Prosper Waco Hires Tiffiney Gray as Senior Content Specialist for Health

Press release –

Prosper Waco is pleased to announce the hiring of Tiffiney Gray as senior content specialist for health. In this position, Gray will develop, coordinate and implement projects and initiatives that advance benchmark indicators in health for Prosper Waco. Gray will advance the work of collective impact by strengthening community relationships, networks and partners in the Waco area. In addition, she will be implementing a Collaborative Approach to Public Goods Investment project by researching and designing an effective intervention based on research showing the impact of addressing social determinants to change health outcomes.

“Tiffiney Gray brings experience and leadership to advance health goals for our community,” said Prosper Waco CEO Suzii Paynter March. “Tiffiney will put her experience in medical research and community engagement to use with a national research team studying Waco and 14 other cities for behavioral health practices.”

Gray has formerly worked as a research and development officer at Jackson State University, where she designed and secured funding for programs supporting early childhood education, minority student retention and campus wellness. She was previously director of The Salvation Army Corps Community Center in Jackson, Mississippi, a resource for children and families providing after-school enrichment and cultural programming. Recently, Gray managed multiple community engaged research (CEnR) projects at the Medical College of Wisconsin to include Community Health Improvement for Milwaukee’s Children (CHIMC), Earlier is Better (EIB), and Milwaukee Prevention of Opioid Misuse through Peer Training (Milwaukee PROMPT) with funding support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Foundation, Pfizer Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. At MCW, Gray also supported graduate student and medical resident learning as coordinator for the Community Pediatrics Training Initiative (CPTI) and the Community Health Improvement III Course in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. Gray completed her master’s degree in sociology at the University of Mississippi and has a longstanding passion for social justice and advancing health equity.

Prosper Waco is a collective impact initiative focused on addressing issues facing the Greater Waco community in education, health and financial security. As a facilitator and convener, Prosper Waco encourages collaboration among nonprofits, city and county governments, businesses, foundations and churches. The goal is to build on and increase the effectiveness of current efforts

and to develop new strategies to bring about measurable and sustainable positive change within the focus areas. For more information, please contact

Prosper Waco Welcomes New Director of Research and Community Impact

Press release – Prosper Waco is pleased to announce the hiring of Emily Hunt-Hinojosa as director of research and community impact. In this position, Hunt-Hinojosa will develop and expand a framework for assessing progress toward community goals and will benchmark progress in the Prosper Waco focus areas of education, health and financial security. Her duties will also include linking theory to practice across the community helping to create an overall culture of continuous quality improvement around the larger vision of flourishing that Prosper Waco seeks to promote.

“The story of Waco is increasingly complex. On one hand, there are so many wonderful things happening throughout our city. Strong institutions, increasing diversity, economic growth, development, and collective efforts to do good work are all indicators of progress and prospering,” said Hunt-Hinojosa. “However, too many community members continue to experience insurmountable obstacles to enjoying many of the good things Waco has to offer. I am thrilled to join the Prosper Waco team and look forward to telling Greater Waco’s story in a way that is honest about current social realities and hopeful about our progress toward being a community where all members can thrive.”

Hunt-Hinojosa was most recently employed as a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture where she pursued academic research regarding the cultural conflicts arising from different perspectives on the purpose of civic education. During her Ph.D. program, she served as a research analyst at Baylor University’s Center for Community Research and Development. In this role, Hunt-Hinojosa conducted a variety of qualitative and quantitative research projects for Waco organizations helping institutions across McLennan County use data to do good better. Prior to graduate studies at Baylor, Hunt-Hinojosa directed a service learning program at Creighton University where she connected college student volunteers with non-profits around the metro Omaha region. Hunt-Hinojosa’s sociological perspective and her previous experience related to assessment and evaluation make her uniquely qualified for her new role at Prosper Waco.

Hunt-Hinojosa has a Ph.D. in sociology from Baylor University specializing in community analytics. She earned a M.A. in sociology from Baylor University and a M.A. in higher education and student development from Taylor University. She also has a bachelor’s degree in social studies education from Taylor University.

