But How? Redressing disparities in opportunity and outcome

By Suzii Paynter March

Opportunity is not always equal and, especially when opportunity is compromised, the outcomes will not be robust for everyone.

Prosper Waco pursues systems change within the interconnected landscapes of education, health, and financial security to build public will. Prosper Waco works in these areas to assess and redress disparities in opportunities and outcomes.

In every growing and expanding community, there are conversations about the gaps in opportunities and outcomes. How do we recognize gaps that are specific to Waco … sooner, not later? How do we take steps to close gaps? How do we keep gaps from widening?

Our Board of Directors recently completed an extensive process of strategic planning to guide direction within each area of work for Prosper Waco:

Health: The greater Waco area will be a community whose residents have access to high-quality healthcare for both their bodies and minds, regardless of their race, income, or location.

Education: The greater Waco area will be a community whose residents receive a high-quality education at all levels, and have access to several different post-secondary options, regardless of their race, income, or location.

Financial Security: The greater Waco area will be a community whose residents are able to earn a wage that sustains their ability to build wealth for the future, regardless of their race or location.

Lofty goals, for sure. Each area requires steps to make changes toward these ambitious goals so Waco can make progress as a community. But HOW???? The Strategic plan goes on to outline some concrete steps (Strategic Actions) that begin to answer the question, “... but, How??,” and for each of these actions, there is a summary of some of the things happening in the community right now.

Use well-researched studies that are specific to our community.

  • by continuing to align the work of Prosper Waco with community priorities and goals as set forth in key community studies and other documents. Strategic Action

Action in Progress: Great information and thoroughly vetted studies with wide community input are being developed in several areas in Waco. Recently, there have been important studies on homelessness, housing, and diversity adopted by the Waco City Council. As a result of the Waco Strategic Plan for Housing, four working groups are meeting monthly to explore priorities for affordable housing, neighborhood revitalization, land trust and trust funds, and housing density.

Each of our major health institutions — Baylor Scott & White-Hillcrest, Ascension Providence, and the Public Health District — is publishing a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) in 2022. These important documents inform and guide the common agenda items in the Waco area for developing healthy bodies and healthy minds in our region. Prosper Waco is aligning our health outcomes for work over the next few years with the priorities of these important CHNA studies.

Define the places where gaps in racial and population disparity exist.

  • by conducting landscape analyses as specific needs arise and identify gaps that need to be addressed. Strategic Action

Action in Progress: Recently Prosper Waco completed a study of 1,200 local residents who needed behavioral health support (mental health or substance abuse treatment) to know what needs and services were effective. Only by listening to real people across a wide range of needs in our community can we know what the behavioral health landscape is and where our gaps are. Prosper Waco’s behavioral health landscape analysis looked at five areas of community service and produced 15 recommendations in tandem with our community’s Behavioral Health Leadership Team. Where are the gaps? We need more psychiatrists, we need more housing support, we need more funding for substance abuse treatment options.

Similar landscape analyses are under way to look at food insecurity and women’s health services.

Gather and strengthen teams of like-minded people to work on a common agenda.

  • by understanding and identifying opportunities for aligned community action in areas of health, education, and financial security. Strategic Action.

Action in Progress: Prosper Waco’s UpSkill Waco is working with McLennan Community College, Texas State Technical College, and the City of Waco to offer scholarships for rapid training to Waco residents and to provide industry-based certificate programs at neighborhood locations, with scholarship and stipend funds to help people complete training.

Build on priorities and add to the success that is under way — measure improvement and celebrate solutions.

  • by promoting activities that determine solutions and how to prioritize them. Good things happen when dedicated people get together and work together to dissect a problem. Strategic Action.

Action in Progress: Working groups, such as OCOF (Our Children our Future), Access to Health Care, Healthy Women and Children, are initiatives that add a new tool to the toolbox of community-based solutions, like Tangled Title asset development, the Henrietta Napier Health Expo, and the teacher pipeline recruitment and retention team.

Every community has challenges, but Waco is making progress every week. Prosper Waco is making great strides with a talented staff and a board of directors that has crafted a strategic plan that is practical, important, and impactful. Thanks to each and every staff member, board member, and supporter that makes this work meaningful, fun, and WORTH IT!


Suzii Paynter March is CEO of Prosper Waco.