In Celebration of the Public Library

By: Dr. Peaches Henry

I am relieved that the Llano County (Texas) commissioners kept their library system open and returned banned books to the library shelves.  Yet, I am dismayed that Missouri’s House voted to cut all funding for libraries in its version of the state’s annual budget, because the American Civil Liberties Union, the Missouri Association of School Librarians, and the Missouri Library Association are suing the state over the censorship of some books from school libraries across the state.  I do not intend to litigate the practice of banning books here.  [To get my view on that, see my 1992 essay “The Struggle for Tolerance: Race and Censorship in Huckleberry Finn.”]  Instead, during National Library Week (April 23-29), I want to celebrate the Waco McLennan County Library for the profound way it touches the lives of Wacoans.  

Our library provides essential services to children, families, individuals, and the community at large.  A truly remarkable place, the public library provides safe, accessible, one hundred percent free educational resources to everyone.  It pools local resources like educational offerings, job training, and computer or internet access and puts them all in one place for use by the whole community.  Whether you are a family looking for a fun story time, an immigrant looking for language help, a student working on a History Fair project, a person needing help on their taxes, or a homeless person looking for a place to cool off, you can find them all at the library—a place that has undergone transformation that makes it an altogether different place from the one previous generations enjoyed. 

Indeed, the modern public library that serves Waco McLennan County is not your grandparents’ library.  These days, there is more to the story when it comes to the library which provides services far beyond the traditional task of checking books in and out.  Even that has been transformed.  Patrons can access ebooks, emagazines, and audiobooks in the CloudLibrary and read them anywhere.  They can also check out a mind-boggling range of “Special Items” which include blood pressure kits, sensory backpacks for specials needs children, disc golf kits, discovery boxes, and puppet kits.  Special Items educational kits include flash cards, literacy kits for preschoolers, and STEAM kits for upper-elementary children.  Among the most prized of the special items are the free family passes to local museums and sites including the Mayborn Museum, Cameron Park Zoo, and the Dr. Pepper Museum to name a few.  The library’s Special Items collections offer free access to materials that many families cannot afford to purchase.  

The library also boasts numerous, varied children’s programs aimed all ages.  Everything from themed storytimes (money smart, STEAM, or super hero) to painting to a Minecraft and Roblox club to a look behind-the-scenes tour of the library to summer reading programs is available to children.  As a member of the Library Commission, I was delighted to judge the library’s inaugural Edible Book Festival on April Fool’s Day.

In addition to catering to children, the library also offers essential support to adult Wacoans.  It maintains partnerships with local entities which deliver needed services.  The Heart of Texas Goodwill, for instance, holds computer skills and financial literary classes at the library.  The Heart of Texas Workforce Solutions gives free one-on-one job skills training.  The library hosts books clubs such as Books & Brew or the Mystery Book Club.  It sponsors adult programs such as healthy crock pot cooking, an adult anime and manga club, and free tax preparation not to mention the work of the Genealogy Center.  

The modern Waco McLennan County Library is a completely different place from the old Palestine Carnegie Library that I used to walk to as a child.  Yet, in the most meaningful way, it  remains the same iconic institution that I grew up with.  The library is still the community hub that connects people to information, offers essential services and resources, brings people together, encourages lifelong learning, provides safe havens for children and adults, helps build healthy communities, and transports individuals around the world and to other worlds.  Like libraries around the state and nation, our local library is an important public institution that we must support and protect now more than ever.

Dr. Peaches Henry is a member of the Waco McLennan County Library Advisory Commission.

HB 2827

This proposed bill will drastically weaken regulations that have protected the North Bosque Watershed, Lake Waco and, in effect, the Waco Water Supply from pollution caused by dairy farms.


