There are children in our midst who need our help

By Ferrell Foster

Doing family is not easy. Families have struggles. Anyone who grew up in a family — all of us — know this truth. But sometimes those struggles become so difficult or dangerous that children need to be protected. That’s when the state steps in, and that’s when the whole community needs to step in, as well.

Forty-two leaders in McLennan County met Sept. 24 to form a new strategic working group — the Families & Foster Care Coalition. Waco Mayor Dillon Meek provided the impetus for this meeting, asking Prosper Waco to convene those who are working in varied sectors to address the challenges faced by families and children in foster care.

Texas is in the midst of a crisis related to foster care, and Waco is no exception. Children are having to spend the night in local Child Protective Services offices because there are no places to take them. This is not the fault of CPS and its workers; it is caused by inadequate human, community, and financial resources.

Local leaders, however, are committed to disrupting the status quo; they believe we can do better if we work together. It is uncertain exactly what varied actions this new coalition will pursue, but we are rising up to make a difference. 

Anna Futral, executive director of CASA of McLennan County, has agreed to chair the coalition’s steering committee. Anna has been seeking such community-wide action for some time and is well-prepared to lead. (CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA trains volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children in the foster care system.)

It is tempting to think of these issues as only a state government matter, but government agencies are not families, and these kids need families and all the care that should go with such relationships.

State-approved families that can provide foster care step into the gap. They become a child’s new place of safety and nurture for varied amounts of time as issues with the families of origin are worked out. But foster families and families of origin need support from community networks.

In addition to the state agency services and families providing foster care, there is a critical legal system to protect the rights of children, parents, and other relatives. Judge Nikki Mundkowsky and Judge Gary Coley are two who seek to guide this court system with eyes on both legal matters and human concerns.

Then multiple attorneys provide the proper legal representation to the children and families. 

In short, it is a multifaceted system that seeks to look after the needs created by families and children in crisis. In Greater Waco, leaders realize we need a more cohesive response to the situation. We need more communication, planning, and implementation. We also need more people and organizations to work together for these children and families.

If you or your organization would like to become involved in this collaborative effort, please reach out to me via email — [email protected].

As an African proverb says: It takes a village to raise a child.

Ferrell Foster is senior specialist for care & communication with Prosper Waco. He is also acting executive director of Act Locally 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 Lions Park poised for revitalization with community support

By City of Waco staff

The City of Waco, Lions Park Trust Board, and many community partners are pleased to announce the revitalization of Waco’s beloved treasure, Lions Park, at 1716 N. 42nd St. John Tipton, immediate past president of the Waco Founder Lion’s Club and a member of the Lions Park Trust Board, said they are interested in a larger partnership that will allow for planning, revitalization, and most importantly, a continuation of this special park venue for children.

“We are grateful for our patrons, volunteers, and the entire community’s support of Lions Park over the years and look forward to the next phase in partnership with the City of Waco and other community organizations. The future of Lions Park is bright,” said Tipton.

According to City Manager Bradley Ford, while the park will temporarily close to undergo a strategic planning and rebuilding process, the City of Waco anticipates committing $2 million to ensure the brightest future for Lions Park.

Lions Park was established in 1952 by the Waco Lions as a unique and popular place for children. Volunteers and community organizations, such as the Junior League of Waco, have donated hundreds of hours and resources to the park.

“Lions Park is a unique place for families to gather, and I’m excited we have the opportunity to reimagine this park so it continues to be the community asset it has been for nearly 70 years,” said Mayor Dillon Meek. “Our community remains deeply grateful to the Waco Lions for building and maintaining this unique family treasure over the years. I also want to assure the children of Waco that while adults will be involved in the planning process, we will certainly include our young people for help with the design and amenity selection. After all, this park is for the children of our community.”

In 2018, Waco Foundation convened a group of partners interested in the park and ultimately commissioned a survey receiving more than 2,000 responses. Results of the survey were overwhelmingly positive when asked about the park’s value to the community. Additionally, many indicated a desire to support the park by donating time, money, and input.    

“The survey allowed us to better understand how the community feels about Lions Park,” said McLennan County Judge Scott Felton. “It is crystal clear that the park is not only a valued place for entertainment but a true gathering spot for families across Waco that spans generations. I am just one of many grandfathers who brought my children and grandchildren to the park for a one-of-a-kind experience in McLennan County. Now we have the chance to revitalize this community asset to make sure Wacoans now and into the future will be able to enjoy everything it has to offer.”

Activities at the nearby BASE facility will complement the park and enhance visitor and resident experience. Wes Allison, president and CEO of Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo, is interested in the future of the park, as well. “As our neighboring campus continues to expand with new facilities like the BASE at Extraco Events Center, it is really helpful to know how important Lions Park is to our community. The HOT Fair & Rodeo has wide-ranging experience with family entertainment and attractions, and so we will look for ways to partner and provide our expertise in future plans.”

