By Christine Holecek

The mission of the Heart of Texas P-20 Council is to assist with the collaboration of education, business, and community to maximize the utilization of resources, programs and services for all students while encouraging a culture of life-long learning. We envision that all students can reach their true potential as happy, healthy, productive and self-sufficient citizens.  One local event that helps with this mission is S.T.E.A.M. Day.

The City of Waco, along with ESC Region 12, is hosting its annual S.T.E.A.M. Day on October 11.  Geared towards middle and high school students in the Central Texas area, this event helps students explore the fields of science, technology, engineering, architecture, arts and mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.).  Participating students will be able to speak directly with professionals about career choices in various fields.  S.T.E.A.M. Day is a free, come-and-go exhibition for schools and at the Waco Convention Center. The attendance has continued to grow over the past several years.  Last year over 2,200 students from 40 schools registered for the event, along with 86 exhibitors from various career fields.  Our exhibitor roster included local manufacturing companies, higher education establishments, engineering and architecture firms, and also high school robotics teams.  This event is free to exhibitors as well.

This is an awesome event for students to get a hands-on opportunity to see future careers in action. This event has morphed over the years from “Engineering Day” to “STEM Day” and now “STEAM” Day.  This event is held annually in October to inspire students to pursue careers in the community in science, technology, engineering, architecture, art and mathematics. This event is hosted by the City of Waco Public Works Department. This year’s event will be held on Tuesday, October 11, 2017 at the Waco Convention Center from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

This Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Christine Holecek. Christine is an Education Specialist at Education Service Center Region 12 in Waco. She has worked in the area of Adult Education and Career & Technical Education for the past 25 years. She earned an AAS degree from MCC, a BAAS and Master’s Degree from the University of North Texas and is currently enrolled in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Tarleton State University.

Your 2016-2017 Prosper Waco Initiative Report is here!

By Christina Helmick

I recently was at a communications conference in Miami and an attendee asked the speaker, “What are your tips on communicating all the great things happening in your organization and how they all fit into the bigger picture?” I moved to the edge of my seat to be sure I could hear the speaker’s response. The speaker answered with a chuckle followed by what he considered to be a communication rule —“Nonprofits rely heavily on the use of success stories to communicate. Along with the success story, make sure you tie it back into how it fits into the bigger picture. One way I’ve typically tied those two things together with is the use of data.” I thought to myself jackpot!

As the backbone organization of the Prosper Waco initiative, one of our roles is to communicate the successes of the initiative, highlight the partners involved and tie all that back to the big picture through the data that we are tracking. One way the staff pulls all of this together is through an annual report. Around this time each year, the staff produces an annual report that focuses on the progress of the initiative, the efforts within the Prosper Waco umbrella and how organizations and residents can become involved in the initiative.

The 2016-2017 Prosper Waco Initiative Report is ready for distribution! The report is the one-stop-shop for residents, organizations, employers and others to learn about the history of the Prosper Waco initiative, efforts within the Prosper Waco initiative umbrella, initiative goals, key partners and how residents and organizations can become involved in improving overall quality of life in Waco.

For example, on page 12 you will see a graph illustrating the trends in school readiness for Waco ISD pre-kindergarten students. You will notice a decrease in proficiency from Fall 2015 to Fall 2016. The graph also shows the target and overall goal of school readiness—increase the percentage of Kindergarten-ready students (which would be a target goal of 22%).

To the left of the graph of page 13, you will see an explanation of one of the many efforts addressing the School Readiness goal.  The effort highlighted is “Reach Out & Read,” a collaborative approach to improving school readiness that utilizes doctors and nurses to help parents understand the importance of reading to their children.

As you peruse the entire report, you will notice the various, cross-sector efforts, led by multiple partners, that are addressing the goals of the initiative. Pages 36 and 37 are an overview of the efforts within the Prosper Waco umbrella and what goal(s) of the initiative each is addressing.

