Construction & hospitality job training courses set for summer

By Tiffany Gallegos Whitley

June has been a busy month recruiting for UpSkill Waco summer training. I’m excited to have Heaven Lee, our new UpSkill Waco coordinator, onboard the team to help with training coordination and recruitment. 

We are actively seeking participants for the next “Construction Core” training with Texas State Technical College July 12 and a new “Hospitality Fundamentals” course with McLennan Community College July 19. In addition to these courses, a healthcare training course is in the works for early August. 

The summer classes will be during the day, with evening courses planned for late summer/early fall. 

We are working to build a variety of scheduling options and rotating training locations around neighborhood locations to ensure we are fulfilling UpSkill Waco’s purpose of providing flexible and accessible workforce training around the county. 

Scholarships are still available for individuals who cannot afford training costs. The applications for training and scholarships can be found on UpSkill Waco’s website at We are looking for 12 students for Construction Core and 16 for Hospitality Fundamentals, so please help us get the word out! Please reach out to [email protected] with any questions. 

Tiffany Gallegos Whitley is director of workforce initiatives for Prosper Waco.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Waco’s economic future hinges on post-high school education, training

By Hermann Pereira

I have spent the past 15 years in public education, and I never really realized how much our economic future hinges upon post-high school enrollment and completion rates. But when you break it down you realize that how well we prepare our students today directly impacts the economics of our community. 

We must focus on getting students to and through post-secondary education and into our local workforce. A recent data set that I received from an education-focused organization named Commit shows the unemployment and two-year institution enrollment for the past 20 years. It is amazing to see the rates run parallel up until 2019 when those two lines invert. Many factors have caused this, but what we know is that the pandemic will only accentuate these trends. 

This data is not meant to scare anyone but to show that this is an issue we need to embrace. We, as a community, must find new and innovative ways to partner with our higher education institutions. Getting students to and through higher education will lead us to more robust workforce pipelines in our community. 

At the state level there is legislation that is attempting to support these efforts. SB2111 and HB 2030 are companion bills that are focused on creating regional talent pipelines. This will give incentives to local partnerships and institutions of higher education that would support students to and through higher education and into the workforce. HB 2030 has passed the house, but we are waiting for SB 2111 to receive a hearing. 

Waco Foundation and Prosper Waco have embarked on a journey to complete a landscape analysis of college access and success in McLennan County. This quantitative and qualitative data analysis will provide a picture of the current state of the local support system for college access and success. Our goals are to:

  • Identify strengths, challenges, and areas for strategic improvement of the local support   system for college access and success;
  • Identify which service areas are strong and where there are gaps; and
  • Bring together community stakeholders to collaboratively address systemic issues.

Prosper Waco is committed to the success of all students in McLennan County. If you have any questions or want to discuss education in our community please reach out to me at [email protected].

Hermann Pereira is chief program officer for Prosper Waco and leads the nonprofit’s efforts in education and workforce development.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

It’s important to not become fatigued about opportunity gaps

By Hermann Pereira

Everyone is feeling the fatigue of all that we have been through this past year. In our fatigue, it is easy to overlook things, but I want to bring something to our attention as a community that is important for us not to get fatigued about. 

Every student graduating from high school deserves an opportunity to move on to their post-secondary plans of choice. In our community we have great higher education choices and growing industries that our students should have access to, but the data says otherwise. 

I would like to bring your attention to just the enrollment data, which shows the rate at which high school students enroll in higher education. The numbers from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center are staggering. It compares the data from the class of 2019 and the class of 2020, remember the class of 2020 is the one that graduated in the midst of the pandemic. 

Overall enrollment in higher education High Poverty Schools Low Poverty Schools
Class of 2019-1.5%-1.6%-1.4%
Class of 2020-6.8%-11.4% -2.9%

In Greater Waco, we have six larger school districts which total 35,000+ students. Three of the six districts are in that higher poverty range, and they have more than 20,000 students. This growing gap in higher education enrollment is a major opportunity gap, and it is only getting bigger. 

