Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy…building on a great idea!

By Donna McKethan

In the Fall of 2015, the Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy (GWAHCA) will open its doors to Waco area juniors and seniors who are interested in pursuing a career in the health care industry. The Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy is a unique and innovative collaboration between the local health care community and Waco Area School Districts. GWAHCA will create a challenging learning environment that encourages high expectations for student success in the Health Care Field. The academy will empower students to successfully be competitive and workforce ready in our community and a global society.

GWAHCA_logoGWAHCA follows a model similar to the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy, which aims to give students a head start in careers in welding and manufacturing. Officials from area school districts, McLennan Community College, Texas State Technical College and area health care industry leaders have been meeting over the last two years to determine health care industry needs and how to best serve students. The twin philosophies of realism and experimentalism are embedded in the attitudes and beliefs behind the planning and remodeling of GWAHCA. These philosophies have been expressed by the members of the GWAHCA Executive and Steering Committees. The idea behind not only the curriculum but also the facility is to give students an experience that aligns with what they will encounter when they graduate and begin a career in the health care industry. Partners support GWAHCA, an academy that fosters a sense of community among students, staff, parents, partners and neighbors. GWAHCA students will develop a sense of self-esteem and respect for themselves and others. Through a diverse and challenging curriculum, focusing on basic science, GWAHCA will cultivate student interest in various sciences and health professions. GWAHCA will provide a quality education and experiences that will prepare students to develop the academic, social and personal qualities necessary to realize their fullest potential as lifelong learners and productive, caring citizens of the world.

The first programs to be offered at GWAHCA will be the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and Advanced CNA programs. The CNA curriculum will follow the current program offered at McLennan Community college. The Advanced CNA course is being developed in collaboration with Providence and Baylor Scott and White (Hillcrest) Hospital Staff. This curriculum development is an exciting process and will result in an amazing and rigorous program. In addition to the CNA course, juniors will also take Anatomy & Physiology, Counseling and Mental Health and Medical Terminology. Seniors (who have completed the CNA certification) will take Phlebotomy and a soft skills course that will include training in the hospitals computer system. Both hospitals have promised to hire all students who successfully complete the Advanced CNA program.

GWAHCA will be located on the campus of the former Viking Hills Elementary school. The campus is located on Viking Drive just off Fish Pond Road. All Juniors and Seniors within 45 minutes of the academy are eligible to attend. Applications are currently being accepted. For more information, contact Donna McKethan (254 755 9573 or [email protected])


Donna McKethanThis Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Donna McKethan. Donna is the Career and Technology Director at Waco ISD. She has 33 years in education, the last 15 with WISD Career and Technology. She is currently the President of The Career and Technology Association of Texas. She is a WISD graduate with a BS in Home Economics Education from Baylor University and an MS of Education from Tarleton State University. She is currently enrolled in the Doctorial Program in Educational Leadership at Tarleton State University.

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.

Break through the Baylor Bubble … become a citizen of Waco!

by Christian Bolaños

“Baylor Bubble”   [ bā-lər ˈbə-bull ] –  Noun: A thin sphere enclosing Baylor University and living areas immediately surrounding its campus, from the rest of Waco.

Baylor was my dream school in the sense that it was out of my reach. But, like many who attend, I have parents that work day in and day out to give their children an opportunity to live a life they could only dream of. That, along with financial aid and academic scholarships, has kept me enrolled all four years.

The hefty Baylor price tag pays for a phenomenal faculty and a seemingly limitless number of opportunities waiting to be tapped by students eager to make a difference in the world. Baylor does an outstanding job at educating its students in their respective professions, and does so in such a way that students keep integrity and ethics ever-present and in the forefront of students’ minds. Baylor University’s course offerings include business ethics courses and an entire Medical Humanities degree program. Baylor’s Law School even includes “a study abroad program devoted to the art of advocacy” to ensure that Baylor attorneys represent the interests of their clients in the best manner possible.

There is, however, one inconsistency in all of this. As students we learn all kinds of skills out of textbooks filled with different scenarios, simulations and situations that are supposed to reproduce real life. I believe it’s a great way of teaching; it’s only missing one thing. Real life.

One of my professors offered a solution to this dilemma. We learned to call it “service-based learning,” and it made the biggest impact on me during my entire time in Waco. Despite all of the brilliant professors, state of the art facilities, and wonderful resources available on campus, one of the best, and most underappreciated opportunities that Baylor has to offer us as a valuable teaching lesson lies a few steps right outside of the “Baylor Bubble.”

I strongly believe that community service is the missing link for students. It gives us the chance to apply what we’ve learned in the classroom to real human needs. By breaking down the barrier between Baylor and Waco, we were able to more fully engross ourselves as citizens of Waco and better understand the dynamics of the city. The best thing that students can do during their time at Baylor is to participate as active members of the Waco community. For example, in one class I took, we not only learned the importance of grant writing, but we were actually able to apply for real world grants and actually help non-profit organizations in the area. Nearly every course could be tailored to include some form of service-based learning. I would urge those of you that are in school to come up with ideas with your teacher/professor on how you can take the learning outside of the classroom and do some form of work, no matter how big or small, that leaves an impact beyond that of a letter grade. And for those of you who are not in a classroom, find a place where you can serve. Even if you can only commit to an hour a week, there are plenty of places where you can make a world of difference.

