COVID-19 changed our plans but not our purpose

By Suzii Paynter March


With 2020 in the rear view mirror, it is a relief and an accomplishment for Prosper Waco to say that COVID-19 changed our plans but not our purpose. In spite of the stresses and uncertainty, 2020 was a year to expand our Board of Directors’ membership; to add new staff expertise for health, education, and financial security; to express our commitment to equity and justice; and to bring more than $1.7 million dollars of new funding to eight different community-based organizations.


With the support of our outstanding Board of Directors, Prosper Waco stayed the course to do its part to build community capacity even when the community was experiencing the reverberations of a pandemic. In 2020 we faced both chronic challenges (like poverty) and emergency challenges (like COVID-19). Both types of challenges require understanding of the situation through data and narratives. Both require communication among key city leaders. Both require collaboration across existing systems in the community.


Waco has a vision for all people to experience the freedom and opportunity to thrive. This common vision powers collective work that touches education, health, faith, government, business, and nonprofit sectors. No one sector, no one geography has been exempt from the effects of COVID challenges. Throughout Waco — in business, in schools, in churches, in the halls of city government — people have stepped up with renewed leadership, rediscovered creativity, and uncommon resiliency to respond to unpredictable challenges from COVID that have made our chronic problems more accentuated and added layers of complexity to daily work, school, and social interactions.


We all sighed a breath of relief when the calendar turned on 2021. But the reality is that the consequences of COVID will be felt in health disparities, education gaps, and financial security crises long after Wacoans get a vaccine. The Prosper Waco purpose to help families thrive and pull together the community for effective support will be even more accentuated in 2021.


On April 3, 1974, my house in Kentucky was ripped in two by a tornado. It was one of 148 tornadoes that touched down in a span of 18 hours. It was the deadliest U.S. tornado outbreak to date, but the tornado lasted only a few minutes. I was sheltered in the basement and will never forget the sound and destruction that leveled my home in 5 minutes. The clean up and restoration, however, took months for phase 1 and 2 years for full restoration. Waco’s 1953 tornado likewise destroyed thriving economic and city structures that never fully recovered.


COVID has wreaked havoc, shattering lives and economic support for many Wacoans, but even after storms and pandemics, we emerge to rebuild. There are no guarantees, but Prosper Waco is equipping itself to purposeful work in 2021 as an organizing force and effective agent to work hand-in-hand on community needs and help all Wacoans through COVID and post-COVID.


Suzii Paynter March is chief executive officer of Prosper Waco.