There are existing efforts that are looking to address this growing opportunity gap. I want to highlight two upcoming existing efforts:

  • The McLennan County College Access Network is hosting a Drive Thru Event 10 a.m.-2 p.m. April 24. The event will be for all high school seniors and their parents to get help with financial aid, college admissions, and enrollment. The event will be held at Communities in Schools, 1001 Washington Ave.. 
  • Prosper Waco and Waco Foundation will begin a comprehensive study on the college and career continuum in McLennan County. We hope to capture who is providing what services to which students and to what affect in our county. At the conclusion of the study we will share results openly with the community. 

Prosper Waco is committed to ensuring all students in McLennan County have equitable access to college and career resources. If you have any questions or want to discuss education in our community please reach out to me at [email protected].

Hermann Pereira is chief program officer of Prosper Waco.

UpSkill Waco to offer first training course – Industrial Maintenance Technician

By Tiffany Gallegos Whitley

Last year was challenging and heartbreaking for so many of us. One of the bright spots in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic was seeing the various ways our community worked together.

I’m particularly thankful for the willingness of our higher education, nonprofit, chamber, and city government partners to come together and strategize how to adapt workforce training in light of our higher unemployment rate due to COVID.

After a few months of consultation and planning to structure the UpSkill Waco initiative, we are finally ready to announce the first training course will be Industrial Maintenance Technician. This is a versatile occupation that offers various pathways to family-sustaining wages. There are a number of jobs for individuals with industrial maintenance skillsets in our community, and I look forward to working with some of our business partners to connect trainees to open positions. The course will be six weeks starting the week of March 15. The time and location are not yet finalized but will be included on the online application, which will be available starting Jan. 15.

I’m thankful and excited to see the first UpSkill Waco training come to fruition. I have to give a big shout out to Texas State Technical College, McLennan Community College, and Heart of Texas Goodwill for working alongside me to coordinate and bring these training courses to neighborhoods in our city.

Anyone interested in being on the email list to receive UpSkill Waco training updates and applications can email me at [email protected]

Tiffany Gallegos Whitley is director of workforce initiatives for Prosper Waco.

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 Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

New workforce initiative launched at Prosper Waco; Gallegos Whitley leading

By Ferrell Foster

WACO — Prosper Waco has begun an effort called UpSkill Waco to promote coordination of workforce initiatives in Greater Waco and to provide scholarship funding for residents, particularly those impacted by COVID-19, to gain needed training or re-skilling for high-demand occupations.

Cooper Foundation is funding the effort, which will be led by Tiffany Gallegos Whitley, Prosper Waco’s new director of workforce initiatives. She will continue in her role as chair of Waco Employer Resource Network (WERN), a working group of higher education, community organizations, and employers involved in workforce development and employee retention.

Tiffany Gallegos Whitley

The goal of UpSkill Waco is to train local residents to improve their work skills in a manner that matches local job needs and to do so using a cost-effective model. 

“Working toward this goal takes coordination,” said Hermann Pereira, Prosper Waco’s senior education and workforce specialist. “Prosper Waco has met with City Council members, existing leaders of businesses in five sectors, the three Chambers of Commerce, instructors from MCC & TSTC training programs in five areas, Goodwill industries, City of Waco services and local organizers with roots in neighborhoods. Prosper Waco has gotten commitment from these entities to create an aligned system of services to provide workforce training at a reasonable cost for Waco.” 

Gallegos Whitley said the initiative is particularly focused on persons about age 18-24 who have a high school diploma but no post-high school education or training. Unemployment rates are highest among this group, she said. 

“My role was created to coordinate multiple stakeholders across the city and county to move the needle on workforce initiatives,” said Gallegos Whitley. The effort will focus on increasing the capacity of current workforce training, filling gaps in training, and providing equitable career paths to help people move into family-sustaining careers.

Prosper Waco CEO Suzii Paynter March said: “Successful workforce initiatives are based on education, training, and relevance to industry needs. Tiffany and Hermann are a talented staff team combining strengths in education and workforce success. Waco will benefit from the teamwork.”