As an organization we try to emphasize there is no silver bullet in alleviating poverty. You may think, “Gee, there is so much going on, why should we keep at it?”  Yes, our community is doing amazing work, and we still have work to do. That’s why it is so important to continue the coordinated, cross-sector conversations happening at the Working Groups.  Those conversations are helping to align activities to have the biggest impact possible.

It is also important to continue listening to the community’s priorities as in the “What’s Up, Waco?” visioning series, and integrating those priorities into the organization and systems-level conversations happening within the initiative.

And it is important to continue adding new people who are willing to invest in this work, like you. Contact Jillian Jones ( or call 254-741-0081) to learn how to become involved and to request a digital or physical copy of the 2016-2017 Prosper Waco Initiative Report.

Christina Helmick is the director of communication at Prosper Waco. She is a recent graduate of Baylor University with a BA in Journalism, Public Relations & New Media. Originally she is from Washington, D.C., but has stayed in Waco post-graduation.  She is an active mentor at J.H. Hines Elementary School, enjoys spending time with her family and watching Baylor football. Sic ’em Bears!

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.




Fall is time for FAFSA

By Rolando Rodriguez

Pumpkin spice lattes and Halloween decorations aren’t the only things back this fall season. The 2018-2019 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is NOW available.

FAFSA is a federal application for ALL current and prospective college students that is used to determine how much a student is eligible to receive in need-based financial aid, such as the free Pell Grant.  The FAFSA is used to collect information about a student’s family income and other household information.  This information is used to determine a student’s expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC number that is generated is used to determine how much financial aid for college the student is eligible to receive.

FAFSA is more than just an application for Pell Grant. It is also used to determine loan eligibility as well as eligibility for need-based scholarships and state grants.

Many separate scholarship applications, especially those with a financial need component, will ask for information from your FAFSA. Essentially, FAFSA is one application that opens multiple financial aid avenues.

To help guide you through the financial aid process, below are 10 tips you should consider before starting your FAFSA.

1. FAFSA doesn’t actually start with FAFSA. – FAFSA begins with creating a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) for both the student and the parent at The FSA ID is essentially a username and password that the student and parent will use to log in to the FAFSA and sign the FAFSA electronically.

You will need unique email addresses for the student and parent, since your FSA ID is attached to your social security number.

If a parent already has an FSA ID from when they were in college or from an older student that has previously started college, then that parent will continue using the same FSA ID.

2. Go to the correct website. – Be sure to go to the correct website for FAFSA—  Some sites that are similar to the official, government FAFSA website, will ask the student to pay a fee in order to submit the application. You should NEVER have to pay for FAFSA. It is in the acronym—FREE Application for Federal Student Aid.

3.Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. – FAFSA will ask for both parent and student tax information, specifically the 2016 tax return.

Consider the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) on the FAFSA your own personal, virtual tax accountant. The IRS DRT takes all of the hard work out of your FAFSA by directly importing your tax information from the IRS into your FAFSA.

4. Correctly define your dependency status. – In addition to financial information, FAFSA will also ask about household information, starting with determining the student’s dependency status. Most students will be using their parents’ tax information, but there are a few situations that can classify a student as independent. In the cases where a student is considered independent, the student does not need to report any parent information.

Please review the dependency flowchart below provided by the Federal Student Aid Office:

5. List multiple schools on your FAFSA. – If you’re not quite sure what school you want to attend yet, you can list up to 10 schools on your FAFSA.  You could potentially receive an award package from each college listed, and you can compare which college offers you the more advantageous financial aid package. However, you will only receive financial aid packages from the colleges to which you were accepted for admissions.

6. Correctly report your financial information. – Unfortunately, the IRS DRT does not answer every financial question for you. One of the more complex questions on FAFSA is regarding assets. Since parents are seen as having more financial responsibilities than a student, their assets won’t impact a student’s financial aid eligibility as much.