Background:

Prior to 2001, the Waco Water Supply was polluted as a result of dairy farmers spreading cow manure that would run off into the North Bosque River, and then into Lake Waco.  This caused the growth of algae that can kill fish and made our water smell and taste bad. In 2001, the City of Waco successfully advocated for the passage of state legislation that would mandate stricter permits for dairies on the North Bosque watershed, along with waste management regulations.  If you’ve been in Waco since that time, you will likely recall how poorly Waco water smelled and tasted during that time.

To date, while there has been significant improvement in the taste and smell of Waco water, the North Bosque River is still polluted and classified as impaired by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and as recently as 2022, TCEQ said more work needs to be done on this watershed. 

Proposed Legislation

HB 2827 would revert back to a permitting system that was allowed when the pollution into the watershed was at its peak. Further, it would reduce pollution prevention, testing and reporting, thus likely increasing pollution in the North Bosque River (and thus the Waco Water Supply). 

Of note, the bill’s author argues that the current law is an over-regulation. Also of note, there are nearly the same number of milk cows in the counties that touch the North Bosque watershed now as there were when the 2001 legislation was passed, and the trend indicates the number of milk cows are likely to increase.  However, with of the regulations in place, Waco’s water quality has improved.

Actions the City of Waco has taken to advocate for Waco’s Water Supply:

  • Communicated directly with the bill’s author, Waco’s elected State representatives, as well as the House Environmental Regulations Committee, in opposition to the bill.
  • Collaborated with local stakeholders like the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce and Baylor University.
  • Engaged and informed families who own property along the North Bosque River to ensure they able to advocate appropriately.
  • Sent information the Bosque River Coalition membership.
  • Sent information to the Brazos River Authority. 
  • Engaged the EPA and TCEQ.
  • Engaged with other current and former local leaders and requesting advocacy for the Texas Legislature to oppose the passage of HB2827, or ensure there are drastic amendments made that protect the Waco Water Supply from harmful dairy farm pollution.  

Citizens with opposition to or concerns about HB 2827 can contact Rep. Anderson and Sen. Birdwell:  

About the City of Waco and Lake Waco

Lake Waco is a man-made reservoir located on the west side of Waco, in McLennan County, Texas. The City of Waco maintains the water rights to Lake Waco, which serves as the primary water source Waco as well as other cities including Bellmead,Hewitt, Robinson, Woodway and others. The City of Waco owns and operates water treatment facilities and is responsible for treating the water from the lake to make it safe for drinking and other uses.

Medicaid renewals are back! Act now to protect your health care coverage

Big changes are coming for Medicaid recipients! People who are on Medicaid must take action now to preserve their benefits or find new health insurance.

Tory Schafer of Highview Insurance sat down with Meg Wallace of Mobilize Waco to explain these important changes. Meg asked Tory questions as though she were a Medicaid recipient who has been hearing about changes in Medicaid.

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Meg: I keep hearing about people getting a letter saying they need to renew their Medicaid. What is this all about?

Tory: Medicaid has income and asset limits. You have to stay within those limits to maintain eligibility in the program. The state periodically needs to review your finances to be sure you’re still eligible.

M. I’ve gotten a letter like this more than once in the past couple of years, and when I called Medicaid they said don’t worry about it. Has something changed?

T. Yes. During the pandemic millions of people lost their jobs in a short amount of time, and the government was concerned about people losing health insurance. So during the Covid Public Health Emergency, the government paused disenrollment in Medicaid. As long as the Covid Public Health Emergency lasted, people wouldn’t have to provide their financial information and recertify. They could stay on Medicaid without doing that.

The Covid Public Health Emergency is ending this spring, so Medicaid will start what is called redetermination. That means Medicaid will once again need to review your finances to see if you’re still eligible. They are starting this process now!

M. So I need to watch for this letter!

T. If you haven’t received a letter about your Medicaid recently, you need to make sure Health and Human Services has your correct address. At YourTexasBenefits.com you can see if they have your current address on file and update it if you need to.

M. OK, I’ll check on that. Then, when I get the letter about my Medicaid, what do I do next?

T. Follow the instructions in the letter to reapply for a new period of benefits. The letter should tell you what you need to submit and how to submit it.

