MCC in top 5 of vocational & cosmetology rankings

McLennan Community College has been ranked as the top medical administration program by Washington Monthly‘s “Vocational Program Rankings,” and MCC’s cosmetology program has been ranked second best in Texas by

Washington Monthly is the first publication to rank America’s best colleges for vocational certificates. Rankings were released for the 10 most common undergraduate certificate programs in the U.S. Department of Education’s college scorecard dataset and are based on the median earnings of students one year after graduation.

MCC secured the top spot for Medical Administration with a median annual earning of $77,234 and a 19% debt-to-earnings ratio based on median federal student loan debt. In comparison, Ferris State University (Michigan) was second on the list with a $60,924 median earning and a 47% debt ratio.

To view the complete rankings, visit is a leading higher education research organizationThe rankings are based on three criteria with data collected from a DOE National Center for Education Statistics survey — an average annual cost of no more than $30,000, a median salary no lower than $30,000, and accredited programs by recognized bodies.

To view the complete rankings, visit

For more information about these and other MCC programs, visit  

Wild Imaginings to host award-winning writer Amy Tofte for world premier

By Chris Qualls

Wild Imaginings, Waco’s only professional theater company, will host the 2022 Epiphanies New Works Festival debuting the world premiere of an award-winning writer’s never-before-seen play. It’s Oct. 13-16 at Cultivate 7Twelve, 712 Austin Ave.

Amy Tofte’s new play, “Cardboard Castles Hung on Walls,” stood out from hundreds of entries in a Waco-based competition for unseen works. Tofte’s work will be performed for the first time ever right here in downtown Waco. 

Tofte, who was previously recognized as one of Samuel French’s “Top 30” in the “Off Off Broadway” Festival, will be at the premiere. VIP ticket holders to the weekend’s event can expect to receive free drinks, snacks, special seating, and facetime with the playwright among their elevated experience. 

Trent Sutton, founder and artistic director for Wild Imaginings, had this to say:

“There is this idea that Waco isn’t a thriving place for the arts; that to engage with great art, one has to go to Austin, Dallas, or Houston. At Wild Imaginings, we are committed to making Waco a place for diverse artists to live, work, and thrive. We love bringing new perspectives and new voices to the stage, and Epiphanies is just one small part of that.”

Sponsorship opportunities for the special event remain, as do a variety of ticket types. VIP tickets are limited and are going quickly.

Chris Qualls is a board member of Wild Imaginings, as well as the marketing director/homeownership center manager at NeighborWorks Waco.

Upward Bound grants extended to help students finish high school, plan for college

By Katie Johnson

Every year, over 1.2 million students in the United States drop out of high school, and about 14% of high school freshmen fail to graduate on time, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In hopes of redirecting this trend, Education Service Center Region 12 implements three grants in Connally and La Vega, Waco, and Killeen ISDs. These three Upward Bound grants have been awarded a continuation, providing $297,600 per year per grant for the next five years to aid Central Texas high school students.

Upward Bound students in Waco

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Upward Bound is an innovative program aimed at closing the gap and increasing the academic achievement levels of first-generation and economically disadvantaged students to succeed in high school, post-secondary education, and beyond.

“One of the most gratifying elements of this program is to have our Upward Bound alumni come back and work with our current participants as an ESC Region 12 Intermittent employee,” says Tammy Horner, ESC Region 12 Upward Bound project director. “Their presence in working as tutors, instructors and chaperones, while they continue on their own post-secondary education path is an encouragement to our students as they see that college can become a reality.”

Upward Bound supports participants in their preparation for college entrance and offers opportunities to succeed in their precollege performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits. Projects offer academic instruction in mathematics, laboratory sciences, composition, literature, and foreign languages.

Upward Bound students from Connally & La Vega high schools

ESC Region 12’s Upward Bound program constitutes three separate grants as each contributes to helping high school students in different cities. One grant serves students at Connally and La Vega high schools. The second grant supports Waco and University high schools. The last grant is geared toward students at Killeen and Pathways high schools in Killeen ISD, and Richard Milburn Academy, a Killeen charter school.

