Getting updated on the “State of” just about everything!

By Jessica Attas

Fall is here and what is MORE exciting than even pumpkin spice?! Policy!

For that reason, the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce is excited to announce our fall State of Series! This four-part series is aimed at educating and engaging folks in the important policy discussions at the local, state, and federal levels, with a special event focused on one of the Chamber’s top priorities: a strong workforce and education pipeline.

The series kicks off with State of the City and County with Mayor Deaver and Judge Felton, Wednesday, November 13at 11:30 a.m. at Ridgewood Country Club. As if Judge Felton’s humor isn’t reason enough to attend, Mayor Deaver is not running for reelection, so this is a wonderful chance to come thank him for his faithful service and hear about the last year’s accomplishments in his tenure.

The State of Public Education is next in the lineup (registration closes Nov. 11), and will be a breakfast event on Wednesday, November 20 starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Baylor Club. This exciting event, brought to you in collaboration with our area P20 Council, will provide updates from Midway ISD and Waco ISD Superintendents Drs. Kazanas and Kincannon, followed by a keynote by Commissioner Mike Morath. The 86th Legislative Session saw the passing of House Bill 3 and an additional $11.3 billion for public education! Commissioner Morath will walk through the many strategic goals afforded by this bill and we’ll have the chance to hear from two of our area superintendents on how their districts will utilize these funds. Doors will open at 8 a.m. and attendees will have the chance to visit with area students and educators, as multiple school districts – and the Waco Chamber’s own LEAD Mentorship Program – will be in our School Spotlight booths around the periphery of the room. Schools will showcase the unique ways they are educating our youth and preparing them for post-secondary success: career & technical education, apprenticeships, mentoring, teacher externships, and more! This year we are also very excited to welcome other organizations from around the state who will have booths with research information about their work and how you can get involved. From Raise Your Hand Texas to the Coalition for Apprenticeship Partners in Economic Development to the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium and more, you won’t want to miss the chance to learn about the great work being done across the state to strengthen our education systems and how you can engage!

State of the Nation follows on Monday, December 2 at 11:30 a.m. at the Baylor Club. While U.S. Congressman Bill Flores has announced he is retiring, he will continue to vote for our district for the next sixteen months! This is a great chance to share our priorities for these remaining months, and hear his thoughts and observations on federal policy in 2019 and what lies ahead.  Additionally, we are thrilled to welcome famed economist Dr. Ray Perryman to join this conversation and share his perspectives on economic trends and forecasting as we go into 2020. Perryman was recently recognized at the International Economic Development Council conference with the Chairman’s Lifetime Achievement award. Our Chamber is excited to welcome such a distinguished speaker and guest!

The series will conclude with State of the State on December 12 at 11:30 a.m. Baylor Club. At present, we have three fantastic panelists confirmed: Representative Kyle Kacal; State Demographer Lloyd Potter; and Texas Workforce Commissioner Julian Alvarez. We’ll have a great discussion about demographic and workforce trends in the state and how the state is responding with policy to meet our opportunities and challenges. A legislative panel will follow with our elected state officials who join us!

These are ticketed events, open to the public and registration is closing soon! We hope you will join us and come to learn more about the opportunities and challenges for our community, state and nation, and how you can be a part of influencing policy for good!

Visit us online at for more details, ticket prices and registration.

Jessica Attas is the vice-president of public policy for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. She works with key state and federal elected and appointed officials to advocate on key issues of community and economic development.  Attas loves thinking about solutions for big challenges, and when her schedule allows, enjoys serving as a professor in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core Honors College. Attas has two sons and a pup who keep her busy during “down time.”

Better Living for Texans: Squash the squash fear!

By Lindsey Breunig

Next time you are sitting with friends and family I challenge you to play a game of ‘who can think of the most pumpkin spice products on the market’ ­– I imagine you will have a very extensive list! For many, pumpkins are a sign of cooler weather, fall colors, and the holiday season approaching.  Pumpkins may attract all the attention, but the gourd family includes more of these seasonal vegetables called winter squashes. Available in multiple shapes, colors, and unique characteristics, one may see them as a table decoration; however, today we are moving the decorations into our diet!