But even if you don’t get a letter, if you receive Medicaid, you need to take care of this, and there are people in Waco who can help.

M. Oh, thank goodness, because this stuff gets confusing. Who can help me if I need help?

T. In the Waco area, Heart of Texas Goodwill and Shepherd’s Heart will have staff assigned to help people submit their information. Call Heart of Texas Goodwill at 254-753-7337 or Shepherd’s Heart at 254-213-7833.

M. Thank you. I’m writing that down now! This change is going to affect so many people. Should we be worried?

T. Yes, we should. If people don’t follow through with this process, they will lose their Medicaid benefits. So please spread the word. If you know anyone on Medicaid, let them know they must recertify this time around.

Many people will still qualify for Medicaid, but some people will find out they’re no longer eligible.

M. Yikes! Who might that happen to?

T. Four groups of people are likely to find out they’re no longer eligible.

First, adults who were briefly unemployed during the pandemic and began receiving Medicaid as a result may have income now, so they won’t be eligible for Medicaid anymore.

Second, women who received pregnancy Medicaid during the pandemic and have since given birth will no longer be eligible.

Third, young adults who were on children’s Medicaid at the start of the pandemic and who have since turned 19 are now too old for children’s Medicaid.

Fourth, children who were receiving children’s Medicaid during the pandemic because their parents’ income was lower, may become ineligible because their parents’ income is too high now.

M. Wow. That’s a lot of people. What can they do if they aren’t eligible for Medicaid anymore?

T. It depends. Some people will be eligible for other health insurance programs, and some will not. But many people don’t even try to get health insurance because they think it’s too expensive or they won’t be eligible. This is a big mistake.

If you’re eligible for employer-paid benefits, your first step is to talk to the person in charge of benefits where you work. Your special enrollment period may last only 60 days after you lose Medicaid.

If you can’t get affordable health insurance through your employer, there’s a good chance marketplace insurance will work for you. Right now, because of new federal funding, more people than ever before who have limited income are eligible for ACA insurance with premiums less than $20 per month, and with low or no deductibles or copays.

If you can’t get coverage in one of those two ways, there are also local options such as Indigent Health Care and the Waco Family Medicine Good Health Card.

M. I had no idea there were so many possibilities. Who can help me look at my options?

T. We’ve built a website called Unlock Healthcare, at www.unlockhealth.care, to provide information about these health insurance programs, along with contact information for local people who can help.

