Prosper Waco: The state of education and building our local workforce

By Tristen Coffee

As a current intern at Prosper Waco, I can speak to the power of internships. The opportunity to get hands-on experience in a field that interests you is valuable for personal and professional development, and also helps when it comes to getting hired for that first job. A job candidate with pertinent internship experience automatically has at least a little bit of an advantage during a job interview compared to someone with no experience at all.

One of the community goals that the Prosper Waco initiative was created to support is to Increase youth employment.  One strategy for making progress on that goal is to help young people get job experience through high school internships.

The Prosper Waco backbone organization and Waco ISD have worked together since 2016 to build and grow a summer internship program that pairs rising seniors with local employers to create paid internships in an industry relevant to each student’s specific career academy. This program has proven to be beneficial to students and employers alike, and will continue to develop as students from other McLennan County school districts start to participate. (To learn more about summer internships and the other education-related initiatives that Prosper Waco is helping to support, visit this webpage:

Student internships are great opportunities for the individual students who participate, and they are also a part of a larger strategy of talent development for our region.

On Wednesday, November 7, Prosper Waco, the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce and the Heart of Texas P-20 Regional Council are hosting a luncheon to share information about the current state of public education in Texas. Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will give an update on the progress that has been made and the challenges we still face in regard to public education today. Local experts will provide regional data on student achievement as well as information about how area schools are working to solve problems and prepare their students for the future.

In addition to the keynote speaker, the luncheon will feature a panel of superintendents: Dr. Marcus Nelson of Waco ISD, Dr. George Kazanas of Midway ISD and Dr. Sharon Shields of La Vega ISD. Dr. Phil Rhodes will also present local workforce pipeline data, encompassing college and career readiness. This will give the community a good chance to get an insider look at how our local school districts are working to make sure young people growing up in the greater Waco area can provide the workforce we need for the coming decades.

The opportunities for businesses to work with schools in a mutually-beneficial manner will be a major theme of the event. This could look like businesses providing internships or job-shadowing opportunities, providing mentors for students, taking part in Advisory Boards, etc. The higher the quality education provided in the Waco area, the better our workforce will be down the road. Businesses typically have the resources, and high school students typically have the willingness to learn from practical experience. The collaboration between businesses and education is a win for everyone.

This event will be held at the Baylor Club (1001 S MLK Blvd). Doors open at 10:30 a.m. for networking and a “School Spotlight,” and the luncheon itself will kickoff at 11:30. This event will not only provide clarity on where we are with public education today, but will also spark conversations about how we can build a world-class workforce and ultimately strengthen our economy. On behalf of the P-20 Council, the Chamber and Prosper Waco, we hope to see you there! 

Tristen Coffee is a senior Journalism/Public Relations major with a concentration in Marketing at Baylor University. She is currently the PR/Communications intern at Prosper Waco. Originally from Temple, TX right down I-35, Tristen has loved calling Waco home for the past going-on-four years and is excited (but not quite ready) to see where life takes her after graduation in May.

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.



To tell all of Waco’s History we have to listen

The Historic Waco Foundation has launched a strategic process to understand Waco’s story from a number of perspectives in order to form future partnerships and programs that would offer the greatest benefit to the community. This post is one in a series to share with you how that work is progressing and how you can get involved.  For the rest of the posts in this series, click here: Historic Waco Foundation Series. — ALW

By Clint Lynch

America today is in a revolutionary state of mind. We continue to tear down prohibitive, outdated norms and work hard to build new ones that benefit our entire country. Look at the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements – both have had a tremendous impact on how we look at our past. As a historian and someone who works with the local historical community, I am seeing Wacoans eager to address our complete history, including the pieces that are all too often not discussed.

I am a current board member and the incoming vice president of the Historic Waco Foundation, and I am seeing a transformation of this 50-year-old organization as we broaden our work to follow our long-held mantra: Preserve, Educate and Inspire. Yes, Historic Waco Foundation is stepping outside of the historic homes and beginning to listen to the community to help tell all of Waco’s history, not just a small part of it.