Cooper Foundation Executive Director Felicia Goodman said: “Cooper Foundation is committed to making Waco a better and more desirable community in which to live. An important part of any healthy community is having job opportunities and trained persons to serve in those jobs. This workforce initiative will help both the people and businesses of Waco.”

The project is yet another outgrowth of the 2014 Upjohn economic development plan presented to the city. “We are building off of the Upjohn report and going beyond,” said Gallegos Whitley. “We are staying current with new data.”

“Upjohn has influenced all that we have done with workforce development in recent years, giving us a north star to guide our efforts,” Pereira said. “In this newest stage we are investing in the goals of other organizations involved in the effort.”

Gallegos Whitley has called Waco home for the past 12 years. She is a two-time Baylor University graduate, receiving a bachelor’s degree in international studies and a Master of Social Work degree. Between undergraduate studies and graduate school, Gallegos Whitley worked with the Texas Hunger Initiative, helping communities organize around food security issues. She became passionate about community development and decided to root herself in Waco.

Prior to joining Prosper Waco, Gallegos Whitley worked 5½ years with Heart of Texas Goodwill Industries, where she oversaw building strategic community and business partnerships to further Goodwill’s job training and education programs. During her time at Goodwill, she also helped implement the Waco Employer Resource Network, a national model of skills training and job retention for incumbent workers.

In her role with Prosper Waco, Gallegos Whitley will oversee workforce projects that bring together key stakeholders to collaborate and continue building equitable training and career pathways for all McLennan County residents.

Ferrell Foster is senior content specialist for care and communication with Prosper Waco.

CWJC: Nurturing Women, Transforming Lives in Waco

By Anna Hoffman

I first heard about Christian Women’s Job Corps (CWJC) Waco 5 years ago when I joined “Women of Waco” for business networking. We often talked about the needs of CWJC and we regularly gathered items for the students. One WOW meeting 3 years ago the director told the group that they had a need for a volunteer to teach night class Bible Study. I had already wanted to be more involved and here was my chance. 

Here it is 3 years later, and it is clear that CWJC, the students and the leaders have had more of an impact on me than I have had on them. 

The reason I volunteer is to be a part of something that encourages and equips women. My goal with the Bible Study is to do these same things by reminding the students of two things that encompass a great amount of truth: 1) That there is hope for their future. 2) That God deeply loves them. I want to be involved with an organization that is doing this very thing. At various times in all of our lives, we need to be reminded of these two things. In a Bible Study or through a devotional reading this can be simply done. One of my favorite things to do is to remind others that God loves them and that He is for them. Not because of something we did or didn’t do, but because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is what motivates me to be dedicated to the ladies of CWJC and to their mission to “Nurture Women & Transform Lives.” This is what motivates me to give of my time, resources, and money. The Baskets of Hope fundraiser is designed to give us ALL the opportunity to remind others there is hope for the future and that God seriously loves them. Accomplishing this mission day in and day out comes at a cost. 

If we all come together, teachers, mentors, staff, volunteers, donors, and students for this all-encompassing mission of “Nurturing Women, Transforming Lives” the impact will be immeasurable. We will have ladies who are educated with their GED and have the tools to find a good job. But more importantly these same ladies will know they have a community of people who support them and a Savior who loves them. Then they can pass that on.… Hope for the future!

Supporting CWJC Waco brings transformation and hope to women across McLennan County. Join our mission by exploring ways to give at or contact us at 254-757-0416 for more information.

Anna Hoffman has served for several years as a community leader and community relations director advocating for the care of the sick and elderly. She is the Community Relations Director for Visiting Angels where she has the privilege of serving local healthcare professionals and seniors. Because of her years of being the wife of a wonderful husband, the mother of two amazing kids, a grandmother, a pastor’s wife, and music director, she brings with her a compassionate heart to help connect her clients to the right services for their needs. Anna is actively involved in various community organizations – serving on the board of the Greater Hewitt Chamber of Commerce, chairing events for the Alzheimer’s Association, serving as the President of the Women of Waco, and teaching weekly Bible study at CWJC Waco.