M. OK. So I think it’s going to be all right. I just need to follow through.

T. That’s right. There really are a lot of good options. But now is the time to take action.

~~~~~

Tory Schafer is the owner of Highview Insurance and the primary builder of Unlock Healthcare.

Meg Wallace is the organizer and director of Mobilize Waco, formerly known as the Amberley Collaborative. Mobilize Waco is a disability justice coalition that works toward full participation and leadership by people with disabilities in the Waco area.

Influential Women on MCC’s Campus

By Sarah Chavez
MCC Social Media and Communications Specialist

In March we celebrated Women’s History Month and reflected on the contributions women have made throughout history to our society and Waco community. While the month-long celebration is over, we will continue to celebrate their contributions and wanted to highlight some of the stories of influential women on the MCC campus who have changed the lives of many.  

Growing up in a small town like Palestine, Texas inspired MCC professor and NAACP president of Waco Chapter, Dr. Peaches Henry to value community and equality which led her to create programs dedicated to young women in STEM and social justice programs. 

During Henry’s elementary school days, her friends would run past and whisper to her that her dad was on campus. Her father prioritized her school’s community and showed up to the PTA meetings. Henry’s favorite memory is when her dad guaranteed her segregated elementary school was the first school in town to get air conditioning.

“My parents were involved in the NAACP. They instilled in me a desire to make sure that everyone had their rights. It came naturally to me because of my upbringing. I wanted to advocate on behalf of people. The NAACP is an organization that has been fighting for that for over a hundred years. I was inspired to become a part of that fight going forward,” Henry said. 

Henry’s “Hidden Figures” STEM project based on the inspiring book and film motivates and empowers middle school girls to learn engineering, technology, science, and math. Henry recently saw one of the students who took this class and the student told Henry about how the program made her realize she could go to college and major in science. 

“What we need to remember is that I may have impacted 50 or so girls, but each of those 50 girls will impact even more,” Henry said. 

MCC’s Director of Visual & Performing Arts, Lise Uhl’s life has been influenced and changed by music from listening to Ella Fitzgerald records in her childhood home, to transferring to a university in Ohio for a music program, to meeting her husband at the Waco Civic Theatre in the production of “Brigadoon”. 

This summer, Uhl will celebrate 43 years of working at MCC. She says the program’s growth is more than she could have expected. After establishing a real budget, the program turned around because they finally had the budget for productions and costumes.

“I mean, I just did what I had to do to make it go, to deliver the program. It went from little, tiny productions with pianos to full scale operas,” Uhl said. 

Extra time and effort from the theatre faculty is how the program thrived. Faculty helped with costumes and production sets with no credit or payment. She was thrilled and grateful for their willingness to put in extra time for the program. 

“At the time, these were the very best people in the world. They were not receiving any payment for it. They were doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. I’m grateful to Danny Vamos for seeing that vision with me,” Uhl said.

Uhl hopes in the future the program will have a stronger relationship with four-year universities and create a music degree for students to continue their education at MCC. 

“We have a lot of students who come here for a music degree. They get their start here. They’re here for two years and that goes fast for them. Many of them are hesitant to move on because they’re so comfortable here. They like the way they are taught,” Uhl said.

These are just a few of the stories out of the many strong, influential women who have changed the lives of many at MCC and in the greater Waco community. 

Call for proposals issued regarding carbon reduction

The Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2023 Carbon Reduction Program call for proposals is now open via MPO’s online application system. Proposals will be accepted until 5 p.m. Monday, May 1.   

CRP was established by the federal government’s 2021 bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The goal is to reduce transportation emissions nationwide, according to a MPO release. At least $550,000 is expected to be allocated within the Waco MPO planning area annually over the next five years. 

“CRP funds present an opportunity for the implementation of low-cost, high-impact projects which reduce transportation emissions while benefiting communities,” MPO Director Makesh Kumar said in the release. “Applicants are encouraged to think both strategically and holistically while considering those projects which reduce transportation emissions while also increasing quality of life. “

Submitted proposal overviews will be presented by applicants at the MPO Technical Advisory Committee meeting 2 p.m. Thursday, May 4.  Selected project proposals will be announced 2 p.m. Thursday, June 1, during the MPO TAC meeting. Both TAC meetings will be held at the Waco Transit Administration Building, 301 S. 8th St., in Waco.  These meetings will be open to the public and the meeting room will be arranged for physical distancing.   

