to provide mental and emotional support to patients while also determining diagnoses and treatment recommendations to the physician. This process eliminates the need for making follow-up diagnostic appointments or delaying treatment for the patient.

FHC provides traditional counseling through our Family Counseling and Children’s Services Program. We also organize support groups for patients who are pregnant, nursing, or fostering a child. Although these groups are not immediately related to traditional behavioral health services, they often provide emotional support in a group setting that facilitates community-building and leads to a healthier emotional life.

Although we’re already working hard to address mental health needs among low-income Wacoans, we’re always looking for ways to improve these efforts by expanding our programs and partnerships. This summer, the behavioral health team is launching a program in which patients can receive counseling services via in-home visits. This will help address patients’ transportations issues and allow them to explore mental health concerns in a familiar environment.

FHC is one of many organizations in town stepping up to the challenge of providing mental health services to low-income individuals in Waco. We hope our work and the efforts of others can push the needle in such a way that stigma and barriers, both real and perceived, can begin to fall away.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.

Freedom School: Pulling together to prevent summer learning loss

By Lakia Scott

The Baylor Freedom Schools program is a partnership between Baylor’s School of Education, Waco ISD and Transformation Waco, Prosper Waco, and the City of Waco. Freedom Schools is a seven-week summer literacy enrichment program founded by the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Social action, character building, and STEAM activities are also built into the program so children engage in an interactive, meaningful curriculum. Throughout the program, children are exposed to culturally relevant books and meet with community guests to learn how to be agents of change in their local areas. The main theme of Freedom Schools is “I Can Make a Difference in Myself, My Family, My Community, My Country, and My World with Hope, Action and Education.” 

In our founding year, serving 50 students at Cesar Chavez Middle School, we experienced tremendous success with helping a great majority of middle school scholars (93%) maintain or increase their reading abilities therefore significantly reducing summer learning loss. Last year, we worked with 70 middle school scholars at Indian Spring Middle School and 100% of students maintained or increased their reading abilities.

Perhaps the most popular aspect of Freedom Schools is the unforgettable morning experience known as Harambee! The Swahili term meaning “let’s pull together” allows us to collectively gather in understanding our purpose and goals for the day. During Harambee, we sing motivational songs, give announcements, and do cheers before our students enter their classrooms. We also host Guest Readers who will read a short children’s book to the students, and entertain a few questions.   It has proven to be a wonderful way to introduce our students to community leaders and lovers of children and to show the children how much adults value reading.

This video will give you a good sense of the day in and day out Freedom School activities and how it works.

This year, we will be working in the Transformation Zone (an in-district charter system within  Waco ISD) at both Indian Spring MS (50 scholars) and JH Hines Elementary School (120 scholars) to provide quality literacy enrichment programming from June 12 through July 26th. This program is completely free and includes field trips, special guests, and meals. 

Would you like to learn more about Freedom School and how you can participate with us in this exciting work?

Please join us on Friday, May 24,  for the second annual “Reading Between the Vines”  fundraiser.  Admission donations of $25 will be collected to offset the cost of staff training, classroom supplies, field trips, and children’s texts used throughout the duration of the program. During the event, which will take place at the Cultivate 7Twelve art space at 712 Austin Avenue, attendees will meet Freedom School staff and learn more about the program while also being invited to participate in the Art Auction and wine tasting selections. Looking forward to seeing you there.  Let’s pull together! Harambee!

Lakia M. Scott, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Baylor University. She currently teaches elementary reading methods and diversity issues courses to pre-service teachers. Her work focuses on social issues in education like equity, social justice, race, gender and social class. In 2017, Scott launched Freedom Schools in Waco, a summer program focused on building literacy among children by curbing summer learning loss and closing achievement gaps.

Thanks for a terrific Lemonade Day, Waco!

By Nathan Embry and Natalie Ward.

A common message I hear often is “Waco is different because this community takes care of each other.” Many of us have seen this play out time after time, and I’m excited to offer another piece of evidence that this is true: Lemonade Day 2019 was a huge success.