However, for a student, any funds in their checking or savings account will be considered funding for college. Federal Student Aid will assume you do not need as much financial aid if you have a large sum generally over $500. Contact the MAC College Money Program for more information about reporting assets. Please contact Rolando Rodriguez by email at or phone at 254.752.9457. Office hours are Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

7. FAFSA doesn’t actually end when you click submit. – After you click submit on your FAFSA, you will receive your confirmation page with your Pell Grant eligibility. Do not assume you are finished with the financial aid process.

Some students are randomly selected for a process called verification, which means the college needs to confirm the financial and household information you submitted in your FAFSA. The college will inform you via email if you need to submit additional paperwork.

Using the IRS DRT reduces your chances of being selected for verification because it is a more official and secure process coming directly from the IRS, so be sure to use the tool if it is available to you.

8. Everyone has to submit FAFSA. – Every student who will be attending college should submit a FAFSA even if he or she is not expecting to receive any need-based financial aid, such as the Pell Grant. Most colleges will not award the student any loans, academic scholarships or even athletic scholarships until the FAFSA is on file.

9. Don’t wait until the last minute. – Do not wait until the last minute to submit your FAFSA or to go through the verification process because financial aid offices tend to be at their busiest right before the beginning of the school year. Don’t be the person waiting on hold on the phone for an hour. It’s best to have your FAFSA submitted by December 1st to provide enough time to go through an additional processes, such as verification or comparing different award packages.

10. The MAC Program is your resource. – The goal of Waco Foundation’s MAC College Money Program is to make the financial aid process as easy as possible whether you are a high school senior starting college next year, a returning student or going back after a break. We are available to offer you personalized assistance in submitting the FAFSA and completing the financial aid process.

If you need assistance with submitting your FAFSA, please contact the MAC Program at 254.752.9457 or by email ( to set up an appointment at our office. A highly trained FAFSA expert will be available to walk you through the financial aid process. Our services are FREE to anyone!

MAC Grant

In addition to one-on-one FAFSA assistance, the MAC Program also offers the need-based MAC Grant to McLennan County students. The Grant is up to $1,000 per semester for two years at either MCC or TSTC to cover the gap between financial aid received and the cost of tuition.

Students must apply by May 1st of their senior year. The application can be found on our website.

MAC Scholarship

 The MAC Program also offers a third and fourth year MAC Scholarship to those students who were accepted into the MAC Program as seniors in high school even if the student did not start at MCC or TSTC or use the MAC Grant.

The scholarship is a total of $5,000 to be used for the student’s third and fourth year of college, and the scholarship can be used at any institution.

MAC Grant recipients should apply for the scholarship by December 1st of their college sophomore year, and they should have a 3.0 GPA and 60 credit hours by the end of their college sophomore year. The application can be found on our website.

Rolando Rodriguez was raised in Waco, TX, and he graduated with honors from Baylor University with a bachelor of arts in professional writing & rhetoric. He has recently joined Waco Foundation as the MAC & Scholarship Coordinator as an advocate of higher education for all students in McLennan County regardless of financial circumstance.  His role with the Foundation is to help McLennan County students with the financial aid process for college.

A Hispanic Woman

By Madiha Kark

On a Monday afternoon, about four weeks ago I walked nervously towards the Liberal Arts building at McLennan Community College. It was sometime in 2013 that I had last stepped into a classroom before completing my master’s degree. There were two reasons I was walking into Spanish 1411 that day. First, my lovely husband not so subtly pushed me into it. Second, I wanted to speak to my grandmother-in-law on FaceTime. She is a small (under five feet) adorable lady who speaks Spanish and has a heart the size of Texas.

Full of dread, tired, looking for a single excuse to quit… I walked into that class a little less than excited.

Before I saw Seir Lopez, I heard her.  I heard an excited voice “Hola chicos, ¿Como están? ¿Bien?  She walked in quickly, but not rushed, a bright full smile on her face, her jet black hair flowing in the air like a well maintained mane. “This is going to be difficult,” I thought.