Information regarding CRP and the application form may be found on the MPO website at https://www.waco-texas.com/Departments/Metropolitan-Planning-Organization/Forms#section-4

Foster care is changing; ‘We need help’

By Andrea Zimmerman

It’s not news to anyone that foster care is in crisis. It seems we’ve become accustomed to this reality and even somewhat apathetic to it, probably because it is so overwhelming and simultaneously kept behind the doors of state offices. 

The State of Texas is changing this and has mandated that local communities confront the crisis among vulnerable families in their own communities by privatizing foster care with what is called Community Based Care. Under this model, CPS will handle investigations and removals, then a private agency will handle placements and case management. 

Consequently, without the state’s placement network, children will no longer be sent to other communities with more resources and more foster homes. If you are asking, “Wait, we send children away?” The answer is “yes.” We send away A LOT of children and youth due to a lack of kinship support, foster homes, youth homes, and resources for complex needs. 

In fact, of the approximately 450 children and youth whose cases originated in McLennan County, half are sent to other areas. Under Community Based Care, this will no longer be possible and our local community is expected to increase our capacity in every way to care for these children. 

While this is a stunning and overwhelming change, if our community rises to this occasion and works together to care for our own children, keeping children close to home is proven to provide better long-term outcomes for both the child and the family of origin. 

Keeping children and youth in their own communities means they remain close to their family of origin; they may stay in the same school and faith community and can maintain consistency in medical resources, not to mention their social structure. Older youth retain employment, schooling, and their support system. Proximity supports reunification efforts and enables the foster or kinship parent to provide support to the family of origin, as well. 

This is a tall order for our community. We have a network of support in foster care, but we are stretched thin and have limited resources. We need help! We need more human and financial resources to make this work. 

This doesn’t happen overnight, but the Families and Foster Care Coalition began efforts about a year ago to gather our resources and assess the landscape for this change. The needs are great, and we are working hard to increase capacity in our community. 

One area that would help is the involvement of the faith community. While becoming a foster parent is a rare and unique call, becoming involved in the supportive work of foster care is a way the faith community could help in this crisis. 

Kingwood Methodist Church, just outside Houston, shared a beautiful story of their work among youth in foster care in their community (watch or listen here). In that story, you can hear about Jason Johnson, who helped prepare their congregation for this work. 

Jason will come to our Waco community April 13 to lead a faith congregation leader’s training workshop. This session will help equip leaders in the faith community with practical tools for starting the work of foster care in their congregations. This event is free, and childcare and lunch are provided. RSVP here

This training workshop is the first step in preparing for this change headed our way. We would  love for you to join us!

For more information about the Families and Foster Coalition, please visit:

Website: fostercarecoalition.org

Email: [email protected]

Find us on Facebook: Families and Foster Care Coalition

Find us on Instagram: ffcc_heartoftx  

Andrea Zimmerman is coordinator of the Waco Families & Foster Care Coalition.

Region 12 honors school, district counselors

Education Service Center Region 12 honored Counselors of the Year and others Feb. 12 during its 10th Annual School Counselor Appreciation Luncheon.

Left to right: Amanda Wilson, Elementary Counselor of the Year in Lorena ISD; Becky Lane, “Lone Ranger” School Counselor of the Year in Gholson ISD; Tara Podjenski, Secondary Counselor of the Year in Rice ISD.

This year, the Elementary Counselor of the Year is Amanda Wilson of Lorena Elementary in Lorena ISD, and the Secondary Counselor of the Year is Tara Podjenski of Rice High School in Rice  ISD. There was also a special category to recognize a school counselor who serves an entire district, K-12. This year’s 2023 ESC Region 12 “Lone Ranger” School Counselor of the Year is Becky Lane of Gholson ISD.

“From academic achievement strategies to mental health support, celebrating the essential contributions of those who serve in school counseling is important,” said Jeni Janek, Region 12 education specialist. “ESC Region 12’s annual luncheon is a way to show well-deserved appreciation and honor the Counselors of the Year. It is always a fun and special time.”

Canine and handler school crisis responders

