Rural Transportation Changing the Dynamics of Public Transportation in McLennan County and Surrounding Communities

By Jessica Maxwell

In July 2015, Waco Transit System assumed operations of the newly-formed McLennan County Rural Transit District (MCRTD). MCRTD offers appointment-based, door-to-door service that anyone can use to travel anywhere in McLennan and adjacent counties. The program, which replaced a former rural program operated by another agency, was created to improve the mobility of rural residents and enhance access to jobs, education, community services, healthcare and more. Public transportation was previously not an option for most people in these rural areas, due to limited service.

“By combining the urban and the rural systems to one provider, we’ve been able to maximize our efficiencies, which has allowed us to extend service hours and create Saturday service,” said Waco Transit System General Manager, Allen Hunter. “This program gives people who don’t have transportation a chance to lead independent lives – and we’re just glad to be a part of that.”

Take, for example, rural transit passenger, Jerry Kucera. Mr. Kucera is unable to drive and uses rural transportation every day during the week to get to his job in Waco at Goodwill. He lives at home with his parents in West, and his mother, Dorothy, said the service has been a “godsend” to their family.

“My husband cannot drive anymore, because he’s on oxygen 24/7, and I needed somebody to help me with the driving,” said Mrs. Kucera. “The drivers handle him [Jerry] with kid-glove care, they’re there on time, and they make sure he gets to work on time.”

Public outreach has been instrumental in generating awareness on MCRTD and educating on rural transportation’s affordability and ease of use. To help promote the program even more, MCRTD partnered with Texas country music artist, Holly Tucker, to create an eye-catching TV commercial and full-length PSA.

MCRTD has grown exponentially and continues to flourish. The service provided more than 54,000 trips in 2017 and experienced 114% growth from the previous calendar year. This year, MCRTD is projected to transport more than 63,000 passengers. Ridership has increased above expectation, and transit officials expect those numbers to rise even more as word continues to spread about the program.

Additionally, MCRTD was named the “2018 Outstanding Rural Transit System of the Year” by the Texas Transit Association. This award is given out each year to an agency in the state of Texas that displays exemplary service in the transportation industry.

“In a time when ridership has been declining in the state and in rural transportation, our ridership has actually gone up each year,” said Mr. Hunter. “We’ve worked very hard to grow this program, and we’re excited for what the future holds.”

Rural transit service is available from 5:15 a.m. to 7:15 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 6:15 a.m. to 8:15 p.m., on Saturday. Trips can be arranged by calling Waco Transit System at least 24 hours in advance at (254) 750-1620 or 877-875-RIDE (7433).  Fare for one-way, in-county trips is $3.00, and fare for one-way, adjacent-county trips is $5.00. Fees also apply for guests. Destinations include anywhere in McLennan or adjacent counties, as long as one leg of the scheduled trip originates from, or travels to, a rural address.

For more information about the McLennan County Rural Transportation District program, call (254) 750-1620. Additional information can also be found on the Waco Transit System website at http://www.waco-texas.com/transit/rural_transit.asp.


Jessica Maxwell is the Director of Marketing for Waco Transit System. She graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BA in Journalism and Communication Studies. Originally from Illinois, she moved to Texas with her husband in 2013, and they have been happily settled in Waco ever since. She enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and experiencing all the great outdoors has to offer. You can reach Jessica at jessicam@wacotx.gov.

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.

 

 

Towny Waco: Business on the Brazos – Waco Paddle Company

(Welcome to the Act Locally Waco/Towny blog series. Towny is an app that exists to connect consumers with local businesses. It’s fairly new to Waco and is loaded with answers to the question, “Why local?” Through this blog series, the folks at Towny will be sharing the stories behind some of our high-quality, local products and helping you get to know some of our energetic local entrepreneurs. We hope you enjoy it! Supporting local business is a terrific way to support the Waco economy! Plus, it’s just fun to get to know your neighbors. For more posts in this blog series, click here: Towny Waco.– ALW)

by Beth Whittington

Sarah Raley, Ross + Beth Harris

Ross and Beth Harris have considered Waco their permanent home since 2003.  Ross was with a store called Outdoor Waco. Bicycle World bought Outdoor Waco and then sold the water rentals part of the business to Ross and Beth 2016. The couple, along with Beth’s sister, Sarah Raley, rebranded the business as Waco Paddle Company.

