And What Will You Do With This?

By Christina Helmick

Every time I’m asked to give my feedback, a little voice in my head says, “what will you do with my feedback? Will it be used to inform the next steps?” I feel like so many have these same thoughts after being asked for feedback. And the skepticism is understandable. If feedback is constantly asked for, but not used to inform the work, then why would people keep giving feedback? This question was at the forefront of our minds when we created the discussion-based breakout sessions at the 2016 Prosper Waco Summit.

On Sept. 19, more than 500 community members came together at the Waco Convention Center from 4-8PM for the 2016 Summit. During the event, participants heard a brief overview of the initiative’s history, along with some of the efforts currently being implemented in the Waco community and what community partners are involved in those efforts. Following the opening session, participants were strategically placed in three different rooms to ensure cross-sector representation of Education, Health and Financial Security were at each table.

During the breakout sessions we asked participants to talk amongst their table, and then the larger room, about solutions our community can implement to address the community’s goals. We worked hard to compile the feedback from the different breakout rooms. You can click here to read all of the feedback compiled from the breakout sessions, and if you view the pictures below, you can see the solutions that were identified more than once throughout the rooms.




It is important to remember that the above solutions weren’t the only solutions people identified! With more than 500 community members identifying solutions, there were some solutions that appeared across all three rooms, which we captured in the above diagrams.

So the burning question remains…what will be done with this feedback?

Post the Summit, all three Steering Committees met to debrief about the event. During the meetings, committee members reviewed a document that captured all of the feedback, along with a separate document that had solutions that were specific to Education, Health and Financial Security. Some of the solutions crossed one or more strand of the initiative, which furthers the notion that the three aims of the initiative are interconnected.

After having small table discussions, the floor opened up for discussion around what support will be needed from the community to implement some of the solutions identified. Steering Committee members identified bringing other partners to the table, funding and learning more about existing programs in the Waco community as different types of support that would be needed. The feedback captured at the Summit will also be used to inform the work of the working groups by connecting what the community has identified as a solution to the work that is being implemented within the initiative.

We will also utilize the community’s feedback to help inform the work of our Community Engagement Council.  During the house meetings the council hosts, they ask for thoughts and perspectives about the solutions identified during the Summit. The Council will continue to ask community members about their personal ideas and solutions to reach the community’s goals by 2020.

We understand not everyone was able to come to the Summit and voice their thoughts, ideas and solutions, which is why we welcome (and strongly encourage!) you to send us your thoughts by contacting us via email or calling 254-741-0081.

As always, this work is driven forward by the hard work of our community and there is always an open door for you to become involved and share your thoughts. If you’d like to become involved, email Jillian or call 254-741-0081.

Christina HelmickChristina 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.




McLennan County Improves Health Infrastructure and Policy  

By Courtney Restivo Wollard

I am the Public Health Education Specialist Lead for the Health Education Program at the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District and for the past two years, the department has been working on projects under the Texas Healthy Communities Program, a program of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

silverThis program helps communities assess their existing environments and implement change in local environmental and policy infrastructure.  The program encourages  the adoption of priority public health practices to reduce risk factors for chronic diseases. Communities that promote recognized best practices for preventing and controlling cardiovascular disease, stroke and other chronic diseases are then recognized by the program. This year, the Waco-McLennan County Health District has achieved Silver level status for the county for preventing and controlling heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases.  This is an improvement from Honorable Mention in 2014.

Communities are assessed on eight health indicators to determine recognition as a Texas Healthy Community: physical activity, healthy food access, mother-friendly worksites, healthy worksites, healthy schools, tobacco control, healthcare quality, and cardiac and stroke response.  Some examples of activities within these indicators include:

  • Offering physical activity areas
  • Offering healthy eating options
  • Mother-friendly worksites promoting breastfeeding
  • An evidence-based health curriculum in schools
  • 100% smoke free city ordinance
  • EMS system which maintains a rapid response time for cardiac events
  • Treatment of stroke and a medical emergency in the community with appropriate acute stroke treatment protocols in place

The biggest improvements that increased our scores from 2014 included the implementation of the 100% Comprehensive Smoke Free Waco Ordinance passed in July 2015 by City Council that went into effect January 2016 as well as an increase in the number of worksites designated as mother-friendly.

Back in 2014, there were only 2 recognized mother friendly designated worksites whereas in 2016, there are 13 designated mother-friendly worksites. A worksite is considered Mother Friendly if there is a policy in place to support employees choosing to breastfeed their infants. To determine if your worksite could become a mother friendly worksite, you can visit the Texas Mother Friendly Website.