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 [email protected] for more information.

CWJC: Igniting a Passion for Change

By Cindy Gough

My passion for this ministry started years ago. As a single mom for many years, I struggled with schedules, job, finances, family time and any type of “me” time that I could squeeze in. I always felt blessed to be where I was at that exact moment, but always in the back of my mind, I wanted to do more, provide more and be proud of my accomplishments. As important, I wanted to make my kids proud of their mom!

I see those same struggles with the women that come to Christian Women’s Job Corps. I see different backgrounds, different lost opportunities, different sacrifices made over the years and lots of hope in their hearts for a CHANGE!

All women, no matter what their age or situation, want to be proud of who they are and want to have self-esteem and confidence. So many of our women in this ministry are strong and brave and have already achieved so much. I got involved with CWJC Waco to provide that “helping hand” that we’ve all needed at some point in our lives. If we can help change a woman’s education, give her some courage and strength, skills to reach a level perhaps she never dreamed of, and bring her closer to God and renew her faith, then we have done our job at CWJC.

All of this is offered to our women free of charge. We provide that helping hand, a teacher, a volunteer, an education, computer training, a variety of curriculum, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and all at no cost to them. This is only made possible through our generous donors and those that have worked tirelessly over the years. Like every non-profit, we must have fundraisers and monthly donations to keep this ministry viable for the women in our community. Please join us in this campaign and see what you feel you can do financially to help women in their quest to be stronger, gain power in themselves and their families and see a renewed spirit in each of them.

Supporting CWJC Waco brings change to lives across McLennan County. Join our mission by exploring ways to give at or contact us at 254-757-0416 for more information.

Cindy Gough is a Realtor with Camille Johnson, Realtors here in Waco, Texas. Cindy loves her business and helping clients as well as helping others in her community. She spends many hours serving her community and is involved in her church at Highland Baptist in Waco. Cindy has served on multiple Boards in different agencies across the Waco area. Cindy is a big Baylor Bear fan and loves spending her time off with her family and her 5 grandkids!

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 [email protected] for more information.

CWJC: Receiving Leads to Giving Back

By Sara Aguirre

This is part 2 of a 4-part series on The Christian Women’s Job Corps of McLennan County. For all of the posts in this series, click here: CWJC. – ALW

Christian Women’s Job Corps is life changing. The women we serve are some of the strongest women I know. Their perseverance to overcome life’s challenges takes courage and bravery, and the women we serve have what it takes to conquer and thrive. My favorite part of my job is listening to the women share their hopes and dreams and helping them create goals to move towards their dreams. CWJC provides free programs, GED and Career Track, for women in McLennan County. 

Our GED program provides hope for so many women who haven’t had the opportunity to complete high school. CWJC provides all the materials needed, covers the cost of practice test and GED official test, tutoring, and case management. Career Track offers skills that are holistic to help women prepare for their career. Career Track offers Bible Study, Boundaries, Job readiness (resume writing, mock interviews, and job retention), computer skills, personal development, money management, guest speaker workshops, and mentoring.

Poverty, past mistakes, and failures don’t have to control your life – you can choose to take the steps to a brighter future. I’m actually an alumna of the Career Track program at CWJC. I came into CWJC without a job, phone, car, and living in a long-term recovery home due to my brokenness and choices I had made. CWJC helped me gain the confidence I needed to pursue the dreams God has put into my heart. Shortly after completing the program I went to pursue my dream, earning my degree in social work, now I’m able to give back what I have received. Never give up on the dreams God has put in your heart because with God all things are possible.

None of the work CWJC Waco does would be possible without the support of our donors and community. The transforming work done at CWJC leads to women giving back to their community. Supporting CWJC Waco brings empowerment to women across McLennan County. Join our mission by exploring ways to give at or contact us at 254-757-0416 for more information. 