The immediate future of Lions Park includes continued meetings of community partners, site plans, and community fundraising. All plans will be designed to preserve the Waco Lions’ intent and the final project will remain affordable and relevant for Waco families.

Community members interested in learning more, receiving updates, and potentially contributing to the future of the park should sign up for updates at lionsparkwaco.com.

Community partners that participated in initial convening:

  • Waco Lions International
  • Waco Foundation
  • Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo
  • Junior League of Waco
  • McLennan County
  • City of Waco
  • Waco City Council
  • United Waco
  • Waco City Council
  • United Way of Waco-McLennan County
  • Rotary Club of Waco
  • Baylor University
  • Waco Parks and Recreation 

Equity in action

By Rachel E. Pate

“In a racially equitable society, the distribution of society’s benefits and burdens would not be skewed by race.”The Aspen Institute

Brief Rewind

Around this time last year, the City of Waco, our mayor and city council held a retreat addressing racial inequity within our community. J.B. Smith, Waco Tribune-Herald reporter, covered the story in “Waco council takes aim at racial disparities, gentrification” (May 23, 2019).  Some of the staggering statistics gathered and presented by the city were highlighted in J.B.’s article, revealing that:

  • Whites account for 43% of Waco’s population but hold 80% of the jobs paying more than $40,000 as of 2015.
  • Among white households, 13.5% make less than $25,000 a year, compared with 25.3% among Hispanics and 51.1% among blacks.
  • Nearly 29% of white households make more than $100,000 a year, compared with 3.3% for blacks and 8.7% for Hispanics.
  • African Americans in 2017 had a 31% mortgage denial rate, compared with 20.9% for Hispanics and 11.7% for whites.

In the news article Councilman Dillion Meek stated: “I’ve always put a high value on grit and self-determination, but if the goal is to improve the economy, we have to look at systems from 100 or 150 years ago to now,” Meek said. “The outcomes from the data speak for themselves and are a direct result of the history of this community.”

Assistant City Manager Deidra Emerson was also quoted saying: “The end goal is to ensure that everyone in Waco thrives, including people of color. … The starting point for the next generation is the ending point of the last generation. If we don’t start to change those outcomes now, we’ll keep repeating the same things.“

Pandemic Proportions

Positioned against the backdrop of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, we all witnessed our nation’s institutions, systems, businesses and, most importantly, people brace for a great unknown together. As the virus spread, we were forced to mourn more and differently than before, all while swallowing disproportionate effects happening in communities of color. The Pandemic drastically changed so much of what we thought we once knew and added to the boiling pot of health disparities, income disparities, racial disparities and inequity in the fabric of America.  

As the wave of concern swept through our nation, our local leaders were called to immediate attention and action; elected officials, health officials, business experts and volunteer task forces were all on one accord. 

The Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce (CTAACC), along with others, was right in the thick of early and ongoing discussions about community health and our local economy. Our staff immediately pivoted from pre-set work to intentionally and strategically supporting the needs of our community’s small and minority-owned businesses. 

We partnered with the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to support immediate small business initiatives like our StarBridge Bingo and Buy Local Waco online marketing campaigns. We worked together to collect grassroots data from businesses, employees and people of color. 

CTAACC was firmly seated at the table with the city and other community partners breaking down information, providing frequent updates and contributing solutions. 

Collective Voices

While weeks of the shelter-in-place orders and social distancing continued, CTAACC assembled an informal advisory group to work alongside our staff and help create solutions for business equity. Community business members and leaders included Wannika Muhammad, Rev. Marlon Jones and Cuevas Peacock, who each added diversity, passion and perspective to the dialogue. Our group later became known as the CommUnity Voices team. United in tackling the tasks before us, we put our heads together and strategically planned our moves ahead.  

Within our virtual, weekly think-tank sessions, each member shared our concerns about equity, community and business. Each contributed wisdom and insight from our collective backgrounds in business and community development, religion and higher education and lived experiences. We examined and digested everything around us and studied the historical pre-sets of inequity. 

As we saw increased unemployment rates for workers, struggling small businesses and government relief that could only do so much, the group determined that solid, perpetual initiatives were mandatory to rightfully shore up vulnerable, small, minority-owned businesses. In those conversations, our vision for equity was honed.

Forward March

The Chamber’s Center for Business Excellence (CBE) has long been an engine for small business development, offering free business tools, technology resources and meeting space. Utilizing this existing program, CTAACC established the Cen-Tex Minority Business (CTMB) Equity Fund in May 2020 to provide business relief to businesses of color through grant funding and micro-loans.  (Donate Here.)