I have gotten involved in the Waco community through an internship at the Public Health District.  Through this involvement I have learned first-hand about the health challenges that many cities face such as a shortage of family practice doctors and lack of access to care among lower income neighborhoods. I have also learned about the things a city can do to promote the health of its citizens, like creating programs and coalitions that serve to raise awareness and educate the general population on health disparities. Because of this understanding I will be a better, more informed citizen, whatever profession I end up pursuing and where ever I end up living. I consider this an extremely valuable part of my education, something that I wouldn’t have been able to experience had I not made the effort to work outside the Baylor Bubble.

Here is how Baylor’s strategic vision, Pro Futuris (“for the future”), describes Baylor’s role as an institution of higher education: “We strive to prepare students to make a difference in our world as citizens and leaders who have the faith and integrity to do what is right in the face of competing pressures and to have a passion to apply their knowledge to ends that transcend mere self-interest.”

Rather than only venturing out to Waco to grab a bite to eat or enjoy the nightlife, we should actively seek out opportunities for not only our growth, but also for the growth of Waco. It should be our duty as citizens to do our part and work towards building a better future. So start early and start now. It is never too late to begin making a difference in your community. And rather than being like the dreadful, monthly visit to the in-laws, community service should be something you (and hopefully your family or close group of friends, the more the merrier!) look forward to doing when you meet up. There are so many different ways to give time, each with its own positive impact on our community. Find something that you like. For a list of ways to serve Waco, click the following link Thank you.

Christian BolanosThis Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Christian Bolaños. Christian is an intern at the Waco Public Health Department and a senior at Baylor University. His interests range from biology research and technical writing, to learning more about his rich Latino culture. Focused on helping the community as a whole, Christian ultimately plans to matriculate to medical school to become a surgeon. In the meantime, he plans on graduating in May and either pursue research interests or obtain a writing position in the medical field.

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.

Get to know the YMCA

By Crystal Hernandez

Hi. It’s nice to meet you. We’re the YMCA of Central Texas.

Many folks in Waco have never been formally introduced to the YMCA of Central Texas. First impressions or chatter among friends often portray the Y as just another gym, a place to don spandex, pound out a mile or two on the treadmill, knock out a couple of reps on the weights or swim a few laps.

When you join the Y, though, you belong to more than a gym although we do have a great gym. When you join the Y, you join a community. We’re a gym with a mission — a mission to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all. Our mission governs all we do. Here’s how.

We are for you. We are for your neighbor. We are for your child. We are for the healthy and those struggling to reclaim their health. We are for those that love spandex and those who hate it. We are for everyone. At the Y, a supportive community and friendships are a big part of wellness. At every age and every activity level, you’ll find people just like you looking to live a bit healthier.

If an expansive cardio and weight area are what you’re looking for, we have it. Between our two branches (Doris Miller Family YMCA and Waco Family YMCA) we offer more than 100 land-based group exercise classes each week. If you’re more of a water baby, we offer group exercise classes in our pools, too. (By the way, we have five pools). From Zumba® to yoga, from Insanity® to Aquatic Boot Camp, we have a class for everyone.

We don’t stop there, though. We believe that everyone is entitled to better health, and we want to help. Here are some examples of some of our special programming that helps build up the health of our community:

  • LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA, a free 12-week program, helps adult cancer survivors reclaim their total health and find a community of support.
  • Our children’s health is important, too. Kids ages 7-13 who are above their healthy body can enroll, along with their caregivers, in MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do it!). The dynamic and engaging curriculum of this free 10-week program guides kids toward healthier eating and a more active lifestyle.
  • The safe, low-impact exercises of Enhance®Fitness improve endurance, strength, balance and flexibility among those with arthritis.
  • The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program is a 12-month lifestyle behavior intervention that is part of the CDC-led National Diabetes Prevention Program. It helps those at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles by eating healthier, increasing physical activity and losing a modest amount of weight to reduce their chances of developing the disease.

Our friendly, knowledgeable staff members are guided by our core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. We’re here to do more than help you reach your goals; we’re here to build a relationship with you. If you’re a gym rat, we’ll cheer you on! If you’re new to the fitness world, we’ll take time to get to know you while guiding you in achieving your goals.

And do you want to know one of the most amazing things about the Y? It’s for everyone! The generosity of others is at the core of our existence. It is only through the support of our volunteers and public and private donors that we are able to give back to the communities we serve. We offer financial assistance so that cost is not a barrier to anyone wanting better health. The Y is for community. The Y is for you. You should get to know us. We’d like to get to know you.

crystal hernandez2This Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Crystal Hernandez. Crystal is the Healthy Living Director for the Waco Family YMCA. She received her degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion from the University of Memphis. She’s blessed to be the mother of 3 beautiful children, Norah, Robbie and Sammie and she and husband, Shawn will be adding number 4 to the mix in less than a month. In her free time, she loves hitting the pavement and pounding out a good run.