The Upward Bound programs at ESC Region 12, which began in the fall of 2012, assist up to 60 students each year, per grant. Students are selected through an application and interview process, where report cards, transcripts, and teacher recommendations are evaluated. Once accepted into the Upward Bound program, rising ninth through eleventh-grade students are tracked through high school and six years beyond graduation to ensure completion of post-secondary education.

Since parent involvement is one of the driving factors behind overall student success, the participants’ parents also receive support during their child’s high school career and college application process. This aid and involvement includes informational meetings, financial aid and scholarship information and counseling, college requirement counseling, and financial planning.

Kick-off celebrations for each Upward Bound program is Sept. 24. Upward Bound Waco will meet at ESC Region 12, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Upward Bound Killeen will meet at Killeen High School, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Upward Bound Connally and La Vega will meet at Connally High School, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

For more information on the Upward Bound program, please visit

Katie Johnson is graphic design & communications specialist with Education Service Center Region 12.

Next up for the ALW Book Club: Sidewalks of the Kingdom

By Ashley Bean Thornton

The next gathering of the Act Locally Waco Book Club will be 6-8 pm Nov. 1 at the Good Neighbor House, 2301 Colcord Avenue. In honor of all the new sidewalks popping up all over town, we’ll be discussing Sidewalks of the Kingdom, by Eric O. Jacobsen.

Here’s a brief description: “Christians often talk about claiming our cities for Christ and the need to address urban concerns. But according to Eric Jacobsen, this discussion has remained far too abstract. Sidewalks in the Kingdom challenges Christians to gain an informed vision for the physical layout and structure of the city.

Jacobsen emphasizes the need to preserve the nourishing characteristics of traditional city life, including shared public spaces, thriving neighborhoods, and a well-supported local economy. He explains how urban settings create unexpected and natural opportunities to initiate friendship and share faith in Christ.”

Stay safe and if you have comments or thoughts, please don’t hesitate. Email us!

Ashley Bean Thornton is the founder of Act Locally Waco and continues to lead the ALW Book Club. Your may respond to her email address or to the regular ALW email.

ESC 12 working to help smooth post-school transition for those with disabilities

By Jennifer Marshall-Higgins

The transition from high school to beyond can be challenging for any student. For students with disabilities this step can feel overwhelming without the proper support and resources.

Disabilities a range of challenges from dyslexia to language processing disorders to dysgraphia.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 33% of all students identify as having a disability that adversely affects their performance in the classroom. That’s more than 7 million students. Education Service Center Region 12 and partners will host a Transition Fair for students (grades 8-12) with disabilities 6-8 pm, Sept 20.

Without support, access to resources and guidance on advocating for oneself, it can be challenging to navigate a world that may feel inaccessible for students with a disability, be it a physical, intellectual, or learning disability. The Transition Fair’s theme is “Let your Light Shine” as it aims to bridge the gap between high school and life after school for students of all abilities. The goal is to ease the apprehension of students and their families.

Participants will learn about community resources to support their transition, career and college opportunities, training opportunities, options for independent living, guardianship and alternatives, and how to apply for certain benefits.

“Our goal is to connect students, families and school staff with service providers to facilitate success for students once they graduate from high school–something that will impact their quality of life and how they can contribute to society,” said Monica Johnson, education specialist for ESC Region 12.

The free event will take place from 6-8 p.m. on Sept. 20 at 2101 W Loop 340 in Waco. Participants are encouraged to pre-register at

The event will include several partners, including Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network, which provides accessible, caring and responsive support services to individuals and families coping with mental illness, intellectual and developmental disabilities, developmental delays, and emotional conflict. Additional partners include Texas Parent to Parent, Texas Workforce Commission, Communities in Schools, Heart of Central Texas Independent Living Center (HOCTIL), and Texas Able, all dedicated to the prosperity of Texas students with disabilities and their families.