According to the USDA dietary guidelines it is recommended we consume 2 ½ – 3 Cups of vegetables daily. To maximize the benefits of vegetables we are encouraged to vary our veggies. The squash’s deep colors are a great indication of being high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, while also being low in calories. Common varieties seen are butternut, delicata, spaghetti, kabocha (find at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market!), acorn, and sugar pumpkins.

The common characteristic and the reason I avoided cooking squash for so long is the tough skin. You can be very mean to a squash and still couldn’t ruin its day! (A little fall humor for everyone) The skin of a squash is very thick and becomes thicker as the produce matures; however, you want the firm exterior because soft skin can indicate an unripe squash or a spoiled squash. Test by knocking on the squash with your knuckle: if it sounds hollow, it is ripe! Now, there sits a squash on your counter with the only thing coming between the delicious vegetable inside is the tough outside. Below we are going to discuss ways to safely handle and overcome the squash fear.

Click to see How to Prepare Winter Squash or read below!

Start with washing the squash under running water, remove excess dirt with a vegetable brush & dry with a clean towel. A vegetable peeler works well to remove the skin from butternut squash or sugar pumpkins but microwaving first will soften the squash for easier handling.

Pierce the squash several times with a sharp knife. Place on a microwave safe plate or dish. Microwave the squash on high for 5-8 minutes (depending on use for recipe). Allow squash to cool enough for touch. Once cooled, cut off the top inch of the squash (including the stem).

For texture like mashed potatoes: Cut the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Place the two halves face down on the microwave safe plate or dish with 1/2 cup of water. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Check if the squash can be easily scooped with a spoon. If not, cook another 3-5 minutes or until the flesh is the texture of a cooked potato. Set aside to cool. Rather than boiling you can use this technique and use winter squash in these Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

For texture like roasted potatoes: *You may want to microwave less to ensure squash is not too soft* Cut squash in half. Dice the squash with a knife without cutting through the skin. Scoop out the diced pieces or scoop out the flesh and lay evenly on a baking sheet. Drizzle with oil & spices. Roast at 400 degrees until tender. Or try this recipe for Spicy Baked Squash!

Other ways to use winter squash!

Pinched on time? Check out the grocery store for precut squash. Always compare the unit price to see the best deal. See the example below, what would you choose?

Using frozen? Try this tasty recipe! Savory Bread Pudding with Kale and Butternut Squash


Lindsey Breunig is a graduate of Baylor University and currently works as the Better Living for Texans Educator for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She is originally from Grapevine, TX and now calls Waco home. Here in Waco she loves to venture out to Cameron Park, visit the local Farmers Market, and try out the awesome eateries in Waco. If you see her and hear a loud bark, that’s her pup Lucy just saying hello.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP. To learn more about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or to apply for benefits, visit

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.

Resources: Winter Squash, Prepare Winter Squash

A $1.5 Trillion Crisis and How to Avoid It

By Stacy Burger

Student loan debt is a national crisis, reaching its highest levels ever in 2019.

Student debt is the only consumer debt with continuous cumulative growth since the Great Recession, according to Bloomberg. And according to Forbes, student loan debt totals over $1.5 trillion with 45 million people across the U.S. having some type of student loan debt.

Both millennials and baby boomers deal with student debt, and studies show Generation Z is looking to avoid it.

Many students take to less expensive alternatives when it comes to the soaring costs of tuition at public and private universities. Community colleges provide students a financial advantage. Students can prepare for the financial demands of a four-year university in their first two years at a community college.

The University Center at McLennan Community College is committed to students looking to earn their bachelor’s degrees without debt. University Center Director Annette Scott helps students combat student loan debt.

“In general, I see students that get out of college and they end up getting a wonderful job with that college degree,” Scott said. “But they end up spending 15 to 20 years, some of them, paying for their college debt.”

Scholarships play a large part in avoiding that debt. Scott encourages students to be proactive in finding scholarship opportunities and to apply for all the scholarships they can.

“There’s aid out there that goes unclaimed simply because people don’t apply for it,” Scott said.

Attending community college can alleviate that financial burden, as well.

“If you can get your freshman and sophomore level classes from a community college, that’s always the best thing to do. You save a lot of money,” Scott said.