Sara Aguirre is a CWJC Alumni from Waco, TX. After her time with CWJC, Sara graduated with her undergrad in social work from Tarleton State University and is currently working towards her master’s degree in clinical social work. Sara has served the Waco community since 2006 in various roles and capacities. She has worked with families in the foster care system through the Department of Family Protective Services. Sara is an active member of Antioch Community Church where she has served in the youth ministry, overseas missions, and guest services. Sara is passionate about working with individuals who have experienced trauma and who want to be equipped, empowered, and transformed by the healing power of Jesus. Sara enjoys going to ball games, traveling, learning, and having meaningful conversations over a cup of coffee!

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 [email protected] for more information.

CWJC: Staying In and Stepping Up

This is part 1 of a 4-part series on The Christian Women’s Job Corps of McLennan County. For all of the posts in this series, click here: CWJC. — ALW

By Lydia Tate

“I want to show my son school doesn’t have to be scary.”

“I have the confidence to dream again.”

“I found my calling.”

“CWJC gave me the skills and the foundation I needed to actually live.”

As I read these words just over 10 months ago on a local charity’s website, my pulse quickened, and I got goosebumps. I read on to find that CWJC not only impacts the Waco area – but chapters of this organization impact women around the world. More goosebumps. Nurturing women, transforming lives…Equip, Encourage, Empower…some of their key slogans and more great reasons to align with CWJC Waco. I sent my resume to the Board of Directors, I prayed and asked God to equip me.

Christian Women’s Job Corps (CWJC) of McLennan County is a dynamic organization empowering the lives of women over the age of 18 in our area. The women who seek CWJC out are hungry for change, transformation, and accountability to meet their goals. They are often scared too. With the help of our steady volunteers, women receive one-on-one mentoring, case management, tutoring, and training. Our classes include money management, computer skills, job retention, resume building, interview skills, communication, Boundaries, GED prep, Bible study, and personal development topics. With a holistic, goal-oriented, positive approach, women graduate from CWJC’s programs feeling empowered and confident. And they’ve done this since 2003 for hundreds of women with the help of thousands of volunteers.

Like I said before: goosebumps.

Becoming a part of CWJC’s mission was like diving into a beautiful lagoon. It was easy to see why so many lives were being changed and why I got “all the feels” reading testimonial after testimonial. Then as I learned more – I saw how deeply invested in the community CWJC was and is becoming. I believe deeply in what I’m seeing modeled by CWJC – partnership is powerful. From our community partners to our volunteers, our donors to our interns – partnership is powerful.

CWJC Waco is on a partnership journey right now: normally we would be preparing for our annual dinner and silent auction on Sept. 22 called Baskets of Hope – a celebration of CWJC’s impact to be sure. With COVID coming to town, we knew going into the summer that this event would be compromised.

Staying In and Stepping Up” was the necessary choice CWJC made this year. Our grand celebration of the great work CWJC does has had to take a pandemic shift to This year we traded the party for “the ask.” This year we are asking for GED scholarships so 100 women can get their GED in the year to come. This year we are asking for laptop fund donations to help us provide for technology needs in light of our enhanced need for digital instruction in the pandemic. This year we are asking for monthly donations that can be matched by our underwriter, TFNB – Your Bank For Life. And this year, instead of tables and baskets – we ask for your generous sponsorships that provide Joy, Hope, Faith, and Love to the women of CWJC. Join CWJC in the mission of empowering lives by Staying In and Stepping Up at or call 254-757-0416 for more information.

Lydia Tate has happily called Waco home since 2011, after spending most of her life in the Houston area. During her time as an undergrad at Houston Baptist University, Lydia found a passion and calling for the work of women’s ministry. The joy of bringing women together to support each other became a career in nonprofit work at Sigma Phi Lambda as their first national Executive Director. Lydia is inspired by the great work that CWJC does in the community. She would love to share conversation with you over a warm beverage and chat about the mission of CWJC and how you can be a part of its vision. Lydia can also be found singing, playing piano, playing board games, and serving at her church, Calvary Baptist. She also enjoys life with her husband, David, their three sons, and their amazing dog, Cami.

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 [email protected] for more information.

Helping students figure out a future that fits

By Elizabeth Brownlee

Figuring out what you want to do with your life is difficult for a 30-year-old adult, so you can imagine teenagers have a tough time with it.