Agencies on-site during the event are as follows:

  • ARC of McLennan County
  • Baylor Accommodations
  • Burgett Law Firm, PLLC Estate Planning Law Firm
  • Communities In Schools
  • Communities In Schools of the Heart of Texas – Workforce Program 
  • Focus Behavioral Associates
  • Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network
  • Oceans Behavioral Hospital
  • Sandy Hardy-Smith, Imagine Enterprises
  • Superior Health Plan
  • Texas Able
  • Texas Parent to Parent
  • Texas STAR Plus
  • Texas Workforce Solutions
  • Texas Workforce Solutions – Vocation Rehabilitation Services
  • United Health Care Dental Services
  • Waco Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities

Jennifer Marshall-Higgins is director of customer & marketing support with Education Service Center Region 12. ESC Region 12 helps schools save money and leverage resources into the classroom. One of 20 regional service centers statewide, ESC Region 12 offers training and expert assistance to educators and school personnel to increase student achievement. ESC Region 12 offers effective, economical programs and services through professional development, expert assistance, direct services and alternative educator certification. Based in Waco, ESC Region 12 serves 77 school districts, 10 charters and private/parochial schools in Bell, Bosque, Coryell, Falls, Freestone, Hamilton, Hill, Lampasas, Limestone, McLennan, Mills and Navarro counties.

Compassion Waco announces new executive director — Amanda Samaniego

By Emily Iazzetti

For the first time in more than 20 years, the only transitional housing facility for families in Central Texas will have new leadership. Amanda Samaniego will become executive director of Compassion Waco in October.

Amanda Samaniego

The Compassion Board of Directors started the official search for a new executive director this summer after Executive Director Jill McCall announced plans to retire. Finding the right person committed to help homeless families was fundamental.

“Amanda’s work experience and her volunteer experience showed us she has a true heart for the work at
Compassion,” Board President Debbie Luce said. “She has a heart for helping others and understands how important Compassion is in our community.”

A Waco native, Samaniego returned to the Waco area eight years ago and brings corporate experience to the position, including five years at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. However, with a master’s degree in public administration, her heart has always been in the nonprofit sector. Samaniego said she has a calling to help reach struggling parents, especially women, and to help them find their potential.

After her husband died when her daughter was 3 years old, Samaniego spent 13 years as a single mom rebuilding her own life.

“I feel strongly that my personal story helps me understand the guilt and the shame that can come with
struggling when you are a parent,” Samaniego said. “When you have a child to raise, and you feel like you
don’t know how to do it, it is hard. I hope that I will be able to support the parents at Compassion as they
work to build better lives for their kids.”

McCall has led the Compassion organization since 1999 and oversaw the building and fundraising for Hope House, a 14-apartment facility, in the early years of her tenure. McCall will stay with Compassion in an advisory role through the beginning of 2023.

Compassion is a transitional housing program and facility for homeless families in Central Texas. Started in 1994 by a group of local pastors and community leaders, Compassion has worked to serve Waco’s
homeless community. In 1995, the organization began housing homeless families and became the only
transitional housing facility for families in the area. With on-site case management and a dedicated team of community volunteer “co-partners,” Compassion has a program to help families end the cycle of

Grassroots extends roof repair project; enrollment open

By Brian Shavers
Grassroots Community Development has opened enrollment for a new phase of our highly successful roof repair program to help low-income families. In the rainy months we receive calls from families with terrible roof problems. This eighth phase of our program hopes to address some of that need.

Before and after photo of repaired home from Grassroots website

Grassroots is now finishing 175 roof repairs for families from our earlier phase, and Phase VIII continues these efforts. The services provided by Grassroots are made possible in part through a grant from the City of Waco. The program is free to low-income families that live in the city.

We have enough funds to repair about 22 roofs. We began accepting enrollment in the program Sept. 8 and will continue through Nov. 2. We will then begin accessing homes in December.

