Finding unity through the crisis

By Jamie Willmann

In a time where much dissension exists, where the world is hurting out of a lack of love and community, and where isolation has hindered social interaction, we can find a sense of connection in the most unexpected places.

There is benefit in meeting someone who is experiencing the same trials or pain we are going through. Though we may all come from differing backgrounds, we can find unity in this COVID-19 disaster by digging a little under the surface. Underneath, we still find persons who have emotions and feelings that are directly affected by the state of the world. 

Finding commonality in trials breeds possible connection. When we relate to one another, sympathy is present. It creates a sense of safety knowing that someone knows what we are experiencing. We may not feel as lonely in our trials anymore, and it creates an internal sense of validation. 

People across the world are experiencing an influx of changes to their normal routines. By nature, we are adaptable to new environments and changes, but the pandemic is entirely on a new scale. It is bringing new situations that we never thought possible. 

We are not designed to be isolated from others. We crave community and the presence of others. As we now adjust to something that goes against our nature, problems arise. Anxiety increases, and irritability becomes present. 

In the moments when you feel COVID-19 has shattered your daily life, imagine that you are standing at the edge of potential for growth. Although you may feel anxious, depressed, or fearful, you also share in the fact that there is growth that can come out of this. You, however, have to choose that path. 

The first step is acknowledging you need help and then accepting a helping hand from your neighbor. 

There is a conception of mental health that needs to be stopped. Many believe they must appear as if they have it all together, which then inhibits them from receiving the help that could change the trajectory of their daily lives. We must break down these expectations to allow others in to help us.

Whether you are facing job loss, money problems, sickness, or family loss, know that you are not alone. Nowhere does it say that you have to do this on your own. 

Our Crisis Counseling Program (called Texans Recovering Together) is made possible by a dedicated group of professional counselors. 

— We are a team of people devoted to providing accessible, caring, and responsive services. 

— We are here to listen to you, to build you up, and to provide you with what you need to press on. 

— We are a network of community support that is here by your side. 

By empowering our communities and taking a strength-based approach, our services provide empowerment to the community and resilience to combat the fear. We believe that we are better together, and we want to help you through these hard times.

Call us at toll-free at (866) 576-1101 to speak with a counselor, or request counseling here.

We are #TexansRecoveringTogether. We are here to help you recover. 

Jamie Willmann was raised in a Christian home and was taught to serve and love others at an early age. She has a passion for making people smile and brightening people’s days. Jamie came from Wisconsin three years ago to attend Baylor, where she graduated with a degree in international studies. She now devotes her free time to self-care, exercising, relaxing in nature, and fellowship with friends.

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.

10 Waco organizations collaborate to promote free mental health services

City of Waco

Strategic Communications Workgroup  

MEDIA RELEASE  

Ten Waco organizations are partnering with Heart of Texas MHMR to  promote free, confidential mental health services available to all Central Texans. Mental health needs have risen with COVID-19, and these organizations want community members to know there is help available at no cost to the recipient.  

Heart of Texas MHMR is participating in the Texans Recovering Together Crisis Counseling Program that provides short-term interventions to help people impacted by COVID-19. The program is available to anyone impacted by COVID-19 and is designed to reduce stress and provide emotional support, as well as connect folks with other agencies that can help in the recovery process. All services are free, anonymous, confidential, and available by virtual visit.  

While many organizations are working together to promote a safe, healthy environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health can’t be overlooked. The uncertainty brought on by the virus coupled with job loss, financial burdens, education complexities, and health concerns has led to an  increase in stress, anxiety, and other mental health needs across the county. Texans Recovering Together  is here to help our community get through this crisis.  

The organizations participating in the campaign include McLennan Community College, United Way of Waco-McLennan County, Prosper Waco, Baylor University, Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Waco Foundation, the City of Waco, and McLennan County.  

Each participating organization will promote a series of social media posts on specific days in an effort to  widely spread messaging about mental health assistance. The Communications Co-op, co-funded by the  City of Waco, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, and Waco Foundation, will provide grants to each organization for social media promotion of the mental health campaign. 

