“Project Link is not just another college readiness program — it is a family!”

According to the Project Link website, “Project Link is a new local program that started in Fall 2015 to help Waco-area high school students, currently at La Vega High School and University High School, and their families in charting a more assured and successful post-secondary journey through intense one-on-one college, career, and financial advising… At the high schools, the Project Link team works to create a college-going culture by developing an environment that recognizes the value of higher education, by building awareness of post-secondary resources, and by nurturing student’s individual college and career aspirations.”  If you have questions about Project Link, feel free to contact Natalie James at njames@mclennan.edu or at 254-299-8517. In today’s Act Locally Waco blog post, two Project Link participants share the positive impact this new program is having on their success as first generation college students.

by Carlos Gonzalez and  Alexandria Aleman

Carlos GonzalezMy name is Carlos Gonzalez, and I recently completed my second semester at TSTC. When I first got to TSTC, I was lost, but it’s kind of hard to remember now because I now know where everything is located, and one of the Success Coaches helped me with choosing my career path and major. The first semester went well, but my second semester started off a little different, because when I needed more help the Success Coach I was used to seeing no longer worked in that department. However, as luck would have it, I was contacted by Brandon Chappell, the Project Link Outreach Specialist at TSTC. I remember I was expecting someone much older when he contacted me, but luckily it’s easier for me to relate to him because he’s closer to my age. He was offering to help me with some of my college struggles basically anytime I needed him. We’ve talked about my grades,  he’s helped me practice for a job interview, and when I noticed at the beginning of the semester I could not afford my textbooks, Brandon helped me to get 3 of my most expensive textbooks for free.

get helpI am a first generation college student, so I was excited to be in college, but I had a lot of questions. Brandon has been there to address a lot of my concerns and given me the opportunity to volunteer on a student panel to speak about my experiences as a first generation college student with some of the Project Link students still in high school.  I think Project Link is very helpful. Brandon has been able to help me get a better understanding of the things that happen on campus. To me, Project Link just wants to help the students do their best and succeed in college.

I definitely think Project Link will be beneficial for me in the future to explore different career opportunities as well. I know I can always use Project Link if I have questions about financial aid or any other aspect of college. I appreciate the help I have been getting from Brandon Chappell. He is a very good person to talk to. Even though he can be annoying when he bugs me about my grades, he seems like a fun person to hang out with too.

alexandria alemanMy name is Alexandria Aleman. I am a graduate of La Vega High School and have recently completed my second semester at McLennan Community College.  Project Link at MCC has been a safety net for me. I try to stay involved with the workshops and events so that it gives me more experience in how college life works. I feel like having this extra help has given me the confidence to keep on track with my career, because it provides me with crucial information about what is happening on campus and how it can benefit us.

As a first-time-in-college and first generation student at McLennan Community College, I have learned a lot about how the real world works, but Project Link has expanded my knowledge further by introducing me to an environment where I do not feel alone or unwelcome. The program has helped me make meaningful connections with other people who are going through the same thing. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some wonderful peers that are willing to help each other with anything.

I have also experienced a few events where it has helped me build on my public speaking girl panelskills. For example, I was part of a student panel that answered questions and shared experiences with other students who will soon be entering the same environment. It helped me practice my public speaking, and I was able to meet some amazing people.

In college, there will be times when you will need help or advice, and Project Link has the right person to help. I have always felt that I can go to her to know what I need to do to get my work done. Whatever I may need she makes sure I get it.

Project Link has provided a lot of workshops that prepare you for anything that comes your way. The workshops range from balancing your finances to taking good notes and have all been very helpful to me. Being in college and having a lot of freedom after high school is amazing but it can be easy to procrastinate and get off track.  In the beginning, I felt like I was off track a bit, but with Project Link, I was able to get the help I needed to get back on track.