“A vital precursor to collective impact is collective understanding,” Hunt-Hinojosa explained. “As a sociologist, I see much of my new role as using data to highlight the pathways and connections between problems and solutions that are not always obvious. Beyond reporting numbers and statistics, I am excited to collaborate with Waco’s leaders to discern our context, celebrate our assets, and imagine our possibilities.”

Prosper Waco is a collective impact initiative focused on addressing issues facing the Greater Waco community in the areas of education, health and financial security. As a facilitator and convener, Prosper Waco encourages collaboration amongst existing nonprofits, city and county governments, business, foundations and churches to build on and increase the effectiveness of current efforts and develop new strategies to bring about measurable and sustainable positive change within the focus areas for the members of our community. For more information, please contact

Prosper Waco Hires Ferrell Foster as Content Specialist for Care and Communication

Prosper Waco is pleased to announce the hiring of Ferrell Foster as content specialist for care and communication. In this role, Foster will develop, coordinate and execute projects and initiatives that advance benchmark indicators in health for Prosper Waco. He will also implement a network of partnerships to build and strengthen a continuum of care for behavioral health services in Waco while also creating communication plans and coordinating communications projects.

“The best opportunities in life are those you feel drawn to out of your core principles,” Foster said. “I feel this draw to the work of Prosper Waco because of my desire to serve people and their communities, especially those facing serious challenges.”

Foster added that he counts it a great privilege to join Suzii Paynter March, the Prosper Waco staff, and leaders of the Waco community in the important work they are doing. “I’m especially excited about the collaborative nature of Prosper Waco,” he explained. “Communities do not successfully address difficult issues without both leadership and collaboration; I see both of these at work in Waco and in Prosper Waco.”

Foster has professional experience in managing projects and institutional relationships through his work the past 10 years with the Christian Life Commission in Austin. His CLC work has required him to work in a variety of cooperative partnerships related to ethics, justice, human care, and public policy. He has also spearheaded the CLC’s new efforts regarding mental health.

Prior to his work with the CLC, Foster served as managing editor of a daily newspaper, public relations director for a graduate school, and director of communications for statewide organizations in Illinois and Texas. He holds degrees in journalism, political science, and biblical studies. His doctorate from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene focused on justice issues, specifically on African American perspectives.

“An important part of my work with Prosper Waco will be in facilitating collaboration around mental health. This is important to me both personally and professionally,” Foster stated. “I am thankful to be able to come alongside those in Waco who are already working on mental health and be of service to them.”

Prosper Waco is a collective impact initiative focused on addressing issues facing the Greater Waco community in the areas of education, health and financial security. As a facilitator and convener, Prosper Waco encourages collaboration amongst existing nonprofits, city and county governments, businesses, foundations and churches to build on and increase the effectiveness of current efforts and develop new strategies to bring about measurable and sustainable positive change within the focus areas for the members of our community. For more information, please contact

Mentor Waco Coalition Offering Training for Current and Prospective Community Mentors

Press release

Mentor Waco Coalition, a Prosper Waco working group, has worked diligently to pair the young minds of Waco with community leaders who want to see them succeed. The coalition promotes awareness for current mentoring opportunities in Waco and brings leaders together to educate future mentors.

On October 26, 2019 at 9:00 to 11:30 a.m., the Mentor Waco Coalition will continue to advance that goal with a morning of training for any current or potential mentors in the Waco community who would like to learn more about the difficulties Waco students face and how to help them overcome those struggles. The training will be held at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, and there is no cost to attend. Pastries and coffee will be provided.

Brittany Fitz, director of Research and Evaluation at Prosper Waco, has attended multiple training sessions and said she believes in the value of these opportunities. “What’s really great about the Mentor Coalition meetings in general is it brings together people that are doing similar work to really make sure that they are common in the best practices,” Fitz said. “So, the upcoming training they have is to address the need that they saw across all organizations.”

