Wishing everyone a very Magnolia Thanksgiving

By Ferrell Foster

My post the other day about The Silos brought to my attention a 2014 Waco Tribune-Herald story by J.B. Smith about those now famous silos. (Thank you, Ashley Bean Thornton.)

It seems that seven years ago this month there was some real uncertainty about the silos’ paint job, or lack of one. The Waco Downtown Development Corp. had originally given the go ahead for the Chip and Joanna Gaines project but with the understanding that the silos would be painted.

That rebuke of rust went to the Tax Increment Financing Zone board in October 2014. Chip (may I be so familiar) was not giving up on his rust. He told the board the silos “are impeccable and fashionable and interesting as they are,” the Trib reported.

The TIF board punted the aesthetic question back to the DDC, which led to a tour of the site guided by Waco’s First Couple (that being the Gaineses). DDC Chair Willard Still was skeptical going in. An hour later, he was convinced.

“We believe their plan will be a substantial improvement that the community will embrace,” the Trib reported Still saying. “They have a very sensible plan, and we embraced it.

“I have to give credit to Joanna Gaines. She has good taste, and that’s a proven product.”

Truer words have not been said. If Joanna walked into my home and said, “Ferrell, your favorite reading chair has got to go,” I would hesitate big time. She might reply, “I know you love that chair, but what if we got you a new chair that is better for your back, is loved by readers everywhere, and will make your study look like the most wonderful place in the world.” I would buckle quickly; it would be Joanna talking.

There are some people in town who are not big fans of the downtown boom fueled by Magnolia, but I’m not one of them. Not all development is good, but this one, I think, has been good for Waco.

We might wonder what would have happened if a paint job had been required and the Gaineses had pulled out the paint sprayers or hired professionals. We will never know, but I’m sticking with Joanne when it comes to good taste. She is the one-woman show (sorry Chip) that almost single-handedled revived the popularity of shiplap.

I’m thankful for the Gaineses and The Silos this Thanksgiving season. Just imagine this: What if they had done their thing in Austin or Temple or Hillsboro? We would be so jealous, and jealousy is not good for the soul. So may we all have a very Magnolia Thanksgiving — full of good taste all around, and I’m not just talking about style.

Ferrell Foster is senior specialist for care and communication with 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.

All Wacoans invited to participate in Reimagine Waco Transit survey

By Allison Smith

Waco Transit System and the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization are conducting “Reimagine Waco Transit” to improve transit connectivity and mobility for everyone in the Waco community. We want to have a conversation with the community about transit, develop a shared understanding of how best to improve transit for Waco, and gather input on the current system to better inform transit improvements!

Everyone in is invited to participate in a community survey, whether or not they now ride Waco buses.

We need all the feedback we can get to ensure Reimagine Waco Transit reflects your community values.

For updates and more information about Reimagine Waco Transit, visit our webpage.

The Reimagine process seeks to improve connectivity, minimize travel time, and produce cost-effective transit solutions. The study will produce transit service scenarios that reflect community input, technical analysis, and build off previous efforts. Our robust engagement process aims to both educate about what makes transit work and gather input about what transit should look like in Waco. 

Whether you take the bus, ride a bike, use a mobility device, or drive a car, we need your input to help develop transit recommendations for Waco. Understanding the needs and wants from Waco residents will help develop a shared understanding of the benefits associated with quality transit, and your input will help form the transit recommendations. 

Your insights will directly shape the future of transit in Waco.

Allison Smith is a planner with Alliance Transportation Group, which is working on the local project.

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.

DuPuy resigns as at-large member of Waco ISD board


Cary DuPuy has resigned as an at-large member of the Waco ISD Board of Trustees after 10 years on the board. DuPuy was first elected in 2011 and was re-elected to a three-year term in 2020.

Cary DuPuy

In a letter to fellow board members, DuPuy wrote, “I’ve been on the board for ten years now, I no longer have children attending WISD schools, and I feel strongly that it’s time for me to step away and let someone else in the community assume this responsibility.” He noted that he made the decision to step down with “mixed emotions” and will miss the sense of camaraderie and common purpose that he has shared with fellow board members.

In his letter, DuPuy praised Dr. Susan Kincannon, Waco ISDS’s superintendent, for leading the district through a successful bond election earlier this month and for recruiting talented educators to help lead the district. He said Kincannon had positioned Waco ISD “quite favorably.”

“Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention once more my boundless appreciation and respect for all of our classroom teachers throughout the district,” DuPuy wrote. “Your devotion to our students is inspiring.”

The board plans to discuss the vacancy at their Dec. 16 meeting. The board has the option of appointing someone to serve until the next school board election or leaving the position vacant until voters elect someone to fill the remainder of the unexpired term in May 2022.