All three of them had an interest in the outdoors – we’re talking rock climbing, camping, mountain biking, swimming, canoe and stand-up paddling.   Beth was an outdoor recreation major at Baylor (Ross and Sarah’s alma mater as well!) Before she and Ross had their first child in 2015, she had been the Director of Recreational Services at Methodist Children’s Home for five years. Between her experience and Ross’s experience with Outdoor Waco, it seemed like a great opportunity.

We met up with Sarah Raley, to learn more about the business of the Brazos. What we didn’t know was – for Sarah, there is waaay more behind the word “marine” than water sports. Here’s a gorgeous example of local leadership AND the, no doubt, interesting journey of this mother of two.

Sarah, how did you get involved in Waco Paddle Company?

Sarah on her last day in the military!

“I came to Baylor in 2005. My husband, too…We left for me to go to law school in Austin. I joined the Marine Corps and I was a judge advocate — I was a lawyer in the Marine Corps — up until last year in Okinawa, Japan. We visited Texas before we permanantly moved back to the States. We were in Austin and Dallas and Waco, and we were just like – man, Waco is such a great place.

We really feel strongly that Waco Paddle Company can add value to people’s lives. Get them outdoors. It’s fun and relaxing; it’s adventurous. It’s an activity, exercise and you don’t even mean it to be. Sometimes when you’re on the water it feels like you’re by yourself. There’s nothing else going on. It’s a fun thing to be a part of. No one gets off the water, and comes back in upset or disappointed.”

Did you enjoy your time in the military?

“It was a very interesting, very valuable thing to go through, though there were certainly parts of it I didn’t enjoy. I was prosecuting a sexual assault case and our judge was a reserve colonel getting his reserve time by coming over and presiding over some of our cases.

It turned out that he was an assistant U.S. attorney in Austin. He said, the kind of cases you just prosecuted, you would have had to be in my office for 10 years to have even been a fourth seat on a case like this and you’re getting to do it. Overall, the experience was very, very good.”

So, being a part of the community sounds like a huge value to Waco Paddle Company?

“We try to be involved in anything that makes sense as a watercraft rental business on the Brazos… When there are events on the water like TriWaco or Sharkfest, we provide kayaks for the lifeguards.

We do a quarterly river clean up with Keep Waco Beautiful where they bring in loads and loads of volunteers.

We want to be stewards of the river.  We want people to appreciate and care for not only the Brazos but Texas waterways in general, so we want to be involved in that.

Our dock is going to be the entry point for the swim portion of the IronMan!”

And you guys do all this with four kids under three years old!

“Maybe that’s the reason. We all need something to pour our intellectual energy into because we’re dealing with little kids all the time!”

What does Waco Paddle offer the community, specifically?

The Harrises

“We have stand-up paddle boards, we have single and double kayaks, and canoes. You can rent them anywhere from an hour to all day. We see lots of families coming out or people trying this out a first time or a group of girls coming out looking for something fun to do. Our clientele for rentals is very widespread!

What’s awesome about kayaking, paddle boarding or canoeing – you can do it when you’re older. It doesn’t require a lot of physicality to do it. Anyone can do it!

We have infant life jackets. My niece that’s going to turn one soon – she’s gone out of couple times. We just put her in a little infant life jacket and she just sits right in front of you. My boys love it.

The rentals are so accessible. Our staff gets you set up, they get you your lifejackets. They show you how to hold your paddle; they show you how to do different types of strokes and they help you get on the water so it’s so accessible for anyone. For families, for groups, for kids of all ages; it’s so great.

Sarah + her family (Ben is husband)

Along with our rentals, we’ve been doing night paddles on Friday nights. You go out from 8-10PM and watch the sunset on the river. Paddling at night time is just a different type of adventure because it’s dark. But, in downtown Waco all of the bridges are lit up and you’re paddling by the light of the suspension bridge.

We’ve had people come out for every single one and they get off the water and say, when’s the next one? We’ll see you then! It’s just different. It’s so peaceful. There’s even less ambient noise out there. It has a different feel to it.”

What about for kids?

“We did camps this summer. (It probably doesn’t hurt that it’s like 100 degrees outside!)

The kids learned how to operate all of our different watercraft – kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddle boards – but in a really fun way. They played Capture the Flag and did races to practice the paddle techniques. They did an extended paddle trip down the Brazos.  They put in at the MCC dock and they would spend the entirety of that day paddling back to our dock.