With this upcoming mentor training opportunity, Waco leaders from different organizations will discuss their own efforts and the nuances and lessons from their experiences. Training participants will get to hear from professionals who understand the ins and outs of helping the Waco community and ask questions to further their own understanding of the topics offered. Session one choices include: “Behavior/Redirection” led by GL Wiley Elementary Principal Craig Cox, GL Wiley Middle School Assistant Principal Melody Herring, and founder and executive director of the organization Size of a Man Darryl Thomas; or “Bullying/Self Esteem” led by STARRY Team Supervisor Leah Gorham. Session two choices include: “Social Media Tips/Awareness” led by Dr. Soo Battle, a pediatrician and founder of Camp Careful, and Chelsa Ressetar, the director of advancement at Vanguard and a speaker on digital citizenship; or “Human/Sex Trafficking” led by a representative from Unbound.

“I think one of the biggest draws for these presentations is the fact that we not only have great experts in each of the discussion areas, but we are intentionally keeping a large portion of each session dedicated to Q&A,” said the Mentor Waco Coalition Chair, Travis Cheatham. “Any attendee has the ability to connect with and ask direct questions of the presenters. I think all four of these sessions are areas that anyone, including the heads of mentoring organizations, could gain additional insight and experience from.”

This working group embodies Prosper Waco’s core value of collective impact, and with this training, more connections can be made to create a stronger Waco. To register, visit Columbus Avenue Baptist Church is located at 1300 Columbus Avenue, Waco, TX 76701. For further information, please contact Travis Cheatham at

Data makes a difference: Community Health Needs Assessment helps us build a healthier Waco

By Brittany Fitz-Chapman

After over a year of planning, surveying, and understanding, the 2018-2019 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) for Waco-McLennan County is complete and ready to use. Now, I can hear everyone taking a collective sigh as another person from Prosper Waco talks about the importance of data…again. However, the way our community collectively comes together to understand the growing health needs of all residents is unique and should be celebrated.

Since early last year, members of the cross-organizational CHNA task force have met on a regular basis to discuss the specifics of the survey conducted every three years. The goal of the CHNA is to provide a comprehensive and unbiased profile of McLennan County, assess community health and risk factors, and identify access to care issues. Because our community is a part of the City Health Dashboard project, the group concentrated on collecting information beyond just descriptive characteristics like an individual’s height and weight.

This year’s CHNA focused on collecting information that is actionable by the various organizations, coalitions, and workgroups working to improve the health outcomes of residents of McLennan County. This means that every piece of information collected will be used to improve the health outcomes in our community. Having this data allows targeted action plans to be created to make the largest impact possible.

For example, the study found that more than 20% of respondents in Waco-McLennan County do no physical activity during a typical week.  We also know anecdotally that there are limitations to how and when individuals find time to exercise. With this information in hand, one of our working groups, “Live Well Waco” is taking up that cause through their Worksite Wellness Program.  In partnership with the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, Live Well Waco is working to identify and recognize local organizations and businesses who take steps to improve the health of their employees. This program is just one piece of the puzzle, but helping employers understand the importance of a healthy workforce and helping employees get active goes a long way in our community’s overall well-being.

This result and others will continue to stimulate discussion and planning of projects to address identified health needs. Balancing the data collected with first-hand knowledge and experience will yield the best results for our community. Previous assessments have resulted in targeted health promotions and have supported numerous grant opportunities for the community.

Various community organizations participated in a taskforce to help develop the assessment including Baylor Scott White Medical Center-Hillcrest, Family Health Center, Heart of Texas Mental Health Mental Retardation, Heart of Texas Regional Advisory Council, McLennan County, Prosper Waco, Ascension Providence, and Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.

The CHNA was funded through a collaboration among the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, Ascension Providence, Baylor Scott & White Health Medical Center-Hillcrest, Family Health Center, Prosper Waco, and Baylor University’s Center for Community Research and Development.

You can find a copy of the full report on Prosper Waco’s “Research” page or visit the pages of one of our partners. And as always, if you have any questions about the report or the data, please reach out to me at

Brittany Fitz-Chapman works at Prosper Waco as the Director of Data and Research. She is a graduate of Baylor University.  She holds two master’s degrees and is pursuing her PhD in Sociology at Baylor. She has engaged in community research in Waco and has published professional articles about what makes communities strong. She enjoys exploring Waco with her husband and their two puppies!

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.