The Strategic Communications Workgroup is one of four committees established by Mayor Kyle Deaver in an effort to provide accurate information to all residents of Waco and McLennan County.

For more information, contact Natalie Kelinske, director of communications & donor services for Waco Foundation, at nkelinske@wacofoundation.org  or 254-754-3404.

Overdose Awareness Saves Lives – Overdose Awareness Day, August 31

By Becca Muncy

International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event that takes place on August 31 each year and aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death.

This year’s International Overdose Awareness Day in Waco will be hosted by the VASA (Voices Against Substance Abuse) Community Coalition, a program of VOICE (Viable Options in Community Endeavors), a nonprofit that teaches healthy living skills, including avoiding substance abuse. The event includes:

  • Virtual overdose training from Baylor University’s Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center (one session in the morning form 10-11:45 and one in the afternoon from 3-4:45)
  • Food and refreshments from MHMR Substance Abuse Services from 1:00-6:00 PM at 2220 Austin Ave.
  • NARCAN overdose reversal kits provided by Central Texas Harm Reduction, available at 2220 Austin Ave.
  • T-shirts provided by Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, also available at 2220 Austin Ave.
  • Referrals for free telehealth family counseling sessions for families affected by addiction

In addition to the trainings and activities listed above, the I-35 Interstate bridge near McLane stadium will also be lit purple in remembrance of those who have died or been injured by overdose.

In the United States, 67,367 overdose deaths occurred in 2018 (Center for Disease Control) and 70,980 occurred in 2019 (American Hospital Association). And with the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of drug related deaths have risen by 18%, as people struggle with isolation and those who are in addiction recovery programs are cut off from their support systems (NPR). Now, more than ever, raising awareness of overdose, recognizing the signs of overdose, learning how to prevent or reverse overdose, and grieving with the loved ones of overdose victims is vital.

The main goal of International Overdose Awareness Day is to bring awareness and education to the community. Jessica Wheeler-Macias, Community Coalition Coordinator at VOICE, said it’s important for everyone to know the basics of overdose prevention and reversal, and that breaking down the stigma around discussions of overdose is an important step in spreading that knowledge. Breaking down the stigma includes breaking down the stereotypes of those affected by addiction or overdose. Wheeler-Macias said she wishes everyone knew that the issue of overdose doesn’t discriminate, and that there is no one type of person who will become a victim of overdose, as victims come from all walks of life. “It can be anyone,” Wheeler-Macias said, adding that family members didn’t create the disease of addiction that led to overdose. 

Lily Ettinger, Assistant Director of Wellness of Recovery Services at the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center, stressed the importance of widespread education as well, saying, “Most people aren’t overdosing in professional settings… it’s in their homes and communities, so it’s important for everyone, not just first responders, to be empowered in knowing how to respond.” She also said something she wished more people knew about overdose prevention is that overdosing often isn’t as extreme as it’s shown in the media and that overdose deaths aren’t always instantaneous. She pointed specifically to opioid overdose, which can happen over the course of several hours, where “there is time available to save someone’s life.”

Ettinger has also seen the effect overdose education and overdose prevention has on overdose survivors, saying, “Their lives today aren’t the same as they were back then, but that’s because they were gifted the chance to survive.”

Wheeler-Macias said she hopes this event will start new conversations about overdose and overdose prevention. She hopes with the training and information provided during the event, people will be able to better identify the signs and signals of overdose and not be afraid to address it when they see it. She said the biggest takeaway she hopes people will have is the simple fact that overdose is a “completely preventable death” and that everyone has the opportunity to save a life with the appropriate training, and that the Waco community has the opportunity to raise “everyday heroes.” And in the end, those everyday heroes, Wheeler-Macias said, “Are what make the world go around… people helping people.”

