Health care challenges face Brazos Town

By Suzii Paynter March

Once upon a time a city on the Brazos decided to settle into a system of confusing and expensive organizations and barriers that made it hard for citizens to get health care. It worked. 

In Brazos Town, more than 4,500 people now visit the two hospital emergency rooms every year — the most expensive and least consistent care in town. Better yet, more than 1,000 people visit the emergency rooms 4-12 times a year, and these are not the true frequent flyers. 

In Brazos Town, if you have a seriously disabled child born and cannot cover the astronomical cost of their essential care, you can wait six years for your child to be eligible for state insurance services. 

The base for most insured folks are employers. Some employers offer health insurance — at least to their full-time employees. Other employers, however, thought insurance was getting too costly for their budget, so they started hiring more and more part-time workers who are not eligible for coverage. The employer saves money, the health of the community suffers. 

“We added 100 new jobs!” They cheer. “So great for Brazos Town!” 

Others remind us that 50 full-time employees lost health insurance for themselves and their families. 

So more people go without Insurance even while working. If you do not have a good full-time job and an employer with health insurance for you, you can apply for lower cost state health insurance, but to do so you will have to quit your job, lower your income to less than $400 a month, sell your car (no assets allowed for eligibility) and re-apply every six months. Of course, this state insurance is available only if you are a child, disabled, the mother of an infant, or pregnant. Single? Working for $400 per month? Without kids? Nevermind.   

Caring for the record number of uninsured people becomes a problem. A program is started in Brazos Town to train 12 doctors a year. It is as if someone said, “Let’s put the burden of caring for all these folks on these trainees!“ 

Three classes at a time were in town, and this team of doctors in training and other training colleagues set up clinics where they practice for their training and care for Brazos Town folks for some services. There are waiting lists for services and referrals to specialists from these clinics, and some specialists are available only for those with insurance from employers or every six months from the state. 

The hospitals, the City, and the County budgets all chip in to help pay for the clinics and the the doctors in training, but these clinics that started out for training are busting at the seams and costs are growing every month. Fundraisers cannot raise enough money. And the City, County and hospitals have their own health-related costs, too, like emergency services, the county health office, epidemiologists for deadly pandemics, and programs for special populations.  

Last year, Brazos Town endured the pandemic like every place else. Some predictable outcomes showed that people worked together and pulled together, but the toolbox for services to everyone was exhausted, as were the health care professionals trying to serve Brazos Town. 

Sometimes there is wisdom in the right question: One 10-year-old child said to her mother at 8 p.m. after a day in the emergency room, “Mama, can’t we have a simple way to fix my asthma that doesn’t go to the ambulance place?” 

“No,“ Mama replied. “This is the Brazos Town way.”

(Brazos Town, all these incidents and more have come across my inbox this year.)

Suzii Paynter March is chief executive officer of 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 at [email protected].

Tell me … who doesn’t know Alfred Solano?

Special from

By Linda Crawford

You know those people who seem to know everybody, right? Alfred Solano is one of those people.

You have a fantastic idea and you want to introduce it to key people who can make it happen. Call Alfred Solano.

Alfred Solano speaks during Prosper Waco’s recent Waco Blueprint for Financial Empowerment meeting.

You need to meet people who can help you finish up a major project. No problem. Call Alfred Solano.

You simply want to meet certain leaders in the community, but you have no idea where to start. You guessed it. Call Alfred Solano.

Even if you need a good restaurant recommendation, just call Alfred Solano.

And think about it. How could he now know everybody? It seems that no organization is too large or too small for him to dedicate his time. His community activities are numerous and exceptionally diverse, like serving as chairman of the boards of Prosper Waco and Waco Family Medicine.

Ferrell Foster, who is acting executive director of Act Locally Waco and senior specialist for care & communication with Prosper Waco, met Solano through his service on the Prosper Waco Board of Directors.

“Later,” explained Foster, “another local Hispanic leader invited me to a monthly luncheon at the Hispanic Chamber. Alfred called later to thank me for coming to the luncheon and said I was always welcome. As a White male in a new place, it meant a lot to me to be welcomed into a relationship with my Hispanic neighbors, who are so important to the life and vitality of Waco. Alfred is that kind of man; he is always drawing people into purposeful relationships with one another.”