“It is clear that Cary cares deeply about our students and educators,” Kincannon said. “While I will miss his perspective and his unique sense of humor as a board member, I have no doubt that Cary will continue to make a difference for our students and everyone else in our community.”

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.

There is a difference in ‘to’ The Silos & ‘in’ the silos

By Ferrell Foster

My wife visited The Silos before we moved here. People flock to The Silos and talk about The Silos all the time. This weekend I finally asked my wife for more details. It went something like this:

“So, what’s in The Silos? Is it a store? Are there multiple levels in The Silos where people shop?

The Silos at Magnolia Market

She looked at me with an odd expression. “I don’t think there’s anything in the actual silos.”

Am I the only person in Waco or Texas or the world, who didn’t realize that when people are going to The Silos, they are not really going inside the silos?

I feel really stupid. I don’t get out of the house much, but I don’t usually feel as clueless as I did in this conversation. I understand The Silos to be about stuff — as in stuff to see and stuff to buy. I hear about an old church building on the property, about a redone RV with plants, about stuff around the silos. But, do I now have it right that when people talk about going to The Silos, they mean they are going to hang out in the area of the actual silos?

It’s like finding out there really is no tooth fairy or Santa. (This post is not suitable for children.)

So, there’s no tooth fairy, but kids still get money under their pillows (a quarter in my day as a kid). There’s no Santa, but kids still get gifts on Christmas morning. And, there’s nothing in the silos, but The Silos is still a cool place to visit.

I’m OK with all three, but facing reality does take some mental adjustment. 

Let’s hear three cheers for tooth fairies who have no wings, Santas who buy presents at a store, and silos that are empty but make a nice, rusty landmark around which to build an enjoyable experience.

Ferrell Foster is senior specialist for care and communication with 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.

City of Waco announces organizational updates

The City of Waco is pleased to announce three organizational updates: the selection of Monica Sedelmeier as director of communications and marketing, promotion of Kent George to director of economic development, and placement of Dan Quandt as interim director of conventions and tourism.

Sedelmeier will join the City in mid-December in the communications and marketing role (formerly municipal information). Most recently, she worked as chief marketing and quality officer for a healthcare system in Iowa. She brings prior experience from Houston ISD and Rice University. Sedelmeier holds a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing, as well as a master’s in business administration.

George was promoted at the beginning of November. He joined the City in 2018 as an economic development manager. He has more than 18 years of experience in local government, as well as prior experience in the private sector. George holds a bachelor’s degree in business. Throughout his tenure with the City, George has worked on some of Waco’s largest economic development projects to date, including the Marriott AC Hotel, the Riverfront Development, Cottonwood Creek Marketplace, and many industrial projects.

The City worked with SGR to locate and contract with an interim conventions and tourism director. Quandt, a 38-year veteran CVB director, joined the City of Waco Nov. 8. Quandt most recently served as senior vice president of the Amarillo Convention and Visitors Council for the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce. He is also a past chairman of the board for the Texas Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus and has served as a member of the board of directors for the Texas Travel Industry Association.

Waco City Manager Bradley Ford said: “I am excited to announce the selection of these three individuals for key leadership roles within our organization. Monica brings expertise in both communications and marketing along with strengths in strategic planning and change management, which will be crucial as we look to grow our Communications and Marketing team. The work our Municipal Information team produces is excellent, and we will look to Monica to build upon that team as we implement our strategic communications plan. Kent has worked on many exciting and innovative projects in his time here in Waco. I look forward to the work he will continue to accomplish leading the City’s Economic Development team, including the creation of the City’s new economic development strategic plan. I am thankful we were able to bring Dan on to lead the Conventions and Tourism team in this interim period as we evaluate the Director position posting and the industry market. The experience he brings from the travel and tourism sector is invaluable.”

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.

‘Shots for Souls’ COVID vaccinations set for Sunday

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District has partnered with area African American churches, the Waco NAACP, and VOICE to host a second “Shots for Souls” COVID-19 Vaccination Drive 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, at the Health District, 225 W. Waco Dr.

Participants can choose from the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Adult vaccines, including boosters, and vaccines for children 5 years of age and older will be available. Lunch for the first 200 participants will be provided by the NAACP. Walk-ins are welcome and registration can be done on-line at covidwaco.com or at 254-750-5460.  

“The holidays are fast approaching, and the health district is working with several organizations to get vaccines distributed just in time for the holidays,” said LaShonda Malrey-Horne, director of the health district. “The health district is collaborating with Waco NAACP, local Black churches, and VOICE Waco to offer vaccines to the East Waco community so families can enjoy the holiday season safely this year.”  

Vaccination is the most effective way to slow the spread of disease and significantly decrease hospitalizations and fatalities due to COVID-19. 

