Get to know your City Council Representative!

By Graham Duncan

If you’re like me, one of the first things that pops into your mind when you think of local government is the small town of Pawnee, Indiana, home of NBC’s hit comedy Parks and Recreation. In the show the politics of Pawnee are quirky, unreasonable, and unique. While the show may not be based on a real town, local politics can be all of these things. I imagine the politics in Waco are no exception. Sometimes situations can create quirky political solutions. Other times, political, social, or legal realities can force decisions that may be considered by some to be unreasonable. And Waco is unique; the city has its own history, its own problems and its own way of solving those problems in the political arena.

But sometimes it can be hard to know what is going on locally or confusing to figure out how things work in the city. I’m new to Waco and I wanted to learn more about how local politics work here. And I wanted to share what I found with everyone! So, here goes!

City Council

Waco’s local government is set up in a council-manager model. What does this mean? Basically we, as Wacoans, vote to elect council members to represent the five districts in the city. The “mayor” is elected at-large and becomes the sixth member on the council. The mayor serves as the head of the government for ceremonial and emergency purposes. The mayor is also the only council member with a term limit. No one may be mayor for more than three two-year terms. So, the council has six members, five directly represent each district, and the mayor represents the city as a whole. All council members and the mayor are volunteers, by the way.  They don’t get paid for their service.

These elected officials, working on behalf of their constituents (the citizens of Waco) hire a professional public administrator (aka the city manager) to be the planning and executing arm of the government. The city manager is in charge of executing the vision the council has for the city. Day-to-day operations, making sure the city is responsive to the needs of the citizens of Waco, and providing feedback to the council on how things are going are part of what the city manager does for the city. So, in a nutshell, the city council provides a forum for the people’s voice to be heard in the legislative process of the local government. They are the elected representatives of the people and have a certain function granted to them by the city charter. The city manager provides the city with an executive power, granted that position by the elected members of the government.

So what does this mean in a practical sense?

I spoke with Councilman John Kinnaird, who represents District Three, about the relationship between the council and the other parts of city government. The council, as mentioned above, provides a vehicle for the people’s voice to be heard. Whenever there is a problem in the city the public has the opportunity (and the responsibility) to let the city know about it. The council ensures that taxpayers’ dollars are being put to use on projects the public cares about. One practical example of this is the roads in Waco. People have been bringing up issues with the city’s roads and the council has begun responding. Typical road maintenance costs the city about $3.5 million in a given year. When I spoke with Councilman Kinnaird I learned that, in response to citizen’s complaints about the roads, the city is putting $16 million this year towards road repairs. The council decides how the money will be spent and works to ensure the different parts of city government are working to accomplish the tasks desired by you, the citizens of Waco. The response may not always be as quick as we would like, but the council listens to the citizens and works to make sure problems in the community are solved.

Another example is the local animal shelter. There was an increasing demand on the limited services provided by the Waco Humane Society. They were taking in 10,000 animals per year and two-thirds of those animals were being euthanized because the shelter could not keep up. The council saw the need and worked to help provide support for the shelter. The council worked to fundraise money, they partnered with nonprofits in the community providing excellent care to the animals of Waco to learn how those organizations were serving the needs of those animals.  There was a concerted effort to make the public humane society work for the community and for the animals that found themselves without a home. As a result of all this collaborative work, more recently the shelter was taking in around 6,000 animals per year and had a more than 90% live exit rate. That’s pretty cool.

Local government may not always be “sexy”; it may not always be exciting or even interesting. But what happens on the council affects each and every one of us. Talk to your city council representative. They want to hear what you have to say, and they are members of the community just like we are. They care about what happens here and they want you to care as well. Find out who your representative is. All of the information is available at www.waco-texas.com/council.asp; you can find district maps as well as the names and contact information of the council members.

You can also attend the city council meetings, which happen the first and third Tuesday of each month with the “Business Session” starting at 6 PM. There is always space made for citizens to address the council at each meeting. Get to know your representative. Get involved. Help make the Waco community better and stronger.