Seir has a way of making you interested in a language you’ve never learned. As far back as she can remember, it’s always been like this.  She has always loved to teach. When she was child, the importance of education was stressed in her house. She was born in Mexico, but moved to Waco with her family when she was four. Her parents had humble beginnings, they were self-taught and hardworking but didn’t have much education. Being new in the United States they wanted to give their kids the opportunities they didn’t have. One of the rules they had in the house later shaped Seir’s identity. The children could only speak Spanish at home; English was reserved for school.

Seir struggled through high school and even thought about dropping out, but her parents were adamant to push her towards higher education.  When the time came to choose a college, MCC was always her first choice. It was affordable, had a small community and wasn’t going to be overwhelming. “From the first semester I felt right at home,” she says.

At MCC, Seir had a chance to be on both sides of the desk, as a student and as a teacher. She never felt she had a free pass because it was a community college and the classes were easy. “I have had some of my hardest courses at MCC and I have the utmost respect for the professors.” Even today she remembers the mentors who guided her and credits them for their role in taking her where she is today.  She now teaches at Baylor and MCC but doesn’t find any difference in the standards of teaching.

I don’t remember too many details of that first day of class, I just remember what happened after. I went home and my husband, being the supportive man he is, gently and with a hint of guilt said it was ok if I wanted to drop the class. I had had an 8 a.m. – 8p.m. day. What he wasn’t expecting was my answer. “I am not dropping the class, the professor is so much fun,” I said with excitement.

It’s not easy making nearly 30, 20 – 40 year olds excited about learning Spanish. My first impression of Seir was that she was sassy (in a good way) but fun. “I try to integrate my bubbly personality and my passion for teaching Spanish. I take my craft very seriously,” she says. It took her time to develop her teaching style. At first it was too strict or too lenient. After 12 years in the field, she has had time to reflect and tweak her methods. “It comes from experience,” she says humbly.

Behind all that experience is a lot of hard work and persistence, traits that were instilled in her from a very early age. Seir was the first in her family to go college. She ate self-motivation for breakfast and spent the last year of her high school constantly outside her advisor’s office. “I couldn’t ask my parents for help with SATs or scholarship applications, I had to do that myself.”

She was a pre-med major at MCC. She wanted to be a doctor because she wanted to make more money. “When you are young you don’t realize what you love, you just think about what would make money.” A Spanish class at Baylor helped her find her true passion. She got a zero on the first assignment in that class and it lit a fire under her. Seir was determined to prove to the professor that she was better than that. She promised herself to never get a zero again. She succeeded. It was a turning point in her life. “It was tied so closely to my roots, my identity and who I am, a Hispanic woman.”

If someone says she can’t do it, “It lights a fire under me and I rise to the occasion. I’ve always been a leader type figure.”

For Seir, Spanish is not just her language, it’s at the core of her identity and who she is. She thanks her parents for insisting on their rule of speaking Spanish in the house. It helped her form her own identity while being a part of American culture. Their mantra was “know who you are and where you come from.”

I am still taking her class, and this article doesn’t mean I get preferential treatment or a pass on an assignment! It has given me an opportunity to know a Seir a little more personally and for that I am grateful. Gracias maestra!

Madiha Kark is a Marketing, Communications and Photography Specialist at McLennan Community College. She holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of North Texas. She loves to travel, cook, and read nonfiction books.

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.


Tami’s Big Do Over: Mile Markers

(Tami Nutall Jefferson, a married mother and grandmother, is going back to school and she has invited us all along to enjoy the ride.  For more posts in this series, click here: Tami’s Big Do Over.  – ABT )

By Tami Nutall Jefferson

The Truth About Age

If your life were a road trip, age would be your mile marker. Its sole purpose is to frame your goal-setting for every 12-month period so you can look back and see the tangible progress you have made – or not – towards your destination. This is easy enough when you’re in primary and secondary school – you have plenty of people setting goals for you and driving you towards them – even when all you want to do is play. But when you become college age – years 18 to…say, death – that goal setting and driving is now up to you. And it’s up to you to say when playtime is over.