Others with Prosper Waco have similar things to say about Solano. Dexter Hall, chief of staff and senior content specialist for financial security with Prosper Waco, comes in contact with a lot of people. He knows those who are “for you,” and he knows those “who are not.” He calls Solano “selfless in his giving.”

Hall’s co-worker agrees. “Alfred is an engaging and caring leader in our community who thinks of others each and every day,” added Hermann Pereira, chief program officer at Prosper Waco.

“He is dedicated to growing and investing the next batch of leaders in our community. Alfred is passionate about equity in our community and is someone who ‘walks the walk’ in every interaction he has.”

If you tried to figure out Solano’s main interests, that would be nearly impossible. He’s like the wind; he is everywhere. Kim Patterson, executive director of McLennan Community College Foundation and Institutional Advancement, used some of the exact words in her description of Solano. He loves pushing education, se he is on the board of the MCC Foundation.

“Alfred is a connector, always focusing on others and how he can help bring our community together. We often say, ‘That guy is everywhere!’ and it’s true; he is very intentional about that. He inspires me to strive to do more and be even more engaged in our hometown.”

Solano was raised in Waco and is a graduate of Texas State Technical College. After 35 years in business, he is now president and CEO of the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Waco, a role he has held for three years. In the time under this leadership, the CTHCC has been recognized as the Small Chamber of the Year 2019 by the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers.

For Solano, serving on the CTHCC board for many years opened doors to many opportunities, shaping his “passion for engaging businesses with the non-profit sector,” says Solano.

He’s a board member of several other organizations, too — Hillcrest Health System, which is totally different from StartUp Waco, where he is also on the board. If you want to keep up with local happenings in Waco, call Solano. He’s a board member with Act Locally Waco, KWBU, and Heart of Texas Economic Development District. I am pretty sure the list goes on.

But if you just need a friend, someone to talk to, you can also call Solano. He’ll serve in that role, as well. We think, however, that Hall says it best.

“In a world where everyone is striving to be Number 1 and on the “A” team, Alfred Solano is a devout communitarian giver that pushes and pulls everyone forward . . . [exemplifying] that to be humane is to be a great human being.”

Alfred and his wife, Rachel, have been married for 13 years and are very proud of Alfred’s daughter, Elena Solano, a psychotherapist in Austin.

Linda Crawford, owner of The Anchor News, is an English professor at McLennan Community College, a motivational speaker, and author of the book, God, Destiny and a Glass of Wine (available on Amazon).

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].

Home buyers are feeling the squeeze

By Jeremy Rhodes

My family and I are trying to buy a house here in Waco. In case you haven’t heard, that’s hard to do right now. Luckily, we have some generous friends who are allowing us to crash at their place for a few weeks while we get things ironed out.

We have made an offer on seven houses. (I think?… My wife would know for sure.) For at least two of the houses, we know we were the highest bid, but we lost out to some cash offers. 

The recent decision of our city council to limit short-term rentals should help the supply of housing for sale, but the impact of that change might not be felt for a while. For now, we are left at the mercy of sellers who we can only hope will see some value in our offers and take mercy on a family trying to finance their home.

Increasing home prices can have ripple effects on rental prices, as well. As my wife and I consider the possibility that we may have to rent for a few months and try to ride out this real estate wave, we are realizing that the cost of renting is rising along with the cost of buying. In some cases, the cost of renting is as high as the cost of a mortgage, but without the benefit of building equity on an asset. 

I imagine this squeeze is being felt especially hard for first-time home buyers, especially those who are looking for low-cost homes to buy. About once or twice a week, I hear rumors of West-Coast investors paying cash to snatch up homes to flip, but I’m not sure how or whether those rumors can be verified. The current difficulty of our housing market has more to do with the current low supply of homes for sale than with a surplus of potential buyers.

So please sell me your house, but only if it’s a house I’ll like. We’re not currently in the market for houses we don’t like.

Jeremy Rhodes is director of research and community impact for 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 at [email protected].