The Waco community has made great strides in recent years to create a space for listening to the stories that have for so long remained unheard by the general public. In 2016, Historic Waco Foundation hosted the black history exhibit “Footprints of African Americans in McLennan County.” The project took more than a year to curate and spotlighted major, yet largely unfamiliar, contributions by local African Americans to the region.

Among the artifacts that filled the second floor of Historic Waco Foundation’s Fort House during the exhibit’s four-month run was a rare recording of Jules Bledsoe, a pioneer in American music and the first African-American artists to gain regular employment on Broadway. The exhibit also highlighted many of the individuals who have significantly contributed to the betterment of Waco, such as Mae Jackson, Waco’s first female African American mayor, and longtime Waco ISD board member, Emma Harrison.

Historic Waco Foundation that same year hosted “Historia Hispano: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and History in Waco.” The exhibit explored Waco’s rich Hispanic history that began long before Texas became part of the United States.

Still, here in Waco, many stories remain untold, and the people and places our communities care about have not received the attention they deserve. What’s more, because the traditional preservation movement was slow to help in the past, many Waco-area communities have already taken on efforts to articulate their stories themselves.

Historic Waco Foundation wants to support these efforts and build a more inclusive organization – one that engages people from all backgrounds and works alongside, not in place of, these efforts to understand the people and places that matter to everyone – and we realize that the only way to do that is to listen.

We recently held a gathering of community leaders to hear some of those stories. That said, if we are serious about telling our complete story, and we are, we know that nothing short of robust community input will suffice. And while recognizing our communities’ collective history is the first step, Historic Waco Foundation’s work will not end there. We will continue to explore and support valuable initiatives and partnerships with organizations like Waco’s Hispanic Museum and the Central Texas African American Heritage Foundation in a continued effort to be a Historic Waco Foundation for all of Waco.

Submit your comments, question and stories to Historic Waco Foundation by email at  or by mail to Historic Waco Foundation, 810 South 4th Street, Waco, Texas 76706.

Clint Lynch is the General Manager of Oakwood Cemetery and Historic Waco Foundation’s incoming vice president. He attended Sam Houston State University where he received a degree in history and political science. In 1998, Clint became a historian with the State Cemetery in Austin where he had the opportunity to use both his love of Texas history and politics.  After spending several years as a funeral director in Abilene and Wichita Falls, Clint returned to his hometown of Waco in April 2016 to join the staff at Oakwood Cemetery.

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.








Trails and Trials: The Power of Positivity

(This post is a part of a regular series “Trails & Trials,” a monthly adventure series inspiring others to experience the physical, mental, and social benefits of cycling, running or swimming in Central Texas. For more posts in this series, click here: Trails and Trials.  – ALW)

By Natasha van der Merwe

“Race with courage and gratitude!”
“Never ever give up!”
“Keep moving forward!”
“Finish with a smile!”
“H.O.P.E. Hold on Pain Ends”
“Believe and be fearless!”

The inaugural Bicycle World IRONMAN(R) 70.3(R) Waco Triathlon was a smashing success based on the 3,000 triathletes in attendance. World class pros and locals remarked about the incredible Waco hospitality and breathtaking courses winding through Cameron Park and beyond. Throughout the three-day event, I had the opportunity to strike up conversations inside IRONMAN Village.

I asked fellow triathletes about their ‘go-to mantra’ for race day. These were their responses. All well-known phrases people have learned to hold onto during tough times. Words that inspire, give hope, and motivate. Many of these words have also come from overcoming hard times, not only in the sport, but in their lives. Athletes overcoming loss of family, beating cancer, depression, or a substance addiction.  All have found a way to be positive and chase a lifestyle and goal to be proud of.

