Cause for celebration: Waco Connect begins this spring

Lately, I’ve been talking with a number of students who are counting down the weeks – and the days – until they receive their hard-earned diplomas. As we enter this season of graduation, their excitement, curiosity, and hope for the future is contagious.


In a way, I’m entering into a commencement season of my own as this month marks the launch of the Waco Connect project. This is truly a shared moment and a mutual accomplishment reflecting the collective effort of planning partners from the CAPGI steering team.


Now, what is CAPGI? It’s a question that I heard nearly 100 times in 2020. Last year, it was the latest addition to the alphabet soup of acronyms in town. In reality, the Collaborative Approach to Public Goods Investment (CAPGI) is based on an economic model developed in the 1970s that was recently brought back into the spotlight by health economist and former White House health policy advisor, Dr. Len Nichols.


CAPGI is now called Waco Connect. It represents one of several projects initiated by the Behavioral Health Leadership Team, a working group of Prosper Waco. Through the BHLT’s vision and with support from the Episcopal Health Foundation, Waco was selected as one of 14 demonstration cities to test and pilot this approach to co-create (and co-invest) in an intervention to address social determinants of health.


We are in the national spotlight and several communities are interested in learning from Waco. How did we convene planning partners? How did we engage stakeholders? How many iterations of the design were developed and tested? How do you transition from planning an overall vision to detailing operations protocols?


In many ways, members of the CAPGI steering team have felt like classmates, lab partners, tutors, guides, comrades, and friends. During year one of the planning grant, we banded together (during a pandemic no less) and assessed local needs and resources, reviewed the literature on best practices, designed a program to improve health using nonmedical interventions, plotted out staffing plans and data workflows, and estimated the impact of stakeholder investments.


The resulting Waco Connect program focuses on helping people navigate key health-related social needs – housing, transportation, food, and other resources – that are known influencers of health outcomes. And while some might wonder what housing, food, transportation – or utility bills – have to do with mental health, we say these foundational resources provide the basis for thriving and healthy living.


In an age where we know that up to 80% of health outcomes are impacted by influences outside of medical or clinical care, access to social and financial resources that promote wellness can make all the difference in a person’s ability to achieve optimal health.


The start of this project demonstrates “Waco Working Together” in a very tangible way. I’m so proud of the work WE have done to plan, staff, and operationalize this important program, and I look forward to challenges and successes that are ahead of us. The next few months will mark another adventure interacting with program participants, learning more about their needs and aspirations, refining processes and making program adjustments that come with the territory of implementation. But I am confident in the team of colleagues, partners, and friends who will help uphold this program together.


Thank you to all of the community leaders and professionals who helped design, critique, and redesign the features of this program. And thank you in advance to the dedicated direct service agencies and professionals who will be our primary referral partners, offering an open door and warm reception to Waco Connect participants who need resources and a helping hand.


We would like to extend a special Thank You to the many planning partners from these organizations:

  • Amberley Collaborative

  • Ascension Providence Hospital

  • Ascension DePaul Center

  • Baylor Scott & White Health – Hillcrest Medical Center

  • Scott & White Health Plan

  • Cenikor

  • VOICE

  • VASA

  • Waco Family Medicine

  • Grassroots Community Development

  • Heart of Texas Region MHMR

  • McLennan County Behavioral Health Leadership TeamMcLennan County Public Health District

  • City of Waco

  • STARRY Counseling

  • STARRY Fatherhood Program

  • Family Abuse Center

  • HOPES Program

  • City of Waco Police Department

  • McLennan County Sheriff’s Office

  • Our Community, Our Future System of Care Committee

  • Methodist Children’s Home

  • Transformation Waco, Family Support Specialists

For more information about Waco Connect, please contact Tiffiney Gray, senior specialist for health initiatives, at tiffiney@prosperwaco.org, or Telawna Kirbie, director of behavioral health programs, at telawna@prosperwaco.org.


Tiffiney Gray is senior specialist for health initiatives with Prosper Waco.