For those who find themselves hungry to learn and do more after August 31, Ettinger said Waco has “a wealth of resources” including those participating in this event and beyond, like the Central Texas Harm Reduction, Cenikor, The VASA Coalition, the Poison Control Center, Oxford Houses, and the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center.

Sign ups for the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center’s overdose prevention training sessions are available at  https://www.baylor.edu/barc/index.php?id=972252 and more information about International Overdose Awareness Day can be found on the VASA Community Coalition Facebook page.


Becca Muncy is an Act Locally intern from Dallas. She is studying professional writing at Baylor University and is completing her senior year.

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.

Substance Use Disorder lost in the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Bill Baily, President and CEO of Cenikor Foundation

As the country learns to fight the coronavirus, the opioid epidemic has slipped back to the shadows. Just a few months ago, that epidemic was taking almost 200 lives per day, 67,367 in 2018, and had become a household topic. Taskforces, committees, legislators, communities and treatment providers were standing together to help make resources available for those that found themselves suffering from addiction issues.

We are facing a time of unprecedented stress and unknowns. Unemployment is rapidly rising. Social distancing brings the psychological fallout of isolation. It is vitally important, now more than ever, to the health of our nation to ensure that treatment is available and accessible. Times of high stress bring with them an increase in alcohol and drug use and abuse which compounds the issues that our families and communities are already facing. According to a National Institute on Drug Abuse report following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, “stressful times are particularly difficult for those who are more vulnerable to substance abuse and stress. Stress is one of the most powerful triggers for relapse in addicted individuals, even after long periods of abstinence”.

As we all know, hospitals are dealing daily with the pandemic and we are so grateful for the doctors and nurses showing up every day. A lesser known fact is that as stay at home orders have been issued across Texas, substance use disorder services have been designated essential services. This further emphasizes the necessity for those struggling with addictions to be able to receive the services they so desperately need. At Cenikor Foundation, we have been serving a community in the crisis of addiction for over 53 years and continue to meet the challenge through this crisis. True to the trends we have seen in previous crises, we continue to see a steady stream of calls for help. Our staff have risen to the challenge to provide safe environments for those seeking services and continue to provide daily the care that is necessary to save the lives of those suffering from addiction. We are honored and privileged to continue being a place for change during, through, and after this national crisis. Whether you or someone you love is searching for detoxification, short term residential/inpatient or outpatient treatment services in the Waco area, and whether you are insured, uninsured or under-insured, we can help. For every unique situation, there is a door to successful recovery, there are resources available and it is the right time to ask for help.


Bill Bailey has served as President and CEO of Cenikor Foundation since 2004. Through Bill Bailey’s 16 years of leadership, Cenikor has provided strategic guidance, igniting a successful cycle of growth in geographic scope and treatment services within Cenikor’s full continuum of care. Bill’s commitment to Cenikor and the overall behavioral health community is one of long-term success, focused on Cenikor raising public awareness in the areas of treatment, prevention and education, and continuing a progressive movement on a national level. 

Mental Health in the Time of Corona Virus: Helping Children Cope Emotionally


From your Heart of Texas Region MHMR (For more posts in this series, click here: Mental Health in the Time of Corona Virus)


Children are being flooded with information about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) from a variety of sources.  This is a unique situation that may leave parents questioning what to say to their children and how to address the possible emotional fallout from this concerning and anxiety-producing time in our society.

Children need to have important, factual, and appropriate information. They are likely receiving information from peers, adults, social media, and news outlets. We know that not all of this information is accurate.  Parents should provide accurate information in an effort to reduce possible confusion, fear and anxiety and to provide reassurance.  Be careful not to provide too much information and keep it at a level that the child is able to understand.

Remain sensitive to your child’s mood, behavior, and any noticeable changes in regular patterns such as sleeping and eating.   Some children keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, while others act out their emotions. If you notice changes in your child, encourage them to express their feelings so you can explain and provide support. This provides safety and security for your child in the midst of difficult feelings and emotions. 