Jillian Ohriner to lead Act Locally Waco communications

The Act Locally Waco Board of Directors has contracted with Jillian Ohriner to serve as communications director for at least the next six months. This is great news for ALW and for the thousands of Wacoans who depend on ALW to stay up to date on what is happening in our community.

Jillian Ohriner

Jillian is a co-founder of We Grow the Co, a local website design and social media management firm specializing in small businesses and nonprofits. She previously served as manager of operations for Start Up Waco and marketing manager for Merck Assets. Jillian has also been highly involved with ALW in volunteer capacities, including as a founding member of our board. She stepped down from the board in order to take this position.

As ALW communications director, Jillian will coordinate all ALW communications efforts, including our website, social media, and newsletter, The WHOLE Enchilada. She will also supervise the work of our other contract worker, Debbie Wright, as well as various volunteers. 

ALW Board Chair Cuevas Peacock said: “Jillian is true asset to our city. Through her work with We Grow the Co and other community efforts she has greatly enhanced the multimedia presence of a host of Waco businesses and nonprofits. We are excited for her taking this role with Act Locally Waco, and the growth she will bring to the organization.” Cuevas is an assistant director in Baylor’s External Affairs office.

Act Locally Waco continues to build on the foundation of its founder, Ashley Bean Thornton, who still serves as an advisor to the board. Ashley birthed ALW and built it into a leading source for information about what is happening in our community and how to get involved. Ashley retired as ALW executive director at the end of 2020, and Ferrell Foster served as acting executive director this year through October.

“It has been a pleasure to serve Waco through Act Locally Waco this year,” said Ferrell, care and communication specialist with Prosper Waco. “Ashley provided ALW with one-of-a-kind leadership, and now the board of directors is working to sustain and develop ALW’s role in our community. I will continue as an ALW volunteer and member of the board to do my part in supporting this important work. We are very fortunate to have Jillian in this new role.”

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.

47,913 Texas children in foster care need our support

By Chelsea Sanchez

As a child, I intuitively understood that the “negative” behaviors of others were often a response to feelings of fear and pain. I cannot recall anyone explicitly sharing this information with me, yet this basic understanding of human behavior informed how I decided to treat others — with kindness, compassion, and hope. 

Furthermore, this basic understanding of human behavior became the lens through which I viewed the world. I was so in tune with how pain impacts people that I grew up to become a social worker. Because, what else was there to do but to learn how to guide people through pain to find hope and healing?

If I could use one word to describe my life over the last eight years that word would be “advocacy.” 

— I have helped children and youth overcome barriers to their education, such as packing backpacks with snacks and canned goods to ensure these students have food to eat during weekend breaks from school. 

— I have helped individuals displaced by war overcome barriers to their wellbeing, such as ensuring they have access to food, clothing, shelter, and other basic necessities. 

— I have helped survivors of human trafficking overcome barriers to their mental health, such as providing transportation to and from therapy and counseling sessions. 

And now, my advocacy efforts aim to support children who have experienced abuse and neglect.

To those of us working in child welfare, 47,913 is more than just a number. It represents the children in foster care throughout Texas.

Children deserving of a life without experiences of abuse and neglect.

Children deserving of a safe, nurturing, and permanent home.

Children deserving of a support system advocating for their best interests.

CASA of McLennan County aims to be part of that support system. Our mission is to provide a trained volunteer — a Court Appointed Special Advocate — for every child who has experienced abuse and neglect in the county, so that these children may ultimately thrive in safe, nurturing, and permanent homes. 

A Court Appointed Special Advocate is an individual acting in the best interest of children who have experienced abuse and neglect. 

Our best-interest advocacy efforts are guided by five principles:

  1. LEARN all we can about the children and their families.
  2. ENGAGE with children during regular visits.
  3. RECOMMEND what is in the best interests of the children we serve.
  4. COLLABORATE with others to ensure that necessary services are provided and are in the best interests of the children.
  5. REPORT what we have learned and observed to the court.

Effective advocacy also includes an understanding of human behavior and trauma and its effects.

Children who have experienced abuse and neglect are survivors of complex trauma, which refers to exposure to and long-term effects of multiple traumatic experiences. 

Another word often used to describe trauma is “wound.” Survivors of complex trauma have complex wounds that cannot be healed with a band-aid. These wounds shape the way children view themselves, others, and the world. These wounds also shape the way children think and behave.

Some of the long-term effects of trauma include an inability or difficulty to develop healthy, supportive relationships; impairment of the brain and nervous system; difficulty identifying, expressing, and managing emotions; dissociation; being more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors; and difficulty with reasoning, problem-solving, or paying attention. 

When children demonstrate the effects of trauma, their behavior is often categorized as “bad” or “negative.” However, these are normal reactions to abnormal experiences. Children often do not know how to talk about their traumatic experiences. (Honestly, most adults have difficulty with this, as well.) As a result, children communicate through their behavior. 