Prosper Waco: 2018 in Review

By Matthew Polk

2018 has given us lessons in the challenges and opportunities that come from working together to improve the lives of people in our community. The most obvious of these was the threat to five chronically underperforming Waco ISD campuses by a state law that requires such schools to be closed. One of the few options for Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Marcus Nelson was to partner with a community organization to create an in-district charter school zone to provide additional support for these schools.

Through Dr. Nelson’s dynamic leadership, Waco ISD navigated this challenge first by partnering with the Prosper Waco initiative and then creating a new entity—Transformation Waco—to carry the work of school transformation forward. Before the school year started in August, Texas Education Agency announced that improved performance under Dr. Nelson had lifted the threat of closure from four of the five schools. Still, all five campuses are now overseen by Transformation Waco under the leadership of Dr. Robin McDurham.

This has created an opportunity for the community to rally around children and families in our highest need schools to provide resources and support. Students have received free eyeglasses, new early childhood and parent education programs have been launched, every WISD second grader received a personalized book to promote reading skills, and more than 840 volunteers from 41 churches are mentoring 1,650 Waco ISD students through book clubs and similar programs. From crisis has come a truly transformational community effort to provide opportunity and support for our youngest community members.

Mental health is also a crisis for many communities because of inadequate funding resulting in too few services. Our community is actively working to address this challenge. Under the leadership of the County and City, the McLennan County Behavioral Health Leadership Team is expanding the mental health resources available in our community and creating a more effective system for providing care. 2018 saw additional mental health services added at McLennan County jail and the development of court programs to divert individuals toward treatment instead of jail. School-based mental health services expanded in numerous school districts, and grant funds were awarded to Family Health Center and Heart of Texas Region MHMR to provide maternal mental health services and expand mental health support in primary care.

Among the collaborative efforts to improve the financial security of people in our community is the Bank On Waco Coalition, a collaborative group of local and national banks who have partnered to offer low- or no-cost bank accounts to folks who aren’t currently able to access banking services. The Bank On Waco Coalition also works to align its financial literacy and community outreach efforts. If you know someone who needs the security of a bank account, send them to the Bank On Waco website. Organizations can partner with the Bank On Waco members to provide financial literacy to members or clients. The Heart of Texas Community Loan Center is continuing to expand its capacity to offer low-cost loans to folks who want to avoid the cycle of payday or title loans. The Waco Employer Resource Network (WERN) continues to expand its base of employer partners and the number of employees they are connecting with local resources and services so that hardworking people in our community are able to hold down their job while tackling the bumps in life’s road. At last count, the WERN Success Coach had worked with 220 employees of partner businesses and provided more than 750 support services and referrals.

These are only a few of the ways in which our community is locking arms to improve the lives of people in Waco and McLennan County. There are many organizations and individuals playing their part in a coordinated effort to improve the education, health, and financial security of our community. Look for the 2018 Prosper Waco Initiative Report to be released in January for more information about where we stand, what we’re doing, and where we’re going as a community. And mark your calendars for the Prosper Waco Summit on March 7 to celebrate the work of the many community partners who are helping to make Waco better in 2019 than ever before.

This Act Locally Waco Blog post was written by Matthew Polk. Matthew is Executive Director of Prosper Waco. Prior to that, he served as Superintendent of Rapoport Academy Public School. He and his wife attended Baylor, and after spending a few years in the northeast, they returned to Waco to raise their family. They have four children, ages 10 to 2 years old. You can contact him at

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.


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.



Prosper Waco: Making the switch from “Sick Care” to “Health Care”

By Wendy Cox

If you’ve paid attention to the news over the last 10 years, you’ve likely heard debate around our nation’s healthcare system. In many respects it seems Americans really have a “sick care” system instead.

Figure 1. Discrepancy between health determinants and spending. Adapted from “Community Centered Health Homes: Bridging the gap between health services and community prevention,” by J. Cantor, L. Cohen, L. Mikkelsen, R. Panares, J. Srikantharajah, and E. Valdovinos, 2011, p. 4. Copyright 2011 by Prevention Institute.