Experts warn of impending mental health epidemic; there are things we can do

By Tiffiney Gray

One year ago, on Sunday, March 8, 2020, I attended church service with my family, drove to MILO to have brunch, then went to Michael’s to pick up some crafting materials. With two little ones (then 5 months and 3 years old) along for the ride, it was no small decision to add two more stops to our outing. Looking back, I’m glad I braved the possibility of a nursing infant meltdown and toddler restlessness to see smiling faces at church, enjoy brunch, and pick up supplies. Little did I know that day would be my last in-person church service, Sunday brunch, and in-store shopping experience for a very long time. 

In two weeks, our community will mark one year since our local shelter-in-place order. One year of hunkering down, wearing masks, travel restrictions, canceled parties, rescheduled family events, and modified birthday celebrations. For many of our neighbors, this past year has brought on much more than mere social inconveniences, but instead has meant financial, occupational, and family hardships like never before. 

All of this change, not to mention the duration, can take a toll on mental, emotional, and physical health. I’ve been checking in with colleagues, family, friends — and myself — to see how we’re doing. How we’re trudging along. It seems like many of us need a little more help, more support, and more grace these days. And our recent deep freeze hasn’t made this marathon of calamity any better. For many of our Waco neighbors February’s icy, snowy storm dealt yet another blow to a long haul of health concerns, economic uncertainty, lost income, social isolation, and all kinds of distress. Being in the dark, being in the cold, wanting for running water, and watching your groceries (bought with hard-earned wages) spoil right before your eyes has a way of layering on the pressure and testing our ability to cope. 

These pressures can accumulate, and experts are warning of an impending mental health epidemic that could sweep across the country, but especially impact communities of color. 

Last spring, we witnessed the disproportionate physical health impacts of COVID-19 in Black and Hispanic communities brought on by historical social and economic inequities. Changes in the way families interact, commune, socialize, celebrate, and mourn have aggravated existing traumas, brought on separation distress, grief issues, anxiety, and a host of other mental health challenges. But what can we do reduce the impact of this looming storm?

Check on your neighbors, family, and friends. 

Use every safe communications channel at your disposal, including digital and traditional ways of engaging. Think Zoom, FaceTime, Google Meet, What’s App video calls, and good old-fashioned land lines. A carside-to-front yard meet up (with masks in tow) is also a family favorite. Maintaining relationships and social connections is more important than ever to keep spirits high. 

Tell your health provider what’s going on. 

When we have back pain, we don’t hesitate to see a spine doctor or a physical therapist. The same should be true of emotional pain. Connect with a mental health provider or schedule an appointment with your family doctor to ask about more specialized support from a mental health practitioner, therapist, or counselor. 

Talk with a trusted advisor. 

Whether it’s a pastor, a community elder, a professional mentor, or in my case another mom of toddlers, extend an invitation to pray together, to share a devotion through FaceTime, or to have virtual coffee to talk and catch up. My hope is that the outpouring of grace, prayers, and encouragement flows both ways. 

Call for immediate help. 

The Heart of Texas Region MHMR is home to emergency counseling services for anyone impacted by the pandemic. MHMR is a huge local resource with a host of counseling and therapeutic services in addition to social support and wellness resources. Whether it’s a crisis or you simply need to talk to someone, MHMR is available to help.

MHMR Crisis Line 866-752-3451

MHMR COVID Help Line 866-576-1101

Advocate for better coverage of mental health care. 

I’ve been on the search for mental health support and therapy for my family and me for several months. With my own health consumer hat on, navigating insurance coverage and which providers even accept my (really good) insurance, or accept insurance at all, has been both surprising and disappointing. We need collective advocacy to demand better. Better payor coverage of mental health services and better acceptance of insurance by mental health providers. There is undoubtedly a need – a market – for mental health care, and marketplace vendors (practitioners and payors) should better respond to consumer needs. 

A year ago, I wrote a post about minding your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s hard to believe that we’re still riding out this storm 11 months later and my hunch is that this ride of ours isn’t over yet. Our resilience has been tested, tried, and tested again, but we’re in this together to support our neighbors when they need us and to lean on our neighbors when we need them. 

Tiffiney Gray is senior content specialist for health 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 at [email protected].

It takes a village … to get a child through college and into a career!