What has been most helpful is the open, caring and kind Project Link Coordinator, Mrs. James, who makes talking to someone easy. She is there for all her students, and she makes you feel at home. It is like making another friend because talking to her doesn’t feel like speaking to another person in charge.  There is truly a family in the making and I hope that one day my sisters can take part of this wonderful program.

Project Link is not just another college readiness program; it is a family — a family that is always there for you with help and things that will benefit you in the long run. I don’t regret being part of this program; I make good use of what is given to me, and that is the knowledge and experience of the real world.

Carlos GonzalezCarlos Gonzalez is a second-semester student at TSTC. He is a graduate of La Vega High School and is double-majoring in Instrumentation and Electrical Power and Control. After college, he plans on having a good job and being able to help his family financially and possibly exploring other careers.

alexandria alemanAlexandria Aleman is a recent graduate of La Vega High school, and a current college student at McLennan Community College.  Alexandria is pursuing her Associates in general academics until she can transfer to Tarleton State University in the Spring of 2016.  At Tarleton she plans to earn her Bachelors in Psychology, and then her Masters and PHD at Baylor University. She is attending college to give her parents, sisters and herself a better life.

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.





Getting serious for the final two years

By Diego Loredo

I’ve finally finished my first two years of college. For most college students, the first two years are a transition period where you’re still getting used to the college life. Afterwards, it’s when you really have to get serious about college and thinking about what will happen after graduation.

My first two years at UNT have been pretty crazy. I’ve lived in a dorm for my freshmen year but moved into an apartment this school year. I’ve met so many great people and made my own little group of friends who I hang with all the time. I took part in intramural sports such as soccer and football and I got to see what kind of city Denton really is. But after these two years, what next? For me, what’s next is a long and bumpy road to graduation.

First of all, I need to get serious with my classes. My GPA has dropped and I’m going to have to bring it back up. I’m also going to have to think about getting experience in the career that I want to pursue as well as networking with people to get connections so that I can have someone to look to when I’m looking for a job. I also plan on studying abroad next summer so I will need to save up money for that. There’s so much that will be going on these next two years and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated by it all.

Regarding getting experience, I have already worked with a nonprofit called Minnie’s Food Pantry in Plano where I worked as a communications expert. I have made a communications plan, a fact sheet, an infographic, a feature story, and a media list for them to use. This was all done in two classes, which was great because it provided me with all of this experience. Plus, my professor had us all make an online portfolio, complete our resume, and create business cards to ensure that we are prepared. I’m really grateful to my professor for that and I know that they will come in handy down the road. I plan on doing community or media relations as a career (preferably in sports PR) and working with Minnie’s has provided me with valuable insight that I know will be useful.

Although working with Minnie’s was fun, I’m the most excited about getting the chance to study abroad. UNT offers opportunities to students to study abroad and take classes while also learning about the different cultures there. For me, I think my options are Japan and England. England is my first choice because I’ve always wanted to travel there but also because I’m a huge soccer fan (I’m a Manchester United fan) and traveling to see the different soccer stadiums there would be great. I decided to get a job this summer to start saving up for studying abroad next year.

So as you can see, I have a lot in store for me for my final two years at UNT. I may even graduate a semester early because of the college credits I got during my senior year in high school. But I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking my time and will probably end up graduating in the Spring of 2018 because I don’t want to rush myself.

As for advice for other college students, new or current, it’s to enjoy your first two years of college. Use that time to get out and experience that “college life.” Join organizations, meet new people, play intramural sports, or just go around and see what your city is like. Because after those two years, that’s when you really have to take not only college seriously but what your future career will be like. I’m not saying that the last two years of college will be boring, but it’s best to use it to focus more on college and your future career.

I’ve learned so much these past two years and I like to think I’ve matured a bit. I know what to do and what not to do and I know about the stresses of juggling college, social life, and personal life together. I also know what I need to do to succeed in my career field, which is crazy because I never thought I would get to this point a few years back. I know it’s going to be tough but I also know that I have the support of my friends and family to help me get through it all.

diego loredo - 2Diego Loredo is a sophomore at the University of North Texas. He is majoring in public relations. He graduated from University High School in 2014. Although he is still not quite sure what exactly he wants to do, he thinks he wants to work somewhere in sports PR (preferably soccer or college football). His hobbies include playing soccer and golf. He is 19 years old.