Continue to have as much structure in the day as your time will allow. Life as your children know it has been disrupted probably more than any other time in their lives. They are not attending school, they may not be seeing friends, sporting events have been cancelled or postponed, and they may be staying home more. Structure can decrease the amount of anxiety a child may be feeling, and give them a sense of control.

Provide children with practices that decrease the chances of getting the virus. Inform your children of the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations on what safety steps can be taken to lessen the spread of the virus (e.g., washing hands frequently, using wipes to clean surfaces, not gathering in large groups, keeping distance from others, using proper means to cover mouth when coughing or sneezing). This will offer children a sense of control over the spread of the virus.

Be aware of your own responses to COVID-19. Children take signals from their parents. Try to be aware of how you are feeling and your own experiences around COVID-19, and how this can affect your child. Speak to a friend, spouse or other trusted person to talk about your concerns and anxieties.  Don’t wait to feel overwhelmed by your worries to speak to others.  Having ongoing discussion with others will help you with your own anxieties and in not feeling you are alone in your concerns.


MHMR Mental Health Hot line – 254-752-3451 or 1-866-752-3451 – 24 hours a day. For questions related to substance use challenges, call 254-297-8999. Call 911 for a life-threatening crisis. 

Stress from Corona Virus: Will you react or respond?

By Darryl W. Thomas, Jr.

I am a U.S. Marine (two-time) Wartime Veteran who was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I know first-hand their terrible effects. It can feel like a big black hole at times, sending its victim into an endless spiral of dark times. Over the years, with adequate support and resources, I have drastically improved my mental health. Mentally, I am now in a healthy and peaceful place.

As I sit here, I can’t help but think about the uproar that this COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has caused to echo throughout the world. Many are oppressed by fear, overwhelmed by uncertainty and overtaken by anxiety. During these times, it is natural to focus on self-preservation.

To focus on surviving is not a bad thing; however, to only focus on you is not exactly good, either.  Particularly for those of us who are parents, it is important to remember that our children depend on us to model appropriate ways to handle stress and anxiety during tumultuous times such as these. 

Healthy self-preservation includes mental health (the way you think, feel and behave) and spiritual wellness (guiding values, principles, morals and beliefs). In many stressful instances, people tend to merely react to a situation instead of responding to a situation. To react, simply, means to impulsively act based on something that happened. To respond means to deliberately act after giving thought to your guiding values, principles morals and beliefs.

I once heard a quote that said, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, but it’s the way that you carry it.” – Author Unknown

I agree 100 percent. In most cases, it isn’t the stress that brings us to our knees. Rather, it is the mismanagement of stress that does so.

As an At-Risk Interventionist, I have more than 20 years of experience working with at-risk youth, teens and young adults. In 2013, I founded a nonprofit called, The Size Of a Man ( www.SizeOfaMan.org ).  Through this practice I have learned that healthy, thriving, meaningful relationships are crucial for young people. In addition to working with kids professionally, I have five kids of my own.  As parents, we know all-too-well the importance of us maintaining a healthy, thriving relationship with our children. Also, we know that our children learn by example. It is our responsibility and in the best interest of our offspring that we learn to effectively manage stress.

When we, the parents, respond to the stressful times in a responsible manner, we teach our children to do the same. Depending on the strength of that parent-child relationship, our kids tend to follow our lead and respond to stress in the same ways we do.

So, during this global crisis, how should we manage our stress and self-preservation in a way that sets a good example for our kids?  I have two suggestions:

Tip #1: Understand that your problems, stressors, and challenges have an expiration date. These difficulties will end, and the stress that they bring will subside if we choose to handle it responsibly.  Hopefully this tip liberates you and helps you respond rather than react to your stress.

Tip #2: Remember that a closed mouth doesn’t get fed. Even as adults, there are times when we need help. Sometimes we really don’t have the answers to our problems. That’s fine. Be okay with admitting that and seeking out help from someone that you trust. Remember, if you fail to open your mouth and make it known to others that you need help, then you more than likely won’t get the help that you need.