The CTMB Equity Fund is the first local fund in our community that will assist small minority-owned businesses facing income loss or rising expenses due to circumstances caused by natural disasters, illness, global pandemics, or any situation that disrupts their economic and social well-being. 

The fund will also provide increased access to social capital and business training/education for entrepreneurs. Our kick-start campaign goal of $100,000 provides individuals, organizations and businesses with the opportunity to not only talk about equity but invest in it also.  I could say more, but for now I’ll digress and take a breath. There’s still more action to be done tomorrow.

The Center of Business Excellence (CBE) is a private sector 501(c)(3) charity affiliated with the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce. The CBE actively helps McLennan County small businesses thrive by providing operational, social, and financial resources needed to sustain business development. The CBE manages the Cen-Tex Minority Business Equity Funda program created by the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce and a Business Advisory Committee comprised of community business members and leaders.  

The purpose of the fund program is to provide short-term, immediate aid/relief to small, local minority-owned businesses facing income loss or rising expenses due to circumstances caused by natural disasters, illness, global pandemics, or any situation that disrupts their economic and social well-being. 

Any McLennan County-based, minority-owned, small business with 10 employees or less is eligible to apply for assistance. Grants/loans may be awarded up to $2,500 dependent on resources. I could go on, but for now I guess I’ll digress and take a breather. There’s action to be done tomorrow.

Editor’s Note: Investments in the CTMB Equity Fund are currently being accepted online at www.centexchamber.com. The online application portal for business funding is expected to open later this month. CTAACC can be reached at (254) 235-3204.


Rachel E. Pate is vice president of economic development at Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce (CTAACC) in Waco. Rachel is a native Wacoan and graduate of University High School. Since 2016, Rachel has served in various roles at the chamber and championed the causes of small entrepreneurs, women, and minorities. She is also a LeadershipPlenty Institute graduate, Rapoport Academy Public School Board member and Start-Up Waco Board member.

With her mother being a Sunday School teacher and evangelist, Rachel began serving the community at a very early age. She was active on her church’s usher board and youth ministry. Some of her fondest memories of growing up in Waco are being surrounded by her large, extended family for reunions and Juneteenth gatherings; her mother is one of 11 siblings who all hail from Waco. Her father, R.E. Pate Jr. (deceased), and mother met at Paul Quinn College in the early 1970s — the same campus where CTAACC resides today.

Rachel is also a proud mom of one, a lifelong member of Toliver Chapel Church, a lover of the great outdoors, an avid basketball fan, and a dedicated wearer of Converse’s Chuck Taylor shoes. Rachel’s favorite scripture is Romans 8:31- “…If God be for us, then who can stand against us?”

Books Matter: Dillon Meek

March is National Reading Month, a whole month designated to encouraging Americans – and by extension Wacoans – to read! The Act Locally Waco blog is beating the drum for National Reading Month by hosting a blog series throughout the month of March, called “Books Matter.” Every day throughout March we will be sharing a post about a Waco resident and a book that matters to him/her.  Thank you to students from the Baylor Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media and professor Amber Adamson for help with this fun project.  To read all the blog posts so far, click here

“To quote my daughter’s favorite movie, Frozen 2, ‘Do the next right thing,’” Dillon Meek said.

Meek, a local lawyer and city council member, first read The Hiding Place in the 6th grade and then reread it about two years ago. 

“It’s a true story, which I think makes it all the more compelling, but it reads like a fiction-adventure book about a family who chooses to do the right thing in the midst of really negative consequences,” Meek said.

The Hiding Place is an autobiography written by Corrie Ten Boom about how her family hid Jews in their watch shop in Poland during the height of Nazi power. This dangerous endeavor saved the lives of countless Jews, but resulted in the arrest and ultimately, the imprisonment of Ten Boom’s whole family. Once in the concentration camp, Ten Boom and her family were able to continue their ministry by showing the love and kindness of Christ to those around them. 

 “They weren’t looking to be these great figures of social justice,” Meek said. “But the war and the Holocaust happened around them, and they just responded as they believed they were required to. I think they did so lovingly and with dignity to the people around them. Obviously unafraid of the consequences to themselves, and I think ultimately carrying love completely, which I think is profound too.”

Meek said he believes that this story of hope and doing the right thing can continue to inspire people today as it shows how everyday people can choose to have a positive impact on the world around them. This is also a story of sacrifice, and Meek said this story encourages the people of Waco to ask the question of how they can have a positive impact in their world where there might be injustice around them. 

“In Waco, for me specifically, there is generational poverty and I [think] there are solutions to resolving that,” Meek said. “My heart and my hope is that we can bring creative and innovative changes to our system to break generational poverty. That’s very different than responding to Nazis but it’s recognizing that there’s change, there’s positive impact in my world and so as an ordinary person, what can I do?”