We visit our clinics most often when we are already sick, and physicians are paid almost exclusively for treating sick patients. This model is financially burdensome (Figure 1). Environments and behavior, which can be changed, are at the root of most illness, and yet only 4% of our $2.3 trillion-dollar healthcare budget is spent to promote health and prevent illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control, chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity affect half of Americans and account for 75% of healthcare spending. Because chronic conditions are preventable with lifestyle and environmental changes around risk factors like diet and physical activity, our current models of care and funding don’t make financial sense. More money should be invested in creating healthy environments that lead to healthy behaviors.

With generous support from the Episcopal Health Foundation’s Community Centered Health Home (CCHH) grant, Family Health Center (FHC) is engaged in creating a more efficient model. A CCHH clinic acknowledges the factors outside of the exam room that affect patients’ health, and actively participates in changing them. FHC is doing this alongside community partners by addressing diet, physical activity, health-harming legal needs, access to green space, and community policy decisions.

Family Health Center, along with our partners at World Hunger Relief, Inc. (WRHI) have implemented a prescription for produce program.  Physicians write prescriptions for fresh produce, and WHRI delivers it to four clinics. Patients then fill their produce prescriptions at their clinic, much like they would pick up medication from the pharmacy.

Caregivers from FHC can also write prescriptions for exercise.  With exercise equipment and fitness advisors provided by Baylor University, patients redeem their prescriptions at FHC’s Wellness Center located in the Madison Cooper Community Clinic.

FHC providers prescribe legal services to patients. Greater Waco Legal Services is teaming up with the Madison Cooper Community Clinic medical group to form a Medical-Legal Partnership aimed at helping patients address their health-harming legal needs as individuals, and on behalf of groups when clusters or trends are identified.

FHC has made property available for the development of a health-promoting Community Gathering Space. Located next to FHC’s main site on Colcord between 15th and 18th, and guided by the expertise of Dr. Aime Sommerfeld-Lillard, this park-like garden space will offer clinic staff and neighbors a place to nurture their physical, mental, and social well-being.

FHC physicians serve on working groups of the Prosper Waco initiative. As part of a “Health in All Policies” approach, FHC physicians and staff are collaborating with other community members to embed health considerations into decision making on a broad range of efforts influencing health.

You’ve read this far, so you must be interested in moving our community from “sick care” toward a more holistic, efficient healthcare system, too! If so, there are several ways in which you can be involved:

  • Contact FHC’s Development Director, Carlos Hinojosa, to contribute financially to any of the projects
  • Get in touch with Rachel Ledbetter, FHC’s Volunteer Program Coordinator, to learn about ways to volunteer your time and expertise

If you want to learn more about any of the initiatives, see the links below:

Find out more about World Hunger Relief, Inc, Medical-Legal Partnerships, Greater Waco Legal Services, and Health in All Policies.

Watch these videos for more on Community Centered Health Homes and FHC’s produce and exercise prescriptions.

And for a real treat, enjoy Letitia’s story about her experience at FHC.

After nearly 20 years as an educator, Wendy Cox returned to school and earned a master’s degree in Public Health from Baylor University.  She is currently the Community Centered Health Home (CCHH) manager at Family Health Center and spends her days working with clinic staff and community partners to facilitate their work in making our community a healthier place to live. In her spare time, you’ll likely find her walking Waco’s extensive river trails, reading a novel, or watching a movie with her family.

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.









How our community is rallying around those returning from incarceration

By Jamie Schmitt

Everybody knows someone who has been affected by incarceration.  The goal of the McLennan County Reintegration Program is to make sure that individuals who have current or previous justice involvement are allowed to become the person they were truly meant to be!  The McLennan County Reintegration Program is a collaborative effort between the City of Waco and McLennan County in partnership with Heart of Texas Region MHMR. It provides transitional services to those currently in the county jail and those just released.  The assistance may start while the client is in jail, and often continues post release. Services focus on helping individuals successfully reintegrate into the community and avoid re-incarceration. Services include employment readiness, job search, locating housing, mental health counseling, addiction counseling, and various other support services.

Successful reintegration begins while individuals are still incarcerated.  By participating in the program while incarcerated, participants receive individual and group clinical services designed to holistically support the recovery process and achieve the self-sufficiency required to sustain a productive lifestyle free from involvement of illegal activities.