One of the simplest concepts of sports psychology is developing positive self-talk during a race. It’s also one of the hardest sports psychology skills to master. Personally, learning how to master positive self-talk during a race has more appeal to me than learning how to better my swim, bike or run. I know through experience that working on the mental side of my race day preparation can go much further than the physical preparation when it comes to having my best race. Research supports the theory that an athlete who continually practices positive self-talk will improve his or her sports performance.

Knowing that a positive mind can overcome any pain or fatigue one may be experiencing, I have put this theory to the test not only during a race but also during one of my very long five hour training rides on a cycle trainer indoors. On the indoor training days, I typically watch Netflix or past coverage of Ironman races.  This particular day, I decided to fill all five hours of cycling with motivational videos found on YouTube. All five hours of positivity left no room for negative self-talk, fatigue or doubt. A collection of different videos shared one same message, “Whatever you put your mind to, and work hard enough at, you can achieve.” To this day, that was the best training ride of my life. Instead of being completely exhausted at the end, I was more invigorated than I was before I started the ride.

I took this learned lesson into my next race – IRONMAN Wisconsin(R). I spent the day before the race watching my favorite 20-min motivational video three times, memorizing my favorite lines. I watched it once more on race morning as I ate my breakfast and stretched out in the hotel room. I walked to the start line that morning more energized than I had ever felt in my ten-year racing career. I felt like nothing could bring me down.

As the race began, I adopted two mantras from that video for my race focus. I started with determination “I can. I will. I must.” and ended with resolve “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

I was drawn to using “I can, I will, I must” because it was short, memorable and had a great rhythm to it. As my arms turned over in the swim, and with every pedal stroke, I was able to repeat it over and over. One would think I would get bored of it, but surprisingly enough it was such a powerful phrase that for me in those moments, every time I repeated it I felt stronger.

During the marathon portion of the race, I used “ It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” as a pep talk to myself after what had happened earlier in the race. For the first time in my racing career, at the very start of the bike course, my right side glute started cramping. I could not lift my leg to pedal and found myself standing on the side of the road stretching. I watched the advantage I had gained swimming disappear, as the athletes I had passed in that part of the event came flying by me. Ten minutes of stretching later, my body released and I was able to get back on the bike and restart my day. If it were not for the mental preparation I had done before the race, I am 100% sure my day would have ended right there or I would have gone on to have a terrible race. Instead, I was able to close the race with one of my best IRONMAN(R) performances and without one single negative thought for the rest of the day. Definitely an accomplishment I am proud of.

So, how do you create your own mantra?

There is definitely not just one way to make a great mantra. I’ve created mantras from all kinds of sources: coaches, workouts, things I randomly think about, or even something a friend or training partner has said to me. Whatever creates a repetitive, believable, positive image for you can work. Here are a couple of general qualities you can use to create your own mantra:

  1. Keep it short and simple. You’ll be saying these words repeatedly through the day. You don’t want to have to think about the words. It should just come naturally.
  2. Relate your words to other successes. Mantras are most effective if they help you recall other successes you’ve had. It could be a great workout or a strong race you’ve accomplished.
  3. Think of the form you will use. On the run, a mantra I have routinely used in the past is ‘Tall and Light’ or ‘Quick Feet’ just repeated over and over again to match my run cadence. I find it especially helpful later in the race when the fatigue really hits.

As I wrap up memories from this past weekend, I hope all IRONMAN(R) 70.3(R) Waco triathletes can join me in celebrating a job well done. From mishaps to mantras, every triathlon provides a unique learning experience that can be carried on to the next race. Then again, races are like life, there are always challenges so no matter what you face, remember this one simple phrase, “There will be a day I cannot do this, today is not that day.”

Natasha van der Merwe is originally from South Africa. She is mom to a 19-month old girl, former professional tennis player and tennis instructor, and a professional triathlete representing Bicycle World and Waco Running Company.  She has multiple top 10 finishes in Ironman and 70.3 events around the world. She is Director of Team Programs for Bicycle World, Texas.

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.