The Roof Repair Program provides asphalt roof replacement to low-income Waco homeowners to correct problems that pose an immediate threat to the health and/or safety of occupants. To qualify, the following are required:

  1. The homeowner must occupy the residence where the repairs are to be made.
  2. Applicant must own the home as your primary residence.
  3. Property taxes must be current.
  4. The home must be within the city limits of City of Waco.
  5. The amount of your annual household income must fall below 80% of City of Waco’s Area Median Family Income. (See included HUD Income Limits on page 2.)
  6. The repair must fall under the guidelines of the Roof Repair Program. Required documentation as proof of total household income:
  7. Copy of Driver’s License or picture ID for all household members age 18 and older.
  8. Copy of Social Security cards for all household members.
  9. If you receive retirement and/or Social Security income, we need copies of the most recent
    award letters, matching the amounts deposited into your bank account.
  10. If you receive disability income, we need a copy of the most recent award letter, matching the amount deposited into your bank account.
  11. If you file taxes, we need a copy of the last two years of W-2 forms and certified matching tax returns with all schedules attached from the IRS.
  12. If you are/were employed this year, we need copies of the last two months of pay stubs. Pay stubs must include gross and net pay.
  13. Copies of the last two months of all checking/savings account statements, with all pages. Bank statements only – a printout of statement activity is not sufficient. If you do not have them, please request them from your bank.

Applications are available at our office, 1624 Colcord, Waco, TX 76707, or via our website, I can also email you an application; contact me at [email protected].

Grassroots Community Development was formed in 2001. Our mission is to create a brighter future for children, neighbors, and communities. Our mindset is that cultivating healthy neighborhoods is more than just building attractive and affordable homes. Community members must work alongside each other to create sustainable change. Building intentional and authentic relationships with neighbors is at the heart of what Grassroots does.

The team at Grassroots aims to bring neighbors together to work towards community driven change. Children are served through community-supported reading clubs at elementary schools. Neighbors are served through leadership development training classes, and free education and counseling to prepare families to become homeowners.

Communities are served through roof and external home repair programs for the disabled and elderly, building new homes and community enhancement projects.

Brian Shavers is projects manager with Grassroots Community Development.

It’s not sexy, but there are some basics to city life

By Ferrell Foster

The people are beautiful and colorfully dressed. The landscape is a luscious green of vegetation. But as I rode recently along the highways and roads of rural northern Ghana in West Africa, I asked myself, What makes this place different from home? 

The answer that came to my mind surprised me. I do not normally concentrate on the subject, but suddenly out of some deep place in my mind it occurred to me that the difference is infrastructure.

This thoroughly unsexy subject is not something we often think of, but it has come to dominate my thoughts upon returning to Waco.

Jackson, Miss., is providing us the essential lesson in the importance of a city’s infrastructure. Jackson’s water system has failed, and it is extremely difficult for that city and state to navigate the situation.

We all know that every human needs plenty of clean water to drink, and a turn of the faucet delivers it readily to each of our homes. Until it doesn’t.

Water is only one part of a city’s infrastructure. There are roads and bridges, sewers and drainage, electricity and cable, safety and security, zoning and rules. Life in cities is simply unmanageable without great attention to these important matters, and yet most of us think so little about them.

We may think The Silos and Baylor and Amazon and the Brazos are what make Waco special, but none of those things suffice to make group living possible and good. Cities need solid infrastructure.

It’s easy to complain about the poor quality of streets, but we are not so keen to pay the taxes needed to pave and maintain them. It makes me think about the city budget, which, unfortunately, I haven’t even looked at. Shame on me. Shame on all of us who want to make Waco great.

The City has adopted a $694.58 million budget for 2022-23. That’s a whole lot of money, and yet I suspect most of us didn’t study it during the month between its proposal and its adoption. 

There’s a nice graphic on the City’s budget web page that shows the major categories of the budget. We can all see that we are expecting the City to do a lot on our behalf:

Infrastructure is there in the midst of lots of things the City will do. I guess all of them are important, and I suspect all of us have our views on levels of importance..