House Bill 5, passed in 2013, increased the pressure for our students to plan for their future careers at an earlier age.  All ninth graders are now required to select one of the following endorsements:

  • Arts and Humanities Endorsement 
  • Business and Industry Endorsement 
  • Multidisciplinary Endorsement 
  • Public Service Endorsement 
  • STEM Endorsement 

An “endorsement” is a series of courses that are grouped together to support a particular career path. To implement this requirement successfully, schools have had to expand career exploration opportunities for students, and also start the career exploration process sooner.

At Connally ISD, one of the major ways we help our students find their future career path is through the Connally Career Tech Early College High School.  Our campus is completely focused on students working towards their chosen future careers.  We help them get started on their career path and get experience in their chosen fields before they graduate.  As the counselor of Connally Career Tech I spend a lot of time with students trying to help them create plans not only for high school, but for their futures once they graduate. It may seem unrealistic to ask a fifteen-year-olds to plan out their future career paths and expect them to stick to it, and maybe it is, but getting them to start thinking and talking about a path is important.

For me helping a student choose a career path is all about building a relationship.  I know in education we constantly talk about test scores and grades, but when it comes to being a counselor, you have to build relationships with your students.  Getting to know my students and their interests helps me guide them along their career exploration path. I am constantly trying to get to know my students.  I try to see them in their element, whether it’s while they’re in study hall, in the classroom, or just talking to their friends. I talk to parents about their student’s interests.  Parents have insights into their student’s likes and dislikes that I may not see. 

My relationship with a student is my most important tool for helping them.  I need to know what’s important to them.  Without the relationship, I wouldn’t be able to have those important, hard, honest conversations when their goals and their interests don’t seem to match.

Sometimes a student will want to study for a particular career path because an older sibling really likes it, when in reality he/she has no interest in that career.  He/she is just unsure of what to do in the future.   I never try to force a student in a certain direction. I give them an idea and tools to help them research it to see if it’s something they are truly interested in pursuing. If possible, I have them speak with someone in the field or someone teaching in that field. 

I find a lot of students want to go into a career field because that’s all they’ve been exposed to growing up.  We’ve all heard of doctors, lawyers, police officers, teachers, and similar careers.  We see them all the time and they are all great career choices, but they don’t fit all students.  

Each year when we have our College and Career Fair or our Recruitment Night for Connally Career Tech, I bring my students to speak to specific tables or programs that I know fit with what they want to do in the future.  By encouraging a student talk to someone from a field they don’t automatically think about, I help them get exposure to new choices.  While I want them to go and talk to every program or table that interests them, I want to make sure I help them see what they wouldn’t normally choose.

We also try to take our students on field trips that cover multiple career fields.  This helps expose our students to different careers they may not think of right away. It is my goal to help my students find out about the lesser known, sometimes behind the scenes careers they don’t always know about.  Many times I get to go with them and observe their reactions. This helps me guide them in their career choices. Students will come back from a field trip and begin to have conversations about what they saw, what they liked or didn’t like.  Then we start moving forward with career planning based on what they tell me.

My students and I spend a lot of time talking about their career goals for the future and how their high school choices are helping them get to that career. Sometimes a student settles on a career choice, but then they get to experience a little bit of it.  They may come and tell me that it’s not what they thought, or they didn’t realize everything that went into that career and they want to change.  That is probably one of the best parts of our program. Students get to experience at least a little of what a particular career is like before they graduate from high school. They don’t have to wait until after high school and waste money and time working towards a career that they end up not enjoying. I want them to be able to make well informed decisions about their future career.  For many students, the experiences we provide help them do that.  I’ve seen too many students graduate from high school unsure of their future. I make it one of my goals to help my students have a plan or a vision for their career path before they graduate.  

Elizabeth Brownlee is in her 4th year as the Connally Career Tech Early College High School Counselor and her 10th year in education.  She has been married for just under a year.  She and her husband have two pit bulls and chihuahua.  In her free time, she enjoys crafting, running, and anything outdoors.

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 [email protected] for more information.