Graham Duncan is 24 years old, recently married, and recently moved to Waco. He graduated from Asbury University in Kentucky in 2016 with a degree in Political Science. Since graduating, he spent a year as a full-time service volunteer in Tucson, Arizona, and after that started working at The Home Depot. His wife is currently studying for her Master’s in Higher Education at Baylor and he is doing his best to support her!

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.

 

Communities of Waco: El Ballet Folklorico Las Estrellas de Waco

By Alicia Pesina

I have been the instructor for El Ballet Folklorico Las Estrellas de Waco for 16 years. Ballet Folklorico is a traditional Mexican dance which highlights local culture from various regions and states in Mexico. The costumes, styles of dance, and music vary from state to state.

Our group was organized in October 1998 to help promote Mexican Culture in the Waco Area. We began with one group comprised of four young ladies; we have now grown into three groups ranging from the age of seven and up. Some members of our older group have been dancing for more than 25 years.

My mom, Mary Lou Pesina, has been the organizer, dressmaker, director, recruiter, dress fluffer, and so much more. She coordinates every performance and manages all members of the group. Mary Lou Pesina is the one who wanted to start the group.  With hard work and determination, she has made the group what it is today.

When we first began our group, we would often go to workshops in Corpus Christi.  These workshops included Maestros (instructors) brought from Mexico to teach songs from their native state. They would also include a seminar which demonstrated the traditional costumes, hairpieces, and accessories needed for each State.

We sought out a local instructor several years after the group was established. We met Veronica De La Rosa while she was attending Baylor University. She was able to help us in so many ways. Her mother had organized a Folklorico group in Seguin, Texas. Veronica taught us various dances from all different states and shared her expertise in different Folklorico costumes and designs. She eventually became a part of our family! She married one of my cousins and they now have four beautiful children together.

All members are volunteers from our local community who have a passion for dancing. Our beginner group starts at age seven and we require no previous dancing experience. However, for the Intermediate (Ages 12-17) and Advanced Group (Ages 17-and up), we require previous dance experience. These beautiful dances are difficult and require challenging skirt work, footwork, and choreography. Our dances require hours of practice to perfect, we rehearse every week and also learn new songs every year.

We have a yearly membership fee of $50.  Each member is also responsible for purchasing Folklorico earrings and ballet shoes. Our group provides all costumes for our members free of charge. Our costumes are sewn by my mother or purchased from donations we receive from our performances and membership fees. As our group has grown, the costs of costumes have become a major expense.

We practice and perform eight months out of the year. We begin practicing in March and we start scheduling performances in April. Our performance schedule begins in April and our final performance is held at the Fiesta de La Raza at St. Francis Church. We love performing for all types of events around the Waco area. Sometimes I don’t realize some people have never seen a Ballet Folklorico perform. It gives me a greater appreciation for our group and our ability to share these beautiful dances with the Waco community.  One advantage of having a larger group is the ability for us to showcase the diversity of Mexico.

This group is a major labor of love, especially since everything is done on a volunteer basis. Most of our dancers and parents work full time. Parents usually rush from school to dance practice. Some students come from outside the Waco area, and some families have multiple children in each group. I teach dance class after work for 3 hours back to back, and at times, it is very overwhelming. What pushes us each day is our passion for dance and the love for our group.

This group is our second family. I love all my students as if they were my own. I’ve taught members in school, seen them graduate, go on to college, get married and now have families of their own. I’ve watched families grow and I’m always so happy to hear, “As soon as my baby is old enough, we are putting her in the group with her brother/ sister!” We are much more than a group, we are a Folklorico family.

Our main goal is to share our culture with everyone. We have to remember and represent our culture and we hope to inspire those around us. We are a country of immigrants and we can share the love and beauty of our Mexican heritage through Ballet Folklorico. This year we celebrate 20 years of dancing for Waco and the surrounding areas.