We have received confirmation that we were approved for an additional year of the program funding, which will go towards improvements in several different parks in the city to improve physical activity opportunities for residents. (See the accompanying table for the scores received within each health indicator.) Hopefully, next year, we can reach the Gold Status for the program! 


courtney-restivo-wollardCourtney Restivo Wollard is a lifelong Waco resident who works as Public Health Education Specialist Lead at the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District and serves as Chair for Live Well Waco, the group working to decrease obesity rates under the Prosper Waco Health Committee Initiative. She is also an alumnus of the Waco Foundation LeadershipPLENTY Institute. Courtney graduated with her Masters of Public Health from Baylor University and right away began her career as a health advocate. She is married to Kyle, with whom she has two fur babies – a Chihuahua and a Labrador. Courtney hopes to continue to create healthier environments for McLennan County residents filled with healthy eating and physical activity opportunities.

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.


Other communities recognized at the Gold, Silver, Bronze, or Honorable Mention Level this year:

  • Gold Level: Harris County, City of Houston, Nueces County, Webb County
  • Silver Level: Angelina County, Lubbock County, McLennan County, Smith County, Tom Green County, Wichita County
  • Bronze Level: Hidalgo County, Lamar County, Parker County, Taylor County, Victoria County
  • Honorable Mention: City of Red Oak, City of Waxahachie, El Paso County, Jasper County, Nacogdoches County, Newton County, Waller County, Wood County





Downtown Waco: The ABC’s of Living Downtown

By Rolando Rodriguez Soto

(This post is part of an on-going series about Downtown Waco.  In a sense, Downtown is “everybody’s neighborhood.”   In this series of blog posts we hope to contribute to the on-going conversation in Waco about what it takes to have a great downtown, and what we want for our own “Wacotown.”  To see all the posts in this series, click here: Downtown Waco. – ABT)

This past weekend, I invited two of my good friends to a fun night in Waco. They had never truly experienced downtown! I can’t really judge them. I have lived in Waco for about 20 years, and for most of those years, I only knew downtown as the place with the courthouse and the Alico building. My appreciation for downtown has definitely grown since I started at Baylor. For those two friends and for all Wacoans who are willing to explore the hidden treasures of downtown, I have created an introductory course – The ABC’s of Downtown Waco:

alicoALICO Building (425 Austin)The ALICO Building is one of the first skyscrapers in Texas, and it remains the tallest building in Waco. I love driving on Franklin Avenue towards downtown and slowly starting to see the skyscraper peeking above the hill.

Balcones Distilling (225 S 11th ST) – Some of the best whiskey in the world is distilled in the old Texas Fireproof Storage Building right here in downtown Waco.  Balcones received double gold medals in three different categories at the 2016 New York World Wine and Spirits Competition.

Culture & Arts – Earlier this month, the Texas Commission on the Arts approved the city of Waco’s application for a cultural district designation. Each year Wacoans celebrate culture and art in the annual Cultural Arts Festival in the fall and Art on Elm Avenue in the spring. ( Waco Cultural Arts Festival – usually last weekend in SeptemberArt on Elm, April 7-8, 2017Creative Waco. )

Dr Pepper Museum (300 S 5th ST) – Waco is home to the oldest major manufacturer of soft drink concentrates and syrups in the United States. It’s always fun exposing fellow connoisseurs of the Dr Pepper brand from out of state to the museum.

elm-aveElm Avenue – When you visit Elm Avenue, the beautiful historic buildings remind you that it was once a thriving business district before a terrible flood in 1936 overwhelmed East Waco.  My favorite is to grab a coffee and breakfast pie at Lula Jane’s (406 Elm) and then take pictures with friends around the murals and historic buildings.

Farmers’ Market (400 S. University Parks Drive) Every Saturday morning, you can expect to find the Waco Farmers’ Market behind the old Fire Tower along the Brazos River. Strawberry and Nutella crepes by Co-Town Crepes are my preferred indulgence.

Graffiti, Murals and Art – Elm Avenue isn’t the only place with beautiful art. Some are in plain view in downtown while others will take a little more work to find. Here are a few to get you started: the Martin Luther King Jr. mural (near the Suspension Bridge), the Starry Night mural (corner of 10th St and Columbus Avenue) and the “You Look nice today Wacotown” mural (corner of Sixth St and Washington Avenue).

