What’s been happening with Prosper Waco?

by Pat Atkins

The seven of us settle around the conference table into what have become our quasi-assigned seats. There’s no food. No drinks– except for those who have brought their own cup of coffee. Some have brought thick binders of documents. Others have in front of them only the papers to be reviewed at this morning’s meeting. Each of us quietly looks over the agenda, as we have done almost every Wednesday morning at 7:30 am, since the middle of February.

The meeting begins, and Dr. Roland Goertz reports on a Houston-based foundation that has approached us about committing resources to a community engagement strategy and participatory research aimed at “understanding and including the perspectives of the intended beneficiaries in program development.” The seven begin a thoughtful discussion of the offer and where it fits into the larger framework of Prosper Waco.

Many of you have likely heard of “Prosper Waco,” the community’s collective impact initiative focusing on issues of education, health, and financial security. Over the past year, you may have heard the statistics:

  • 40% of households in Waco earn less than $25,000 per year;
  • 45% of Waco’s unemployed are between the ages of 16 & 24;
  • The median income in our community for individuals with only a high school degree is about $15,000 per year; that same median doubles to $30,000 per year, if the individual obtains an associate’s degree.

However, you are probably not familiar with the activity and planning that’s quietly taking place every week, far away from the spotlight.

The initial board of directors of Prosper Waco (Dr. Goertz, CEO of the Family Health Center, Mayor Malcolm Duncan, former Mayor Virginia DuPuy, businessman Bill Clifton, Providence Health Network CEO Brett Esrock, Rappoport Foundation Executive Director Tom Stanton, and I) are thoughtfully and deliberately laying the foundation for an initiative that will truly transform our city.

Since February, this group has:

  • Participated in a SOAR (strengths, opportunities, aspirations, results) strategic planning process;
  • Hosted community meetings on the initiative’s vision & mission statement;
  • Adopted a Vision: Waco, Texas. Empowering every member of our community to maximize his or her potential.
  • Adopted a Mission Statement: To build an environment in which all members of our Waco community are able to measurably improve their education, health, and financial security.
  • Discussed the “backbone” organization which will assist with data collection; communications, and organizational demands;
  • Formed a non-profit corporation and filed an application for recognition as a 501(c)(3) organization by the IRS;
  • Drafted Bylaws to govern the organization;
  • Adopted a preliminary 3-year budget and began securing commitments to fund the work of the backbone and community projects;
  • Secured funds from the City of Waco & local foundations to assist with initial operations and organizational work;
  • Selected a name for the initiative, with input from the community;
  • Defined the framework of the three steering committees who will be charged with developing specific metrics and initiatives in each of the three key areas: education, health, and financial security;
  • Developed over-arching, synergistic metrics to help define the work of the steering committees;
  • Worked with a communications consultant on e-mail updates to almost 200 Waco citizens who have already expressed interest in one or more of the three areas;
  • Worked with our communications consultant on the initial design of a logo and tagline;
  • Developed the structure of an expanded board of directors, including ensuring meaningful participation from the community to be served;
  • Made presentations to the Waco City Council Budget & Audit Committee and the board of directors of the Greater Waco Community Education Alliance;
  • Retained the services of Baylor faculty to lead separate focus groups of business leaders and families living in poverty to secure their input on the direction of the initiative;
  • Drafted a job description for the Executive Director; and
  • Hired a search consultant to help us find the right individual to lead this effort.

If you were an observer attending a meeting of this group, you would witness an energy, level of commitment, and thoughtfulness unmatched by any committee or board on which I’ve served. You would see dynamic individuals, approaching this work with solemnity and incredible attention to detail. One member set the tone at an early meeting, stating matter-of-factly that this may be our only opportunity to address these issues on this scale, and if we don’t get this right, we may not get another chance for 20 or 30 years.

Each member has the confidence to speak up when they disagree, and the true humility to accept another’s point of view without getting defensive or feeling attacked. There is a sincere and mutual respect among the members. Every member comes to the meeting prepared, and there are countless e-mails between meetings sharing articles and case studies.

What is taking place and what is coming together is real. It is clear that everyone in that room and many in the community understand the need to convey and nurture a sense of hope within the community. Everyone recognizes the unique circumstances that have aligned the City, Waco ISD, Baylor University, the community foundations, the business community, and so many others into recognizing that these barriers must be addressed if we are to grow our community. This is not about charity. It is a vision that recognizes we can address education, health, and financial security in a manner that allows the entire community to benefit and grow.

It has been an honor to be a small part of this process.

The next steps are to hire an executive director, convene the steering committees to do the actual work, and to officially roll-out the framework of Prosper Waco early next year!

Pat Atkins-2This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Pat Atkins. Pat is President of the Waco ISD school board and has served on the board since 2002. He is a partner in the law firm of Tekell & Atkins, LLP. He completely out-married himself, and he and his wife Sandy have three children, Benjamin (who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina), Alexandra (a senior at the University of Texas), and Nick (a sophomore at Waco High.)  If you would like to receive email updates regarding the progress of Prosper Waco, please send a note to [email protected] expressing your interest. 

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.

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