When people recognize and appreciate the work we put into the group, it makes us feel proud. I have to thank my dancers, parents, and all of our supporters for encouraging us each year. We appreciate the members who take time away from their families help us entertain and share our beautiful culture. I must specifically thank my mother for continuously encouraging me to dance and teach others. I have been dancing Ballet Folklorico for 24 years and I hope to continue this tradition for many years to come.


Born and raised in Waco, Texas, Alicia Pesina has been the instructor for Las Estrellas de Waco Ballet Folklorico for 16 years.  Interested in scheduling a performance?  Contact Mary Lou Pesina at 254-855-1759.  Facebook page: Ballet Folklorico Estrellas de Waco.

Whether it’s playing trumpet in the “Friday Band” at MCC,  or riding with the Waco Knight Riders, or an afternoon playing with the Waco Disc Golf Association, one of the wonderful things about Waco is that there are lots of ways to find community here.  Where do you find community in Waco?  Would you be interested in writing about it? If so, let us know.  Email AshleyT@actlocallywaco.org. If you have an idea for a post.  You could be seeing your own picture on this page!

 

Workforce Development with Communities In Schools: Turning Passion into Careers!

By Becca Cleere

According to the Prosper Waco website, one of our goals in the community of Waco is to “Increase youth employment.” In my job as Workforce Coordinator at Communities In Schools (CIS) that goal is in the front of my mind every day.  When asked about writing a success story about our Workforce program, it was hard for me to pick!  There are countless successful youth that I could highlight in an article. I could point to many of our clients who have challenged themselves to overcome their barriers and have worked tirelessly to be victorious in education and employment.  For example, the young person I will profile in this post balanced a multitude of responsibilities and has been extremely successful in her educational and employment journey.

Selena Hernandez originally started in the Communities in Schools program at La Vega High School.  After high school graduation, she was referred to the Workforce Development (WIOA) program as she had a strong interest in obtaining her nursing degree. After attending MCC for her prerequisite courses and meeting the rigorous nursing school requirements, she was accepted into the Registered Nursing Program at MCC. Selena was able to maintain her responsibilities as a mother, keep up her grades and work overnights at Providence Hospital Emergency Room in Patient Registration. While on her journey to become a nurse, Ms. Hernandez ran into some educational challenges but with the help of Communities in Schools and her own self-determination she was able to push through.

There were many times she would visit the office and have her children with her. They would play and we would work on job readiness activities and talk about her aspirations and struggles. She is the definition of a multi-tasker! Ms. Hernandez received her Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) credentials in Summer 2017 and completed the RN Program in December 2017. She dedicated her time to her family and her studies and became a licensed RN in 2018.

Selena is now employed at Quality Care Nursing Facility as a Nurse Supervisor and works PRN (as needed) at the Atrium Nursing Facility as a Registered Nurse.

She was able to attend her classes and clinicals, meanwhile balancing employment and her responsibilities as a wife, mother, and daughter! She is a true rock star. To know Selena is to know an outgoing and compassionate heart. She shows such amazing compassion for her family, patients, and those around her. She has a positive outlook on life and she is certain to make you laugh with her humorous personality. When you look at Selena’s journey you will find that the path to success is paved with dedication, time, and finding a way to move past setbacks. She has taught us that if you have a passion, you should follow it with every twist and turn!

The Workforce Development Program at Communities In Schools provides career coaching to youth ages 16-24, both in and out of school, to assist them in educational attainment and reaching their post-secondary goals. The Workforce Development program provides academic assistance, GED preparation, career exploration, assistance with entry into post-secondary education, and job placement opportunities. For more information, please visit www.cishot.org or email workforceprogram@cis-hot.org today!


Becca Cleere is a Coordinator for the Workforce Development program at Communities In Schools of the Heart of Texas. She is originally from Bellmead, Texas, and is a graduate of La Vega High School and Tarleton State University. She is currently working on her Master’s in Social Work through University of Texas in Arlington. She lives in Robinson with her husband, Zach, and their mini herd of goats!

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.