Active Participation in the Voting Process is Transformational

By Gwendolyn McNuckles

I am experiencing a transformational experience.  I am serving as an Election Official at The First Assembly of God Early Voting location on Bosque Street in Waco, Texas.  This location has recorded the highest number of early voters in Waco for this election thus far.  At the closing of the polls Saturday night more than 10,000 people had cast their ballot there.  Many commented this is a record turnout.

My assignment is to be a greeter.  I help people move through the line to the check-in desks judiciously.  It is a blessing to me to serve in this capacity.  Registered voters from all walks of life pass me.  No matter how people are categorized, at that moment we are ONE.  WE are a homogeneous group with one purpose.  To use our right as citizens of the United States to cast our vote for the candidates and issues of our choice freely and without hindrance.

The lines are longer than anyone can remember in recent history.  Some are frustrated for the wait time.  In previous elections, we have been able to walk in and out.  We forget short lines meant lack of participation.  To have a government that reflects our views and needs we must participate.   As I stand at my post, I celebrate these long lines.  Many people comment with the same pleasure at seeing people using their rights.  Although I realize no one wants to stand in a long line for any reason.  I am grateful for the challenge.  I enjoy the position.  You meet the nicest people in the voting lines.  I have personally met over 5,000 people while working.

This experience is growing and strengthening me.  For example, I am learning it is important to take the time to communicate to people when change occurs. I am learning when I explain things using my best logic, sometimes that is understandable to others…other times, not so much.  I am learning to listen to the opinions of others who don’t agree with my brilliant plan.  After I have listened with empathy and not anger, I ask them to provide suggestions that will better suit the situation.  I hear many thoughts that have not occurred to me and try as many as I can.  These experiences are teaching me to be loving, caring, flexible and to work together with people who don’t agree with me.

Voting in the United States of America is a precious right. It has been a long hard fought journey to ensure every citizen can take part in the process.  It is something we have grown to take for granted.  I often hear people say they don’t vote because one vote does not count.  Susan B. Anthony and the Women Suffragettes marched in the streets, were beaten and jailed fighting for the right for women to vote.  Martin Luther King, Jr. the Freedom Riders and many others marched, were beaten, bled and died for the right to vote.  The minimum age to vote was changed from 21 years old to 18 years old because our young people were dying in the Viet Nam War at the age of 18.  They were fighting and dying to preserve our freedoms that we now take for granted in this nation at 18, but could not vote until the age of 21.

Some think if they are prayed up and place all their trust in God, they need not vote.  They fail to remember even Jesus paid his taxes and instructed all of us to render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.  No matter how spiritual and religious we may be, there has been a provision to have a voice in protecting the civil liberties we hold dear.  Our right to assembly in our churches was established through the governmental system.  Everything I have cited above requires prayer, to be sure, but they also required civic action.  We will continue to need prayers and faith in God, but we also have a civic duty to participate in the governmental process.

When I met my husband, Roosevelt McNuckles, our first date was Sunday school and our second date was to register me to vote.  Roosevelt was born and raised in Mississippi.  He said, “If people were being killed to keep them from voting; it must be important to vote.”  Although he is no longer with us, I remember the lesson well.  I have never missed an opportunity to cast my vote or encourage others to do so.  The system we use in this country is not perfect.  It is fraught with many complaints and challenges.  I charge you: Do not to allow anything to convince you to give up your right to express your wishes for the path this nation will take.  Exercise your right to vote.

Early voting is available in McLennan County until Friday, November 2.  For dates and times for early voting, click here: Early Voting Times and locations.

After Friday, polls will be closed until election day, Tuesday, November 6.  Voting times and locations on election day are slightly different from early voting.  For election day voting times and locations, click here: Election Day Voting.

Gwendolyn McNuckles moved to Waco, Texas in 2011.  She is a proud to call Waco her home.  Gwendolyn’s background is in human resources.  She enjoys public speaking, teaching and community service.  Gwendolyn is the proud owner of Connections and Reflections, an event planning company that works with individuals and organizations to plan any size event.

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.