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A Prosper Waco placemat would show what we've learned

By Suzii Paynter March

You know those posters at your doctor’s office -- the ones intended to educate you while you wait. Last week there was a new poster at my doctor’s office. It showed a placemat set at a table with exaggerated portions of food – a tiny bit of meat, a small bit of carbs, a sizable portion of nuts and greens. The perfect meal! At least according to new nutritional guidelines.

The Waco community is rallying together. What’s on the Prosper Waco placemat these days? What have we learned? As a collective impact organization, Prosper Waco promotes mutually reinforcing activities to strengthen the community in health, education, and financial security.

Waco is mobilizing to bring together existing partners to create and complete workplace training for high demand jobs in Waco. We have learned that recruiting people to enroll is essential. Every person has life circumstances that can limit their ability to take advantage of opportunities – even training that has a scholarship. Having people to talk specifically with interested trainees who want to upskill is job 1. Recruiters, advisors, and supporters are needed for each training class.

Waco Connect is adding calls and support from social workers for up to a year for Wacoans experiencing mental health challenges – Medicaid clients and some of our residents interfacing with police and law enforcement. We have Learned that many of these folks have a variety of needs, not directly tied to mental health concerns, but more often related to life needs like housing, jobs, and security. Addressing these needs can help in managing mental health crises, too.

Teens in Waco are talking about “> than the talk,” a website being built by collecting resources across McLennan County to map the landscape of adolescent sexual health. We have learned that students and teens are talking, and that they need adults who see themselves as “askable adults” so relevant information about relationships and health can be shared.

McLennan County has a large demand for foster care and judges, nonprofit organizations, and government offices are all feeling the load and the stress. We have learned that even the best organizations cannot be both the mission-driven provider of services and their own support system. When we have a need in the community, there is a role for tiered support from partners across the board.

All these efforts intersect the very human ecology of a prospering city. The national researchers at Thriving Cities have studied the elements that contribute to health and well being in a city. They bring into focus the importance of a Human Ecology Framework, a unique ecological approach that helps communities large and small take stock and plan for solutions by thinking in four ways:

O N E – EVALUATE the strengths and challenges of our unique context and place;

T W O – UNDERSTAND how different aspects of social life influence each other in expected and unexpected ways;

T H R E E – IDENTIFY new solutions and creative partners to address city challenges and much more; and

F O U R – BUILD unusual coalitions that strengthen the social fabric and foster the common good.

Prosper Waco is using the framework of our human ecology to strengthen the tools we have to make measurable differences in peoples’ lives and experiences. The conversations in working groups and across many participants reveal that we need to give new solutions a chance to emerge and grow and that there is sometimes a messy but beautiful creative use of our complex community assets when new strategies emerge.

Suzii Paynter March is chief executive officer of Prosper Waco.


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