EVERYONE loved it. We got great feedback from all the parents. We ended up with about 10 kids per session. We would do up to 20 kids per session, but we’d never have a ratio beyond one staff for every five campers.”

What’s new for Wacoans and Waco Paddle Co.?

We’re planning on offering paddle trips to EVERYONE on Saturdays this fall. Kind of what we did for kids’ camps, but we’re going to do a different put in location. People would come to Waco Paddle Company and we would transport everyone and the boats to a put in location.

It takes paddlers out of the totally urban realm and takes people into more adventure. When you paddle on the Brazos, you don’t see any homes or things like that, it gives you a good sense of adventure.


Beth Whittington remembers sitting on the Waco suspension bridge as a girl, visiting family friends. Legs dangling off, watching the Fourth of July fireworks spark the sky. Been a Waco local for the better part of 19 years.  Gaps explainable by the awkwardly untrue term of “ex-missionary.” Beth thrives on: generating ideas + copywriting. Can’t wait to: visit South Africa. Favorite part of Waco: Bangkok Royale + the HOTHTC. Wants: everyone in Waco to get Towny because it’ll make life better for us all if we let it. 

Take your local support up a notch – pop in Towny + have a look around.

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.

 

 

Arts & Culture: Busy Summer for the Central Texas Artist Collective (CTAC)…Forward to Fall!

As the hot summer of 2018 comes to an end, we reflect on our adventures in the growing arts community and look at what’s coming for the fall months.

(Underground Railroad Code Quilt by Jamie Graham)

In June, Central Texas Artist Collective (CTAC) kicked off the summer by creating the BLACK BOLD exhibition. It was featured at the Juneteenth Family Fun Day event. We asked the artists to create artwork that reflected on African American’s forgotten history through today’s Black Culture. The artistic visions from everyone’s point of view with historical accuracy through research and modern-day reflections were encouraged. The turn out was small, but the artwork was stunning.  Several pieces honored musicians like Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and local favorite, Byron Swan. There was pop style piece of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr that was created in bold hues of blue. One unique mixed media piece was created out of rice, beans, and lentils that depicted the portrait of the first female Buffalo Soldier, Cathey Williams. Another woman’s first piece was a tribute to the first female African American to receive a pilot’s license and was affectionately called Queen Bess. My favorite piece was a thoughtfully crafted Underground Railroad Code Quilt. Each square would safely guide the traveler to their destination and on to freedom. This exhibit created an educational experience that enhanced the Juneteenth celebration weekend and continued to be shown downtown at Klassy Glass, on Austin Ave. Our hope is that it would inspire or encourage viewers to continue discovering and to create their own artwork.

The comic and pop culture community continue to thrive and gain momentum in Texas. CTAC members travelled south to Austin, TX for the Greater Austin Comic-Con. If you have never been to this type of convention, you can expect to see attendees in the thousands fully embracing the vibe of the comic and pop culture environment. You will find a variety of original artwork by the creators themselves, fan art, crafts, costume designers, actors, cosplayers, and so much more. The best part for CTAC was holding space for a talented team of artists, known as Fan Addicts Waco. They have banded together to put their style of comic and pop art in front of viewers at GeekFest in Killeen, TX and at the Bell County Comic-Con in Belton, TX. Locally, the Fan Addicts Waco bunch holds art exhibits at Bare Arms Brewing, on LaSalle Ave. The current exhibit, which started September 15, features Anime fan art.

Photo by Steve Veracruz; Left to Right: Joel Colosimo, Armando Ramirez, Shay MacMorran, Josh Bueno

Photo by Steve Veracruz

It was nice to give back to our community in July. Several CTAC members helped Doreen Ravenscroft of Waco Cultural Arts Festival, by providing face painting at McLane Stadium for the 4th of July festivities. It was a lot of work and fun!

Then, First Friday in July, the Pop and Comic Art Exhibit opened at Cultivate7Twelve. This was the first time CTAC collaborated with Cultivate7Twelve to co-curate an art exhibit that took over the two downstairs gallery spaces. We had been talking about it since December; even though the curators changed several times. In the end, together we produced an exhibit to remember. While CTAC focused on new and emerging artists who have spent most of their lives creating comic art; Cultivate was able to reach more established artists to fill in the traditional pop style of art. Both coming together to create a vibrant experience for the senses.