In my humble opinion, this COVID-19 pandemic will soon pass, but the memories that you create during this time will likely outlive you.  Don’t just react – Respond.  Stay safe!


Darryl W. Thomas, Jr., affectionately known as Coach D, is a former at-risk youth turned U.S. Marine and Champion for the Underdog. With more than 20 years of experience working with the at-risk youth, teens and young adults, Coach D has dedicated his time, energy and life’s work to inspiring, challenging and empowering the underdogs to win in the face of adversity and hardships. He is a motivational speaker, published author, life coach, at-risk interventionist, and, most importantly, a family man. If you would like more tips on how to help your teen navigate through anxiety and depression, then checkout https://www.DarrylWThomas.com .

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.

Uniting the Community to Curb Binge Drinking

By Jessica Wheeler-Macias

Over the last 6 years, a group of concerned community members has been striving to reduce substance use and misuse in Waco and surrounding communities. The Voices Against Substance Abuse, or VASA, community coalition consists of representatives from various community sectors, such as education, law enforcement, faith-based organizations, community services, substance abuse prevention programs, businesses, local government, volunteers, parents and youth, all working to reduce the use and misuse of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs among youth and young adults. The coalition’s efforts in addressing these issues target the communities as a whole through the use of environmental strategies such as media campaigns, presentations and policy development.

 The coalition is currently conducting a media campaign targeting a specific method of alcohol misuse: binge drinking. For clarification, we’ve provided answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding binge drinking and its effects.  

What is binge drinking?

The simplest answer to this question is that binge drinking is the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in short period of time. However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking as the consumption of 5 or more standard drinks for men and 4 or more standard drinks for women in a single setting at least 1 day in the past 30 days. A standard drink would be 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits of liquor.

 How dangerous is binge drinking?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has identified binge drinking as the most common, costly and deadly pattern of alcohol misuse. Alcohol affects many of a person’s vital functions, leading to slurred speech, unsteadiness, altered perceptions and slow reactivity. For a young person, alcohol can alter the development of their brain, causing lasting damage to memory, motor skills and coordination. The amount of alcohol consumed and how quickly it is consumed, amplifies the amount and onset of the effects of the alcohol. Binge drinking is associated with many health problems, such as accidental injuries, violence, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, chronic diseases, cancer, memory and learning problems and alcohol dependence. Binge drinking is a serious problem, but it is preventable.

 Who is binge drinking?

According to the CDC, 1 in 6 US adults, most commonly between the ages of 18 and 34, binge drinks about four times per month, consuming about 7 drinks per binge. That’s 17 billion total binge drinks consumed by adults annually. However, it’s not just adults that are binge drinking. The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey-2017 states that, nationwide, 13.5% of high school students were binge drinking.

 Is binge drinking the same as alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is a chronic disease that affects all aspects of a person’s life and continues despite serious health, legal and family problems. Binge drinking is a harmful pattern of alcohol misuse that can contribute to alcohol dependence but can be stopped.  

How can binge drinking be prevented?

There are several environmental strategies that can help prevent the excessive use of alcohol, including:

  • Pricing strategies, such as increased alcohol taxes;
  • Limiting the number of alcohol retailers and the days and hours of alcohol sales;
  • Consistently enforcing laws against underage drinking and impaired driving; and,
  • Screening and counseling for alcohol misuse.

However, the first step is educating individuals and communities about the dangers of alcohol use and misuse through presentations, media and substance abuse prevention programs.

Jessica Wheeler-Macias is the Voices Against Substance Abuse Community (VASA) Coalition Coordinator a program of VOICE.


Jessica has worked in the field of drug prevention education for the past five years and has a decade of experience working as a certified elementary school teacher in the State of Texas. She is the mother of 9- year-old Max Macias and 8-year-old Will Macias. Drug Prevention and community partnerships are her passion and she is happy to assist in providing your groups with presentations, booth events, as well as collaborate with your organization to create fun drug-free community events.