I woke up the other morning and the first thing my God said to me was “Make current decisions based on your future self and one day you will meet your future self.” I wish I had known this principle at mile marker 15; but I get it today at mile marker 42. You know who else got it at mile marker 44 (same mile I’ll be at when I graduate)? Sam Walton! Sam Walton started his first five-and-dime Walton store at age 44. Who cares what he did the first 44 miles, he slayed those last 30 – for himself his family and the world.

A Collective Journey

Every graduation season, we see news stories and social media posts celebrating a new “twilight-years” graduate. An awesome thing, but my question is always “What was their journey like before graduation day? What’s their real story?” I wanted to do this column to seek out and share those answers with people who care and need such inspiration. So this month, it is my pleasure to introduce my new friend, and Wacoan, Meg Wallace, and her mile marker 52 college journey.

All About Meg

TNJ > Hello friend. Introduce yourself to us – your collegiate status, what matters most to you.

MW > Hi. I’m Meg Wallace, and I’m graduating from Baylor in May 2018 with a Master’s in Social Work. I’m also an empty nester, and I miss my two daughters something awful, but parenting by telephone has a certain kind of loveliness. I treasure the long, thoughtful conversations that we might not have had so regularly otherwise.

TNJ > What’s your Waco story?

MW > My husband, Robin, and I wrangled a U-Haul clear from Chicago to Waco in August 2016 after helping my younger daughter pack up for college. I had married Robin, a Baylor musicology professor and father of two fine young adults, in January 2014, but we maintained two households until I got my girls launched. Fortunately, Robin was able to take a sabbatical and spend a year in Chicago while he wrote his forthcoming book, before we finally made our home together here in Waco.

TNJ > Why college? Why now at this mile marker in your life?

MW > Once my girls were launched, it was finally time for to relaunch myself. I have a BSW and started my career in community work back in the ‘80s; freelancing for academic publishers while raising my girls. I’ve been itching for a career change for ages, but going back to school would have been impossible for me while I was supporting my family and raising my children. Some Baylor MSW students are doing it all at the same time. They are my heroes!

TNJ > What’s your next big step after graduating from Baylor?

MW > I wish I knew what will happen after school! My professional goal is to help congregations care well for their members because I know how important people’s natural support systems are when they’re walking through challenges.  But not many places hire for that sort of work. Finding out what’s next will be an adventure.

TNJ > What is the college environment like for you at this stage in your life?

MW > Most of my classmates are very close in age to Robin’s and my kids, so I’m learning with people who could be my kids’ peers. It works out because I enjoy my kids and their friends, and they teach me a lot, just as my classmates do now. The greatest compliment I’ve received was when I heard through the grapevine that some of my classmates were talking about how they would love to have a mom like me. I’m not sure what my kids would think about that, but I sure appreciated the sentiment.

TNJ > What does your college and life experience look like today?

MW > Between putting in 16 to 20 hours a week at internship, working part-time, and taking 14 credit hours of classes, it’s impossible for me to spend as much time with my husband and children we would like. But they’re all on board with my relaunch, and I’m so grateful for their support. The light is at the end of the tunnel!

TNJ > What would you say to colleges & universities on behalf of their non-traditional students?

MW > Diversity in higher education requires making the college or grad school experience feasible so students can see it through. If professional schools that require internships want to attract and hang on to students of varying ages, nationalities, income levels, ethnic and racial backgrounds, and abilities who have varying earning needs, home responsibilities, and previous school experience, they need to think seriously about how to make diversity doable. Maybe they could revise coursework to eliminate redundancy, for example, and allow more ways for internship, class obligations, and income earning to align with each other. Nontraditional students are veteran jugglers. We have a lot to offer decision makers who are looking for new ways to make diversity doable while juggling their own many obligations.