I come home from Ghana thanking my City government for the things we call infrastructure. We have great leadership here in Waco, and they are trying to do what the people of Waco think is important. Maybe all of us should get more into the details — $694.58 million can go a long way.

Ferrell Foster is directing communications for Act Locally Waco. He is president of Kortabocker LLC: Communications Built on Caring. Ferrell also does communications work with Prosper Waco and TBM: Texans on Mission.

ALW Book Club discussing THINK AGAIN Sept. 13

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Our next ActLocallyWaco Book Club gathering is 6-8 pm Tuesday, Sept. 13, in Waco Central Library’s large meeting room, 1717 Austin Ave.

Our book is THINK AGAIN: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant. The THINK AGAIN website,, has a quiz to get you thinking.

Here’s a link to a good interview with the author, Grant, on Hidden Brain.
Finally, here’s a brief description of the book:

“The bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals examines the critical art of rethinking: learning to question your opinions and open other people’s minds, which can position you for excellence at work and wisdom in life.

Intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn, but in a rapidly changing world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn. In our daily lives, too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. We listen to opinions that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard. We see disagreement as a threat to our egos, rather than an opportunity to learn. We surround ourselves with people who agree with our conclusions, when we should be gravitating toward those who challenge our thought process. The result is that our beliefs get brittle long before our bones. We think too much like preachers defending our sacred beliefs, prosecutors proving the other side wrong, and politicians campaigning for approval–and too little like scientists searching for truth. Intelligence is no cure, and it can even be a curse: being good at thinking can make us worse at rethinking. The brighter we are, the blinder to our own limitations we can become.

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant is an expert on opening other people’s minds–and our own. As Wharton’s top-rated professor and the bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take, he makes it one of his guiding principles to argue like he’s right but listen like he’s wrong. With bold ideas and rigorous evidence, he investigates how we can embrace the joy of being wrong, bring nuance to charged conversations, and build schools, workplaces, and communities of lifelong learners. You’ll learn how an international debate champion wins arguments, a Black musician persuades white supremacists to abandon hate, a vaccine whisperer convinces concerned parents to immunize their children, and Adam has coaxed Yankees fans to root for the Red Sox. Think Again reveals that we don’t have to believe everything we think or internalize everything we feel. It’s an invitation to let go of views that are no longer serving us well and prize mental flexibility over foolish consistency. If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.”

Stay safe and if you have comments or thoughts, please don’t hesitate! Email us!

Ashley Bean Thornton leads the Act Locally Waco Book Club and is the founder of ALW.

Waco area volunteers helping Dallas flood victims

By Ferrell Foster

Five China Spring and Waco residents left Sunday for a week of helping our neighbors to the north in Dallas. People are still unable to return to their flooded homes in Dallas, and the TBM: Texans on Mission volunteers are working to remove mud from those homes and clean them throughout the week.

Dave Toby (l-r), Al Smith, Renee Parker, Butch Abernathy, and Sam Yates

Sam Yates, Butch Abernathy, Renee Parker, Al Smith, and Dave Roby are among 25 TBM volunteers associated with Waco Regional Baptist Association, which is led by Director Tim Randolph, who saw the group off Sunday.

“We have been doing disaster relief for five years now,” said Yates, who leads the local volunteers. “Our unit has a Flood and Fire Recovery unit, a Chainsaw unit, a Box unit, and two equipment units that include a skid steer loader and a 50ft manlift. We started out hauling our tools and volunteers in a Suburban for Hurricane Harvey. We were blessed to be able to get all we have now.”

In Dallas, the group will “clean out flooded homes removing flooring, drywall and insulation. Then we powerwash and treat the interior for black mold,” Yates said.

I’m sure the group will appreciate our thoughts and prayers this week.

Ferrell Foster is directing communications for Act Locally Waco. He is president of Kortabocker LLC: Communications Built on Caring. Ferrell also does communications work with TBM and Prosper Waco.