This community pulled together to support Waco youth by teaching them basic business ownership skills. The kids learned many things during this process, like how to make a business plan, ask for loans, sell their product, and count their money. We are excited to share with you a few specific successes this program had this year and how this community made a big impact on the lives of young entrepreneurs in all parts of Waco. Here are a few quick facts:

  • 195 kids registered online to learn the lessons
  • 30 lemonade stands registered online for consumers to find and visit
  • 16 stands reported business results
  • The highest grossing lemonade stand (that posted results) earned $428 with a profit of $339
  • Kids that reported results earned $2,883 in total revenue with $2,302 dollars profit
  • Rapoport entire 4th grade STEM class participation with great results. A principal at the school told me it was one of the top 5 programs that school has ever participated in
  • We had 3 digital billboards around Waco donated to advertise Lemonade Day and media exposure from KWTX
  • Over 2,300 views on a promotional video put together with the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce to advertise the event
  • Lemonade Day Waco (the organization that pays for books and event expenses, etc) raised over $1,500
  • 12 business loans negotiated by groups of kids, 100% paid back to investors with interest

 Rapoport Partnership

Lemonade Day Waco had a great partnership with Rapoport Academy Public School. It was an honor working with Natalie Ward and her team, and to see the kids love the lessons so much. Her testimony about the program is best told from her personal experience:

When Nathan Embry approached me about Lemonade Day at the beginning of the year, my team responded with a resounding, “Yes!” Entrepreneurship is woven in the fiber of Rapoport Academy Public School. In the original charter, the founder Nancy Grayson, envisioned an education rooted in entrepreneurship. That is why an Art teacher, a Technology teacher, and a Science teacher decided to take on this project: entrepreneurship is for everyone. My 4th graders may not remember my name later on in life, the art projects we did, or their accomplishments in the STEAM Lab, but I guarantee they will remember participating in Lemonade Day.

To prepare for the big day, students went through the National Lemonade Day curriculum in class. They learned how to create a brand and give their lemonade stand a theme and also how to prepare a budget, purchase supplies online, find an investor, acquire a $30 loan, and pay back their loan with interest. Students were able to calculate the cost of goods sold per cup and determine profit per cup of lemonade sold on the big day.

Perhaps the most important lesson our students learned was how to earn and manage revenue. Every student saved, spent, and donated a portion of their earnings. Each team partnered with a local not-for-profit, allowing charities all across Waco to receive a small donation from our students. I felt a little embarrassed dropping off a $20 donation, but when I think of the long-term effects of this project, I hope that by learning to give when they are young, our students will go on to give generously later in life. Rapoport’s charter states a goal of growing students who will  “return to the community as professionals with a sense of responsibility.”

The entrepreneurial community connections Lemonade Day brought to the classroom were outstanding. Cory Dickman, owner of Waco Pedal Tours, Waco Escape Rooms and Nexus Gaming shared about the risks and benefits of owning a business. Cathi Davis, from Seedhouse Creative, instructed our students on how to brand their businesses. Nathan Embry, Nathan Sloan of Compass Bank, and Logan Vick of Independent Bank imparted their wisdom about making sales and even gave our students the opportunity to practice their sales pitches.

My personal favorite part of this project was the wrap up and pay day. Watching our kids experience the joy of earning real money and hearing what they personally learned from the project was inspiring.

It’s easy to see how this project helped them realize their potential in future careers such as accounting, sales, and branding when you hear comments like these:

  • “I learned I’m good at keeping and recording money.”
  • “I learned that I’m really good at attracting customers.”
  • “Creating a theme and making a logo was my favorite part.”

Many students also shared about the life lessons they learned:  

  • “I learned that I need to be more patient with my team.”
  • “I learned that I need to speak up so people can hear me.”
  • “I learned I need to calm down if I want people to listen to me.”
  • “I learned I need to show integrity when giving my customers their change.”
  • “I learned I can work with anyone.”

As a teacher, you know lessons like these don’t come from a worksheet. They come from experience, and I am so thankful our students had this opportunity.

Natalie Ward is a S.T.E.A.M. Teacher at Rapoport Academy grades 2nd-4th.

Nathan Embry is the City Director for Lemonade Day and works in commercial real estate.

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.