The Program has two phases: one while individuals are still incarcerated and another phase after the individuals are released. During our jail-based portion of the program, which begins in the McLennan County jail, individuals participate in an assessment, group and individual counseling along with pre-release planning to prepare for a stable reentry into the community.  Upon release, the program continues to work with the individuals to help prevent recidivism.  The program offers weekly groups and individual counseling sessions as the individuals attempt to re-establish and maintain their role as a family member, employee, student, parent, and community member.

Mentorship is an important part of successful reentry and studies show that it helps to prevent recidivism. The program has wonderful community partners who dedicate their time speaking with our clients in the McLennan County jail.  Our volunteers include Alcoholics Anonymous, Winner’s Circle and Narcotics Anonymous group members. Having these motivational speakers is an important part of the recovery process which builds positive relationships while in early recovery.  The relationships built continue to support clients well into the long-term recovery journey.

Click on the following links to read success stories of the Reintegration Program:

If you would like more information please contact Jamie Schmitt by phone or email 254-297-7706,

Jamie Schmitt, MSW, LCDC, PRSS-TOC has been counseling in the recovery field since 2003. With a passion to provide a true Recovery Oriented Systems of Care for all individuals and their supports, she co-founded Heart of Heart of Texas Region ROSC in 2011.  In 2017, Jamie was honored to receive the D. Frank Davis Professional and Community Outreach Award which is presented to individuals who have a demonstrated tenured dedication to the addiction profession while actively supporting the mission of recovery through their involvement in other key organizations. #RecoveryHappens

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.









Prosper Waco: An innovative approach to job retention

By Christina Helmick

In 2014, the City of Waco commissioned a study to identify innovative economic development strategies that could concurrently enhance the local economic base and provide a sustainable pathway for economically-disadvantaged Waco residents toward full-time employment. That study, called the Upjohn Economic Development Study, provided City officials with 80 pages of potential evidence-based strategies to improve Waco’s economic development efforts, which would also enhance efforts to decrease Waco’s poverty rate.

One of the strategies identified in the 2014 Upjohn Economic Study was the need for an employer resource network. The concept of the employer resource network is to connect the needs of local employers to social service agencies supporting individuals looking for jobs or needing assistance in keeping the jobs. To those who know her, it is no surprise that Ashley Bean Thornton took the lead and created the first phase of Waco’s employer resource network, called WFEN (Waco Foundational Employment Network) at the time. For about a year and a half, local employers, social service agencies and staffing agencies met to discuss how each entity can work together to keep individuals in jobs.

Combined with the findings of the Upjohn study and the success of WFEN, the City of Waco provided pilot funding to Caritas of Waco and Heart of Texas Goodwill to be the lead implementing partners of the Waco Employer Resource Network (WERN) in late 2017. WERN’s mission is to provide holistic, personalized support to local employers and employees, ensuring a strong, sustainable workforce for today and for the future.

The Network is led by a Success Coach, Spike Burt, and Liaison, Katy Schulz. The Network provides:

  • Confidential, personalized one-on-one case management for an individual employee facing challenges
  • Connection to local support services that are beyond the employer’s scope of work.

The hope is that this holistic support will result in Increased employee retention and productivity. The collaborative efforts of organizations involved in WERN are working to improve Waco’s median household income. Right now, the median household income in Waco is $37,722.

Spike Burt, the Network’s Success Coach, supports, assists and encourages each employee to overcome barriers to retaining employment. He connects employees to company, public and nonprofit resources such as:

  • Childcare
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Education (GED, ESL)
  • Utility assistance
  • Job training

The Network’s Liaison, Katy Schulz, is the central point of contact for employers. She works with organizations involved in WERN, sends out career opportunities to the Network, and coordinates the monthly Network meeting. The monthly Network meetings are focused on bridging the gap between local employers and local resources to support employees.

If you would like to join WERN (as an employer or partner agency), please email Katy Schulz at You can follow WERN on Facebook to keep up-to-date of the Network’s activities!

If you’d like to learn more about WERN and other efforts addressing quality of life in Waco, visit The Work page on the Prosper Waco website!  

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.