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.


What is “healthy” eating anyway?

by Kelsey Miller

Do you eat paleo? Primal? Local? Organic? Gluten-free? Refined sugar-free? Vegetarian? Pescatarian? Vegan? South Beach Diet? Atkins? Hunter-gatherer? Fast food junkie?

zuchinniOr are you overwhelmed by what appears to be an ever-evolving set of messages about what is healthy, what our bodies were created to eat, and how to make good food choices? Americans are inundated with messaging that tells us we’re never getting it quite right with food, even as we are sold the “silver bullet” to good health and nutrition. As a nation, our diet-related health outcomes are worse than ever. Healthy eating enthusiasts have, at turns, said fat was making us fat, and then reversed that decision. It’s healthier to avoid meat, or it’s healthier to eat lots of meat. Carbs are the enemy; whole grains are essential to good health. Sugar is the devil; sugar is not really so bad in moderation. All of these developments and disagreements have emerged in just the past few decades or so. Even for the conscious consumer with enough income for flexibility in choice, the sheer number of choices and the ever-increasing volume of conflicting information is maddening.

How has our culture so deeply complicated one of the simplest and most basic human activities – eating? Writers much more skilled than I have contemplated these big questions at great length – check out Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Raj Patel, and Michael Bittman if you want to read more. But I’m more interested in this issue at the practical level – we are inundated by information (and misinformation) about healthy eating; how then shall we live? How can Waco become a better place for all people to eat and thrive, even when we don’t have all the right definitions or answers?

tomatoes-1Let me be the first to admit, I am overwhelmed. I love fresh fruits and veggies, try to eat only meat, fish, and dairy raised ethically, and have had the privilege of growing my own food (and food for my community) as a former produce intern at World Hunger Relief, Inc. And yet…

And yet I still frequently find myself at a loss for what to eat in a pinch, how to make good choices with limited time and energy, and how to consistently make healthy food culture a part of my life. I often fail to eat healthy. I often struggle with this question of, do I have to eat healthy at all times in order to recommend it in the community at large? My professional mission – which interweaves with my personal mission in many ways – is to advocate for and strengthen programs and policies which increase children’s access to healthy foods. What if as advocates we were more open about the fact that none of us – or at least very few – get it all right when it comes to healthy eating?

Occasionally, I’ll try an experiment where I ask people from different backgrounds how they define healthy eating or good nutrition. In my limited, unscientific experience, very few people answer with any real confidence, regardless of their education or income level.

If you’re a student, how many times in the last month have you gone to a class or meeting and been offered free candy, cookies, or donuts?

If you’ve visited a food pantry recently, how much of your box was full of canned and packaged goods, with long ingredient lists, and few whole, fresh items?

If you’re working and attend many meetings, how many lunches have you been to recently where barbecue, meat-heavy dishes, or fast food was offered?

I do not seek to demonize any of these choices and realities (I have a particular weakness for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups…), but rather to suggest, aren’t we all kidding ourselves if we think only folks with low incomes struggle to make healthy food choices on a regular basis? Whether it’s the tyrant of Too Busy or the tyrant of Too Much Information, many of us feel helpless in our knowledge of what is truly healthy food, and in our ability to acquire, prepare, and eat such foods.

As I write this blog post at my desk, I’ve finished my lunch of roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, and watermelon, all packed in a reusable, BPA-free container. But here’s the wrench: I washed it all down with a carbonated soda in a – gasp! – Styrofoam cup. Does this make me a bad person? Does the fact that I have an on-again, off-again relationship with soda even when I know it is bad for me make my advice or recommendations moot?

squashIf all of us “food people,” as I sometimes hear myself referred to around town, opened up about our own struggles to make healthy choices, I wonder if it might change the conversation. Would that vulnerability welcome more folks into the conversation about how to ensure all have access to healthy food? I am convinced that it is not people with low-incomes alone who need “education” on nutrition and healthy eating, as I so often hear well-intentioned people say. It is all of us. Despite cleverly curated Pinterest boards, how many of us really know how to cook simple and healthy meals anymore, or feel like we can make a healthy choice under pressure at most restaurants? What if we could embark on a journey of healthy eating all together, as a community, instead of drawing arbitrary lines in the sand about who needs education and support? Because if I’m being honest, that neon fast food sign looks pretty appetizing during my short lunchtime…and I, too, need encouragement and solidarity from my community to make better choices.

kelseyKelsey Miller  blogs for Act Locally Waco about Food Security and related issues. She is a Child Hunger Outreach Specialist at Texas Hunger Initiative’s Waco Regional Office. Kelsey is also a team member for the CHAMPS grant. The CHAMPS project aims to equip city leaders, anti-hunger groups, and the broader community to more effectively combat child hunger with the help of summer and afterschool meal programs.

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.