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.


Are You Going To Eat That?

By Lucas Land

One summer, when I was in college, I worked at a Lutheran camp in the Rocky Mountains. The camp had a high population of what has come to be called “crunchy” types. Many of my peers at this camp were vegetarians. Now, I grew up in Texas and can’t remember a meal from my childhood that didn’t have meat in it. I wasn’t sure about giving up meat, but I was inspired by their passion for social justice and their faith.

So, mostly as an experiment, that Christmas I decided to give up meat and try a vegetarian diet. I was really nervous that it might make me sick. I had never NOT eaten meat. But I didn’t get sick. I didn’t wither away or become too weak to stand. Then I read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser on a plane to Japan to visit my girlfriend, now wife. I thought to myself, “I keep finding more reasons to be vegetarian. I think I’ll stick with it.” I was vegetarian for nine years after that.

Lest you think my newfound diet bestowed some sort of righteousness on me, let me say that I was (and am) pretty lazy when it comes to food. I might have thought a lot about food, but when it came to the act of satisfying my hunger at any given moment a frozen pizza worked as well as anything (and was vegetarian too).

My little experiment with vegetarianism led me to ask more questions about what I was eating, where it came from, and what that meant for myself, other people and the planet. It’s a rabbit trail I’m still traveling down. The trail has connected up with a lot of other trails along the way, as I realized that the way our food is produced is connected to so many issues.

If you care about women’s issues, you should care about agriculture. The majority of the world’s farmers are women. If you care about immigration, then you should think about the conditions of those who are growing and harvesting your food. If you care about poverty, you have to think about what kind of food is available to people in food deserts like East Waco, and how that affects rates of obesity and diabetes.

Thinking about the food we eat is an entry point to thinking about a lot of different issues. This is what led me to leave a comfortable life with a house payment and steady income and move with my wife and two young kids to World Hunger Relief, Inc. (WHRI) for their internship program. I know the next step in my own journey is controversial among some vegetarians, vegans and environmentalists, but after moving to WHRI I felt like I could start eating meat again. I knew the animals that fed me and the conditions they were raised in. I was willing to butcher them which was (and still is) an emotional, difficult, and meaningful experience.

Reducing or eliminating your consumption of meat is still one of the best things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and to combat climate change. A recent article from Salon spells out the link between meat consumption and climate change.  The difference for me now when I eat local meat, or chickens that I’ve raised, is that I’m more mindful and connected to the source and consequences of what I’m eating. I could dedicate a whole other article just to this topic (and maybe I will).

What I realized through my own journey is that raising our consciousness and awareness of these issues is the most important and perhaps hardest part of working towards sustainability. Our year at the farm was one of exploring, learning, and deepening our commitment to a more sustainable world related to food, agriculture and every area of our lives. Ultimately, sustainability is about finding ways for humans to thrive alongside the rest of the ecosystems and environments that make up our habitat. This requires us to be more aware of the way the food we eat, and other aspects of our lives that we take for granted, affect the climate and environment, from our local watershed to the interconnected global system that sustains life on this planet we call home.

Lucas LandLucas Land is an eco-theologian, urban farmer, activist, aspiring master naturalist, facilitator, musician, and writer. He is avoiding growing up by constantly learning and trying new things. He also works in Grants Management for Waco ISD. He lives with his wife, three children, flock of chickens, dog, and cat in the Sanger Heights Neighborhood in North 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.


Back To The Future for Waco

By Jerrod Clark

Well Waco, it’s Back to the future we go! No, I’m not referencing the blockbuster film, I am calling all Wacoans to dream about our future city and how we want her to look. Are we satisfied with a city that is economically sound, yet segregated? Or do we want her to be whole and welcoming, a city where trust exists and where healthy community can flourish? And if that is what we want, how do we get there?