 For more information, resources, to schedule a presentation or if you are interested in joining the Voices Against Substance Abuse (VASA) coalition please contact VOICE at 254-741-9222 or info@voiceinc.org.

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.

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.

Our Community Our Future: Collaborating to serve the mental health needs of young people in our community

By Kelli McAdams

The Heart of Texas Region system of care, “Our Community Our Future (OCOF),” was created in the Fall of 2015 when a committee of community stakeholders came together to look at the mental health needs of children and adolescents in our community. The intention of the “system of care” is to create new opportunities for collaboration, to discover new revenue streams and to braid funding across agencies, in an effort to identify and fill gaps in services for children, youth, and young adults in our community.

OCOF’s overall mission is “Collaborating with and connecting families through a shared community vision to provide a culturally responsive continuum of care so children, youth and young adults are supported in becoming healthy and successful in the Heart of Texas region.” Since 2015, through continued and new collaborations with community partners, OCOF has helped to establish new programs in three major area: School Based Mental Health services, Transition Age Youth services, and Youth Crisis Respite services.

School Based Mental Health services address mental health needs within the educational system. This is done by placing a counselor and case manager at individual school sites to serve the most intensive mental health needs of the children and adolescents at that school. These in-school mental health professionals make it possible for children and adolescents to receive the care they need with minimal disruption to their school day. Having the mental health professionals in the school provides for quick and easy access to a counselor or case manager during times of crisis and allows for collaboration with school staff to best meet the student’s needs. At the end of 2018, the School-Based Mental Health program had 18 mental health staff at 40 campuses across 10 school districts. The program has become a model for the area, with nearby school districts taking notice and requesting information. Multiple school districts have also demonstrated confidence in the program through financial contribution to maintain sustainability.

Transition Age Youth (TAY) services support youth and young adults, between the ages of 18-22, who are transitioning into adulthood. TAY services connect these young people to mental health services that help them to obtain stable housing, to establish healthy adult relationships, and to achieve education and employment goals. The program’s Case Manager, Supported Education and Employment Specialist, and Program Manager were also recently trained in the unique developmental needs of transition age youth, strategies to support engagement with this population, and the adapted Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model of supported employment. The TAY program currently has a caseload of approximately 30 individuals, and consistently remains at capacity.

The Youth Crisis Respite House (YCRH) is a six-bed, short-term, living-room model, respite facility for youth between the ages of 13-17 who are experiencing a mental health or behavioral health crisis. The intention is to provide respite service within our community in order to reduce the number unnecessary out-of-home placements such as juvenile placement, CPS placement, or psychiatric hospitalization. After many months of preparations and creative funding, the YCRH recently received the approval by The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to open the facility and begin serving youth. Since opening its doors in late March, the house has successfully served five youth and continues to receive referrals.

In addition to these services, the OCOF includes family advocates who work to make sure families have a voice in the system of care. Family partners and family representatives work alongside and support families in their journeys, and OCOF created a Parent Cafe which provides a space for parents and caregivers to gather together, share information, and support one another.

OCOF’s current community partners include:

  • Bill Logue Juvenile Justice
  • Central Texas Youth Services
  • China Spring ISD
  • The Cove
  • Connally ISD
  • DFPS – Child Protective Services
  • Education Service Center Region 12
  • Hill County Juvenile Probation Department
  • Hillsboro ISD
  • Klaras Center for Families – Heart of Texas Region MHMR
  • LaVega ISD
  • Lorena ISD
  • Marlin ISD
  • Midway ISD
  • NAMI Waco
  • Prosper Waco
  • Robinson ISD
  • Starry Counseling
  • Unbound
  • Waco ISD
  • Waco Center for Youth
  • Whitney ISD
  • VASA / Voice

Kelli McAdams, LCSW, is the Program Director for Youth Crisis Respite House at the Heart of Texas Region MHMR. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has a master’s degree of Science in Social Work with a concentration in mental health as well as a bachelor’s degree in Social Work, both from the University of Texas at Arlington.