This year Region 12 recognized the positive impact of “canine and handler school crisis responders,” a news release said. “Their contributions and impact on area students and educators have steadily increased over the past few years and bring balance to the counseling process. This year’s inaugural recipients were from Bella’s Buddies and Go Team Therapy.

The event, which started at Region 12, one of 20 centers in Texas, has now grown across the state as other regions honor school counselors in much the same way. Partners McLennan Community College and Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network helped to recognize the work and dedication of the school counselors.

Recognitions included retiring counselors, members of the Regional Crisis Response Team, ESC Region 12 New Counselor Academy members, and Elite School Counselors. ESC Region 12 joined the National School Counselor Association in celebrating National School Counseling Week Feb. 6-10. The week honors and celebrates school counselors’ contributions and highlights their tremendous impact on helping students achieve success.

Hill appointed to vacant MCC trustee position

The McLennan Community College Board of Trustees has appointed Jonathan Hill as their next board member, filling the District 1 position that was vacated when board member Doug McDurham moved out of the district.

Jonathan Hill

Hill is senior brand strategy specialist at Baylor University. He graduated from MCC in 2013 with an associate’s degree in general academics and from Tarleton State University-Waco in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He continued his education and graduated in 2018 with a master’s in educational leadership from Baylor University.

Hill has served on a variety of local and statewide boards, including the City of Waco Transit Advisory Board, Bosqueville Excellence in Education Foundation Board, the City of Waco Animal Welfare Advisory Board, Baylor Sport Management Association, and the Texas Junior College Student Government Association.

“As an alum of both MCC and the University Center, I am thrilled for this opportunity to serve the college’s faculty, staff, students, and the community as a trustee,” Hill said. “MCC never shut the door on me and offered me patience and grace as a student when I needed it the most. I hope to give back even a fraction of the gift that the college has been to me and my family.” 

District 1 includes precincts 1, 9, 10, 12, 14, 17, 38, 39, 41 (partial), 42, 45, 46, 47, 48, 54 (partial), 88 and 89. It encompasses the area around the MCC campus on 19th Street and College Drive, as well as parts of North and East Waco. Hill will take the oath of office at 6 p.m. Feb. 28 during the regular board meeting at Northwood House at MCC. 

Hill is married to Erin, a licensed social worker at Baylor University. They have one son, Jameson, and live in the Cedar Ridge neighborhood in Waco.

Read more about Hill on the MCC website.

FCA announces rosters for Victory Bowl

The Heart of Texas Fellowship of Christian Athletes announced Feb. 5 the rosters for the annual Super Centex Victory Bowl football, volleyball, baseball, softball, and basketball games and cheer squad competition.

Participants in the at Highland Baptist Church press conference answered questions and took photos with the media. There were more than 500 game participants and parents present at the conference.

– Volleyball teams will be coached by four area coaches and will compete in Waco June 3. They will arrive in Waco May 31 for four days of practice and fellowship.

– Basketball teams will be coached by eight area coaches and will compete in China Spring June 1. The will arrive in China Spring on May 31, 2023.

– Football teams will be coached by 10 area coaches and will compete in Waco June 3. They will arrive in Waco May 31 for four days of practice and fellowship

– Cheer squads will be coached by two area coaches. They will arrive in Waco May 31 for four days of practice and fellowship

– Baseball and softball teams will be coached by 12 area coaches and will complete at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor June 2. They will arrive in Belton May 31 for three days of practice and fellowship.

Upcoming Victory Bowl events are:

April 23 – Ferrell Center, Keynote Speaker: Rocket Ismail

May 31 – 2nd Annual FCA Basketball Game (5 and 7 p.m. West High School)

May 31 – 8th Annual FCA Baseball and Softball Games (6:30 p.m. UMHB)

May 31 – 10th Annual FCA Victory Bowl Volleyball Game (2:30 p.m. University High), and

May 31 – 15th Annual FCA Victory Bowl Football Game (10 a.m. Waco ISD Stadium)

Free Fit & Well Expo Saturday

Be Awesome Now and the Baylor Department of Wellness are partnering to sponsor the 2023 Fit & Well Expo 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, at the SUB Barfield Drawing Room on the Baylor campus. The event will feature the following:

– Nutrition tips with Regina Mastin, Baylor Counseling;

– Fitness tips with Kelvin Robinson, HighPower Fitness;

– Pain-free training tips with John Weldon, D.P.T., Well Done Physical Therapy;

– Self-love tips with Emily Field, Refit Waco;

– Understanding “tripledemic” risks with Benjamin Ryan, Ph.D., Baylor Environmental Science;

– Wholeness & balance tips with Jon Singletary, Ph.D., Baylor School of Social Work; and

– Somatic yoga with Bianca Davis, East Meets West Training.  

The Expo is free, and lunch will be included for the first 200 registrants. For more information and to register, click here.