Most students work to pay for expenses throughout college. Some employers will award tuition assistance based on certain criteria the company decides on.

Companies like Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, Smuckers, Verizon, Bank of America, Oracle, UPS and Fidelity among others, offer tuition reimbursements to employees.

“If you have an employer, go to the human resources desk and see if they reimburse for college debt,” Scott said.

Despite rising tuition costs of four-year universities, there are alternatives to avoid student loan debt altogether. Seeking out scholarships, attending community college or finding an employer that will reimburse for tuition costs are some ways to avoid the student debt.

“It’s nice when people can finish their college degree and walk across that stage debt free,” Scott said.

Stacy Burger is a Marketing and Communications Intern at McLennan Community College. She is a senior at Baylor University studying Marketing & Public Relations and hopes to work in sports or entertainment. As a Colorado native, she enjoys all things outdoors.

MCC Hispanic Student Association brings Ciclovía to Waco

By Ricky Galindo

The Hispanic Student Association at McLennan Community College is comprised of two co-leaders, Aranza Torres and Ruben Salazar. The rest of the members are students, who largely lead the organization. Essentially our purpose or our drive for this organization is to be inclusive of people of all kinds, and that’s not something one tends to see these days. As much as people preach about being inclusive, there is still some sort of bias as to what people should be included. We really want to bring that awareness of inclusiveness. Because everyone is different, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Ruben and Aranza do a great job at picking up on these things that the students themselves might not realize.

The students are the voices of this organization. They are nurturing their minds and sharing what they have learned either from school or through their own research. It’s minds like these that will drive this world. As kids—and I think I speak for everyone on this—we have questions about any and everything and we look to our parents who often don’t have an answer other than, “Because I said so.” That answer can only work for so long, until the child starts to look for other sources of information and begins to educate themselves. There’s a certain point of “adulthood” or life after college where that desire for learning starts to fade away. Our hope is to keep this drive for learning beyond this organization and life after college. During our meetings we usually talk about a variety of subjects ranging from things like the environment, culture, society, etc. But HSA isn’t always so serious, we like to have fun at these meetings as well and can discuss topics like movies, tv shows and even food.

I am proud to announce to you that this great organization is working on a project that will include the whole community!  We are hosting a Waco Ciclovía!

What is a Ciclovía and where did we get the idea?

It all began, in Bogota, Colombia. Each Sunday and public holiday from 7 am until 2 pm several main streets are blocked off for cars and runners, skaters, and bicyclists take over the streets. The event takes on the feeling of a fun health festival with different groups setting up spaces for aerobics, yoga and other fitness and health activities.  In Bogata, the weekly Ciclovías are used by over 2 million people. (about 30% of the population).  (Ciclovía)

Ciclovía began in Bogota in December of 1974.  It was started by a man named Jaime Ortiz Mariño. In 1976, the city officially adopted the program, which was promoted by the city government and the transportation department. In 2007 a Colombian congressman proposed a law banning Ciclovías, stating that they caused traffic jams. Many cyclists, Ciclovía users, city council and congress members protested this law and the law was soon defeated. Since then, every Sunday Bogota closes down ten of their busiest roads for the Ciclovía.

Our hope for this event is that through true social networking – human interaction – we can strengthen our community and stress the importance of things like our environmental impact. It is also to show how easy and fun it can be to exercise for just minutes a day. Another hope of ours is to expand this event beyond the campus of McLennan Community College and make this a city-wide event. We believe what we are doing matters and our event is just as important as many of the other festivals and events that have gained popularity around town. 

The Hispanic Student Association is currently accepting donations  for this event and will continue to accept contributions during the event —anything and everything helps. We are also looking for volunteers, so if you would like to help follow the link below. Our Ciclovía will take place on November 9th at 8am-12pm, in the center of MCC Campus. I hope you and your family and friends will join us!  

Volunteer:   ​<


Ricky Galindo graduated from McLennan Community College with an associate’s degree in the visual arts. He is a photographer and has won two awards for his photos. He has appeared in three of MCC’s literary magazines and in one in Florida. He photographs bands, people and things on the street he finds interesting. He has also helped with photography for Analog Waco. He loves reading books and having good conversations with people and doing normal people things.