Our role as CASA advocates, therefore, is to demonstrate compassionate understanding of the experiences and emotions behind the behavior. Our role is to see the person behind the behavior. Only then can our advocacy efforts truly be in the best interests of the children whom we serve.

Those 47,913 children in foster care throughout Texas deserve kindness, compassion, and hope.

Chelsea Sanchez, program director for CASA of McLennan County, is a first-generation high school and college graduate. She is a Baylor University graduate and Licensed Master Social Worker with over seven years of experience working with at-risk children, youth, refugees, and survivors of human trafficking. She has a diverse set of skills and experience including crisis intervention, case management, trauma-informed care, and training/management of volunteers, employees, and interns. She has provided various presentations and training sessions for conferences and coalitions.

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].

Register with free Emergency Notification System

By the City of Waco

Fall is severe weather season in Central Texas. Stay informed by signing up for free emergency notification by visiting the Heart of Texas Council of Governments website.

HOTCOG, along with Bosque, Hill, Falls, Freestone, Limestone, and McLennan counties, is proud to offer this service to the public at no cost.

This emergency alert system gives local emergency management, public safety, and governmental jurisdictions a chance to inform you directly in case of an emergency incident or public threat. This phone and email system is designed to provide direct emergency messages to the public, quickly and effectively.

Types of events that you may receive messages about are: 

  • Natural disasters such as fires, floods, tornado warnings, and other severe weather
  • Man-made disasters such as bomb threats, hazardous material incidents, or terrorism threats
  • Evacuation notices and criminal threats
  • Boil water notices or water outages, or
  • Public health threats

Sign up with accurate contact information to ensure you can be contacted when emergency messages are sent by your local officials. You will receive time-sensitive messages wherever you specify, such as your home, mobile or business phones, email address, text messages, and more. The provided information will only be used for our emergency notification system and will not be used or released to others.

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].

People with disabilities face specific financial challenges

By Meg Wallace

Supplemental Security Income recipients are getting a 5.9% raise in 2022!

That sounds like a hefty increase until you realize that in 2021 the maximum SSI benefit was $794. 

Almost nine out of 10 apartments in Waco rent for more than $700 a month, and rents are rising rapidly.

So how do our neighbors with disabilities get by?

Some barely do. Many do not receive SSI benefits, and those who do are hemmed in tightly by rules about income and assets. Income received from work or other sources besides SSI triggers a reduction in benefits, and money carefully saved — to buy a car to drive children to school, for example — can exceed the asset limit, endangering Medicaid benefits, as well as SSI.

No amount of budgeting savvy is going to squeeze more blood out of this onion.

So what can we do when we or someone we care about has a disability and is repeatedly coming up short financially?

The first thing is to be understanding. People who receive or are eligible to receive SSI benefits have a disability that makes it difficult to sustain steady employment, and their financial options are severely limited by Social Security rules. Repeated financial crises are pretty much inevitable when there is so little wiggle-room in a person’s budget.

Second: learn about the options.

What are the options?

Advice on money management can be good, but it is rarely enough when there is nearly always more month than money.

Referring someone to receive assistance with utilities or other expenses is great, but there are limits to how many times people can receive help from these assistance programs.

Giving money from your own pocket when asked is commendable, but it can complicate relationships, putting the beneficiary in the position of supplicant all too often and possibly leading to resentment and lack of trust.

The most lasting options get at the root of the problem: reducing expenses while increasing access to funds.

In the Amberley Collaborative’s Financial Instruments for People with Disabilities online workshops, four experts walk participants through these more lasting options:

As the lived-experience expert, I speak about my own family’s journey with disability and related financial challenges.

Karisa Garner, of Heart of Texas Region MHMR’s PATH program, talks about SSI and SSDI — who can apply for benefits and how to apply.

Tory Schafer, a local insurance agent, discusses access to medical benefits and health insurance to lower or eliminate the cost of health care.

And Jeremy Mocek, of Academy Capital Management, guides us through ABLE accounts and special needs trusts, so people can receive income and other support and can save money without endangering their benefits.

Our next workshop is at 3 p.m. Tuesday, November 2. You can register here. We keep our workshops small enough for questions and discussion, so if you don’t land a spot in the Nov. 2 workshop, do sign up for the waiting list, and we will let you know when the next workshop is offered.

Because Amberley Collaborative’s mission is to help regular folks help one another, our workshops are acronym-free zones, accessible, and easy to understand for beneficiaries, their loved ones, and local professionals. And our presenters make themselves available for free consultations after each workshop to help you take next steps.

Please consider joining us.

Meg Wallace (MA, LMSW) is organizer and director of Amberley Collaborative, a Waco nonprofit that strengthens natural support systems for people facing challenging and isolating life circumstances.

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].