Thank you, Meg for sharing your journey. Kudos and welcome to the new Waco!

Meg Wallace is a Community Wellness Intern at Waco Regional Baptist Association and can be reached at

Tami Nutall Jefferson is an older, non-traditional student with a professional real estate background. Tami begins her first academic year at Texas A&M University pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development while commuting between Waco and College Station. Her hope is that Waco becomes the most attractive, modern, vibrant, and prosperous version of itself as an inclusive city and her professional mission is to help make that happen as a real estate developer and entrepreneur. Tami volunteers her time and voice to many downtown Waco placemaking and economic development causes and organizations.

To engage and share your non-traditional student experiences with Tami, contact her at or connect with her on Facebook



College Insights: Challenges – They Are Inevitable

By Dasjaevian Dixon

We all face certain challenges in college. I struggled consistently with time management and finding study strategies that worked for me. But, I am now more strategic and resourceful in overcoming those struggles.

I was not working during my first year of school at the University of North Texas. That allowed me to have extra downtime to enjoy my experience as an incoming freshman. As a freshman, I had plenty of time to take care of my academic studies, socialize, and participate in extracurricular activities. However, that time swiftly diminished the following year.

I started my first year-round job as a college student the fall of my sophomore year. I was enrolled in 15 credit hours, working 25 hours a week, and involved in 3 organizations. This is when time management started to become vital to my success in the classroom as well as my physical health. I was moving around during the week so much that I forgot to stop and eat sometimes. I was worried about accomplishing everything that I committed to do.

Balancing my priorities and allocating an appropriate amount of time to each responsibility was a huge challenge. I started using my planner more often than I did the previous year. That helped me keep up with work and due dates. It also helped me organize priorities. That, along with the help of my mentors, allowed me to get through the semester without being overly stressed. My mentors assisted in keeping me level headed by providing positive feedback. I am very appreciative of what they have done for me thus far.

When I have felt discouraged, my family and mentors have been there to encourage me. Having a strong support system has been a valuable way for me to overcome challenges dealing with time management. Transitioning from one semester to another is easier now. However, there is always room for improvement.

Studying and taking exams sometimes bring anxiety. I have not always been the best test taker. First exams are usually more difficult for me due to not knowing what to expect, the format, etc. The lower level courses generally didn’t require me to study as much as I have to for higher level courses now. It has been difficult for me to adopt a specific study routine, because all of my courses vary in regard to concepts and material that we are tested over.

Some classes require more focus than others. As I start my last year as an undergraduate, I have learned that studying for at least 30 minutes to an hour after class can help me retain information more thoroughly. Unfortunately, most days require me to put a lot of focus on my job and organization activities. Remember that balance?

Now, studying is more efficient when I plan a week in advance before an exam instead of waiting until a few days before. The challenge of finding an effective study method has made me embrace planning. When I study efficiently for a short amount of time, I do better than when I study for an extended amount of time during a two or three-day span. This has allowed me to pace myself and figure out what I need to change to see better exam results.

Challenges allow us to learn and grow. They are inevitable. You can either look at it from a positive or negative perspective. I have chosen to use them as learning tools to become a better student and person. I have shared my insight in an effort to motivate other students to embrace and overcome the challenges they are faced with throughout college. Learning is everlasting.

Dasjaevian Dixon is an undergraduate student at the University of North Texas studying Marketing with a double minor in Decision Sciences and Psychology. He is currently interning at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Dasjaevian is a Brazos Education Foundation scholar. He currently serves as the Vice President for The Presidential Men, an organization he helped implement at UNT. He also assists with helping grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Owning his own business in the future is one of his top goals. As a millennial, he is building on his personal and professional skills to become a valuable asset in the business field.

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.