Photo by random person (Thank you so much!)

Also, during the exhibiting month, CTAC featured Rachael Bryant, a multi-talented artist. She led a visual discussion on how to create POP and Comic Art Make-up for Cosplayers and everyday use. Rachel is a rare talent. Anything she can think of, she will find a way to create it. Over the past 3 years, we have seen Rachel use her Special FX artistry to create Superheroes and Villains, the Suicide Squad, and an estranged family trio of Gamora, Nebula, and Thanos.

Photo by Angie Veracruz; Left to right: Steve Veracruz, Dani, Rachael Bryant, Natasha West

We wrapped up this one-of-a-kind summer with another trip to Austin for the inaugural MexAmeriCon at the beautiful Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. As the name entails, this event was specifically created to build up the LatinX comic and art community. Mexican Americans from all over Texas gathered at this convention to share, sell and promote their artwork or their upcoming adventures. Angie Veracruz spoke about what CTAC does for the new and emerging Artist and how the arts community in Waco has seen a renaissance of creativity throughout the City of Waco. She introduced the attending Artists for a panel discussion about their art, their passion to create, and where do they go from here. Concluded by a Q&A session lead by Steve Veracruz. Our day wrapped up with a live performance by Isis Lee.

Photo by Jessica Moreno; Front Row: Iris Wamalwa Naka, Joey Gonzales, Daniel Barron, Genaro Barron. Standing: Isis Lee, Steve Veracruz, Angie Veracruz

Upcoming Events and Art Happenings you don’t want to miss!

  • Sept & Oct – Independent art exhibits at Klassy Glass, curated by Deborah Reed-Propst
  • Sept 15 through Sept 29 – 2nd Annual Climate Change Art Exhibit Reception at the Waco Winery
  • Sept 15 – Anime Exhibit at Bare Arms Brewery
  • Oct 5, 6 , 7 – Waco Cultural Arts Fest at Indian Springs Park
  • Oct 27 – Witchy Woman’s Whistle Fair 2018 at Whistle Stop in Crawford, TX

Angie Veracruz is an intuitive artist who is influenced by the world around us and reflective insights. She is the mother of three beautiful girls and their biggest education advocate. She is also the Executive Director of Central Texas Artist Collective. She is a member of Texans for the Arts and an arts advocate in the making.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Men of Color: Find strength through an initiative at MCC

By Madiha Kark

Young men of color face challenges every day; they strive to be seen beyond their stereotypical portrayal as depicted by news media and pop culture. Especially in higher education, their representation is small, and completion rates have been historically low. At McLennan Community College, the Men of Color Success Initiative focuses on engaging in individual and group mentoring to address challenges for first-generation students, traditionally underrepresented groups, and students in need of academic and personal direction.

The goal of the program is to increase higher-education completion rates among men of color while raising awareness of issues with diversity and equity, and creating awareness of support services available. The initiative is modeled after similar programs at other colleges in Texas, and representatives are working closely with the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color to grow its efforts.

According to a study by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE), titled Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges, “Consistently and unmistakably, data show a persistent gap separating Latinos and Black males from other student groups on measures of academic progress and college completion. These gaps exist across higher education.”

Barron Lowe, who graduated recently with an associate degree in communications, said before he found the initiative, he was going through personal issues and wasn’t sure where he was headed in life. A trip to Austin to attend a seminar for the Men of Color made him realize he wasn’t the only one with problems.

The program pairs faculty members and mentors with students to help them achieve personal and academic goals. The idea is to be accountable and push each other to better ourselves. Lowe says the networking opportunities he has had because of the initiative helped him to reach the next level in his life. He is currently working as a leasing agent for a community center but wants to get a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M. “I’ve met some of the most amazing men through this, and they’ve helped me be the best version of myself.”

Building networks and relationships is a big part of the initiative, and one that allows the group members to make stronger ties, because everyone is invested in the common goal.

“It gave me the opportunity to have a professor who was good one-on-one and really caring, and saw I had the potential to be a better student,” Lowe said. “He basically took me under his wing, and it’s been like this ever since: close.”

At a time when one might feel like they’re taking on the world alone, college can be daunting, he said. Lowe had to learn how to ask for help when necessary, something he couldn’t bring himself to do before MCC, he said.

Click here and learn how you can be a part of the Men of Color Success Initiative at MCC.


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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.