A first step is to resurrect the notion of working for “the common good.” I must recognize that I did not just arrive at prosperity solely by my own hard work.  I stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before me. My family, support system, tax payers—I have benefitted from the collective whole who sacrificed for the common good.  I am a grateful recipient of all of that.

Those that invested in me did so without expectation of benefit, however, they do benefit. The return on their investment in the development of others is not zero — everyone’s future depends on the youth who come behind them.

If I were born in a family where education was not valued, I too might be uneducated or under-educated and possibly be ill-equipped or un-empowered to reach my fullest potential. However, if my community would pick up the slack and help bridge the gaps by helping to equip me with the skills needed to flourish, then I might be able to make up for that disadvantage.  Then I would be able to make my own contribution to the “common good.”

Because of that notion, I cannot be idle. I cannot be partial. I have to work on being inclusive so that others can also share in the benefits of the common good of the community.

As I think about these things, I am reminded of words attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”  The poor are a reflection on our inaction and a commentary on our priorities as a community. We should strive to lift and elevate those who have been left behind and pushed to the margins.

Change does not have to be “throwing out the baby with the bath water” so to speak. This can be incremental — as small as one degree. This is the One-Degree Principal.[1] Have you heard of it? It’s a simple concept and easy to remember. It has a lot to do with taking small, incremental steps in the direction of our goals. When added together, the small steps produce big results over time. A minute one-degree of change has huge outcomes over time and/or distance. It just depends if that one-degree of change is positive or negative.

north southTo illustrate: Imagine a Wacoan and an Austinite go on a business trip to Montreal, Canada. They each fly out of their respective cities and plan to return the same way. On the return flight, however, the two pilots each get off bearing just one degree in the wrong direction. As a result, the Austinite ends up in Waco and the Wacoan ends up in Austin.

In much the same way, each of us are traveling along our path, and based on our habits and actions one can project where he or she will be in ten years.  However, if you decide to make just one small change in your actions – even a 1 degree change – that one change will alter your path, and ultimately alter your outcome. This is true when it comes to saving money, building relationships, getting fit, deciding the fate of a city … in fact every area of our lives. Let it begin with me.

I am a realist-idealist! I recognize that this sounds like an oxymoron. What I mean is, I would prefer that we strive to arrive at a place that is ideal! But, I know that is not realistic.  However, if we can shoot for somewhere between “less than ideal” and “more than mediocrity,” then I do believe that is a realistic expectation.

We can’t just stay where we are though, something has to give. These are tumultuous and perilous times. Let us not allow politics to divide us over doing the right thing for the common good. Let’s let the common good and morality unite us to do the right thing. We have come a long way. Thanks be to God that most of us do not know the horrors of The Great Depression of 1929-1939. However, we still have homeless individuals dying on our streets. Affordable housing stock is still lacking. Jobs in the private sector are still not 100 percent on board with a Fair Chance Hiring Policy that would give opportunity to more formerly incarcerated individuals to become contributors to the common good.

How do we get where we want to go? What do we want our future to look like? We are co-authors of our destiny. We make our plans, but God directs our steps, right? What degree of change can we make? Let’s work together today to be a fair city, one where all can be prosperous and everyone wins. It takes a village to raise a child, so they say.  I guess that makes us village people! We can be one community with many tribes working together for a common goal – understanding that if the whole community prospers, then we too shall prosper.

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” — Jeremiah 29:7

Jerrod ClarkJerrod Clark is a Texas transplant. He came to Waco in 1996 to attend school and never left. He is a graduate of Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work and is the Social Worker at the Meyer Center for Urban Ministries. He has been working with the homeless since 1998. He and his wife, Carolina of seven years have two daughters, Nichole and Hannah Jean. They are active participants at Church Under the Bridge.

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.


[1] Adapted from: http://www.almondtreeministries.com.au/the-one-degree-principle/