Hippodrome Theatre (724 Austin Ave) – The Hippodrome is not your typical movie theatre. It comes with a complete full service in-theatre dining and a restaurant and bar overlooking Austin Avenue.  They show first run movies, but the best experience is their special movie screenings of older movie favorites. Looking forward to “Rocky Horror Picture Show” coming up in a few weeks! (October 28)

Indian Spring Park (across from the Hilton on University Parks)As a kid, I remember when Indian Spring Park only had a few longhorns. Now there’s a herd! One thing is for certain, there are definitely more people at the park; I guess we have Pokémon Go to thank for that.

Jake’s Texas Tea House (613 Austin Ave) – In this 50’s themed restaurant, you can always find great banana pudding, and if you’re lucky Elvis and Marilyn Monroe will show up.

Kayaking and Water Activities – There are so many activities to enjoy in the Brazos River including kayaking, wake boarding, fishing or if you’re feeling fancy, you could charter a boat for a tour of the Brazos River.  (Bicycle World for canoe/kayak rentals, Waco River Charters)

waco-high-loftsLofts The historic lofts make the downtown living experience different than any other part of Waco. The historic Waco High campus, many factories and warehouses have all been transformed into beautiful high-end living spaces perfect for young professionals.  (Historic Lofts at Waco High – 815 Columbus Ave)

Magnolia Market (601 Webster Ave) – We can’t talk about downtown without mentioning Chip and Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper” fame.  No trip to Waco is complete without an obligatory selfie at the Silos.

Nightlife – Downtown Waco has an amazing nightlife with a variety of bars to choose from that all offer a unique experience such as Halftime, Trojans and Crickets. Every first Friday of the month, businesses stay open later than usual for a fun experience with live music and great food. (First Fridays)

Old Buildings – Every building in downtown has a story to tell. The best way to discover the secrets and people behind the buildings is to download the Waco History app on your phone. It allows you to read feature stories on influential people and locations in Waco as well as pinpoint every location on a map so that you can truly experience Waco’s rich past.

Parades – Waco never misses an opportunity to close the streets of downtown for a fun parade. As a kid, my parents took me to downtown to see the Baylor homecoming parade. Little did I know, I would be attending Baylor years later. (Baylor Homecoming Parade – Saturday October 15)

Quack! Quack!: Cameron Park – When I think of Cameron Park, I associate it with quacks as the ducks huddle around the bank of the Brazos River. Throughout the park, you see bikers and joggers, families barbecuing, college students playing disc golf and children laughing as they splash away the hot weather in the spray pad.

River walk: Brazos River – On one side of the river you can enjoy the beauty of Cameron Park while the other side offers Bledsoe-Miller Park and Manny’s on the River as well as Buzzard Billy’s.

suspension-bridgeSuspension Bridge – At the edge of downtown, the historic Suspension Bridge connects both sides of town. While you’re on the bridge, bring some tortillas to take your chance at tossing them onto a concrete installment isolated in the Brazos River.

Texas Food Truck Showdown – Three-dozen food trucks invade Heritage Square in the spring to determine which truck truly serves the best food Texas. If you can’t wait until April for the next showdown, you can go down Franklin Avenue on the Brazos River to try out the row of food trucks. (Third Annual Showdown – April 1, 2017)

Upscale Restaurants ­- As much as we all love our food trucks, farmers markets and fast food, downtown is also a great place to find more upscale restaurants and venues for your special event such as the Phoenix Ballroom, DiamondBack’s or Klassy Glass Wine Bar.

Vendors: Restaurants & Stores – Where’s the middle ground between fast and fancy? While you are in downtown don’t forget to visit Dichotomy, Portofino’s and the shops of River Square Center.

Waco Wonderland – Each year in Heritage Square, there is a holiday parade, ice-skating rink, Ferris wheel, carousel and you can take pictures with Santa Claus. The tree lighting is something truly magnificent. (Waco Wonderland)

Xristo’s Café (Corner of Franklin Avenue and University Parks Dr.)Xristo’s is a one of a kind mobile café serving southern, Mediterranean and Turkish cuisine.

Youth – Downtown Waco is the perfect environment for any college student, recent graduate or young professional to live in after landing their first job.

Zoo (1701 N 4th ST)Lastly, while you’re in downtown, venture out a little further to reach Cameron Park Zoo. I only got to experience the zoo as a teenager and an adult, but it is still a fun time getting to see the animals and nature.

rolando-rodriguez-sotoRolando Rodriguez Soto was raised in Waco, TX, and he is currently attending Baylor University with plans to graduate in December 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing & Rhetoric. After graduation, he hopes to work in Waco in the nonprofit sector to help realize the full potential of Waco. His long term goals include hopefully creating and publishing creative work whether that is a novel, short story or even a television show.

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.