By DeShauna Hollie

I’ve always liked the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child”.  Most of us have heard that phrase at one point or another in our lives. It is a phrase that often comes to mind when I think of our educational system, in fact I would go so far as to say that “it takes a village to educate a child.” Over the past century we have done a phenomenal job in establishing an educational system that not only educates large numbers of students, but that is also continually striving to understand how to give each student the best education experience possible from early childhood through college.

Along with giving all students access to good teachers and quality curriculum, research also indicates that strong community support is one of the pivotal pillars of a successful educational system. (Darling-Hammond, 2010) This community support can look like a lot of things. For example in our own community we have a plethora of wonderful support systems that include but are not limited to:

  • Mentoring programs
  • Parent teacher organizations
  • Local and national nonprofits that take an active interest in our local schools

The community groups make up our village and make it possible for our teachers and administrators to focus on the great work that they are doing inside of the classrooms. We have laid a strong foundation for each student’s educational success. With these support systems in place we can now move on to the next phase of the work in providing each student with the best educational experience. That work includes helping students and families better connect their high school education with their college and career goals.

Using the model of collective impact Prosper Waco and MCC are actively engaged in multiple exciting initiatives to address the overarching goals of increasing college completion rates of students in McLennan County. With a grant from the TG Foundation we are using these questions to guide us in our work:

  • How do we raise the college completion rates of economically disadvantaged students?
  • How do we raise the college completion rates of Men of Color?
  • How do we provide information in a way that aids in a seamless transition for students from high school into college and into their career field so that they may take their places in society?

Again I’ll mention that it takes a village to educate a child. As a Waco local who also happened to have been a first generation college student myself, I know firsthand what it is like to navigate the paths between high school, college and career with community guidance. In the coming weeks we will delve further into all the ways that we are working towards the goal of increasing college completion rates for Mclennan County students.

DeShauna Hollie is the Pathways Specialist with the Project Link program. She is currently working on Master’s of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction at Greenville College. She is also an aspiring hops farmer and really likes riding her bike.

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.

Notes: Darling-Hammond. (2010). The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. New York: Teachers College.




Participate in “Groundhog Job Shadow Day” and Help Give a Kid a Chance to Learn about the World of Work

By Christine Holecek

Groundhog Job Shadow Day is a unique initiative dedicated to giving kids job groundhog logoshadowing experiences. Groundhog Job Shadow kick-off day for 2016 will be February 2. On that day we will officially get going started on what we hope will be a spring blooming with job-shadowing opportunities in the Heart of Texas. The idea is to give more of our Waco area students opportunities to “shadow” a workplace mentor as he or she goes through a normal day on the job. This gives the student a chance to get an up-close look at how skills learned in school relate to the workplace.

p-20 logoGroundhog Job Shadow Day is the joint effort of the Heart of Texas P-20 Council, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Waco Business League, and Prosper Waco. McLennan Community College, Texas State Technical College and school districts in the Heart of Texas Region are also partners promoting this event.

Job Shadowing is a Win-Win situation for all involved. For students it answers the age old question “Why do I have to learn this?” Shadowing demonstrates the importance of academics in reaching college and career goals. Shadowing also motivates students to learn by demonstrating the tangible application of classroom lessons.

For employers, Job Shadowing helps build a future workforce. Shadowing shows students career possibilities in different industries. Also the employee mentors get the feeling of personal satisfaction that comes from mentoring a young person. This opportunity offers a chance to share knowledge and skills and to help a child become a successful adult. Sometimes shadowing even leads to a long-term mentoring relationship.

Whether you are an employer, volunteer or teacher, participating in Groundhog Job Shadow Day is an easy and rewarding experience. Getting involved in Groundhog Job Shadow Day will only take a few hours of your time.

If you are an educator or an employer who would like to get involved, you can contact Christine Holecek at [email protected]. The HOT P-20 has posted some helpful job shadowing documents for you to share at:

For more information about the HOT P-20 Groundhog Job Shadow Day, please contact [email protected]

Christine HolecekThis Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Christine Holecek. Christine is an Education Specialist at Education Service Center Region 12 in Waco. She has worked in the area of Adult Education and Career & Technical Education for the past 25 years. She earned an AAS degree from MCC, a BAAS and Master’s Degree from the University of North Texas and is currently enrolled in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies 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.