Looking back over the last year, I’m impressed by how much Prosper Waco has been able to adapt to our changing community and strengthen our commitment to collective impact and consensus-building. Although we have made several new hires over the last few months (half of our staff have worked here for less than six months!), our mission to serve our community by building collaboration and a common agenda has not wavered. Here are just a few highlights from the last year.
This year has seen a significant focus on mental and behavioral health. For a large portion of 2023, Prosper Waco staff convened a group consisting of representatives from local hospitals, mental health professionals, city and county law enforcement officials, and others that focused on identifying and helping those who are sometimes called frequent-systems engagers or friendly faces. These are individuals who have frequent and consistent encounters with justice institutions or emergency departments, many of whom have recurrent mental health crises. Many communities have figured out ways to share data between organizations and institutions about these vulnerable community members that can be used to make better decisions about how best to help them and divert them away from involvement in the criminal justice system. And we look forward to continuing to facilitate information sharing and conversation with community partners in 2024 as we seek to find a viable solution to this problem together.
Education and Workforce
In 2023, Prosper Waco has continued help members of our community receive vital job training from our partners at Texas State Technical College and McLennan Community College through our UpSkill Waco program. We recently made a stronger investment in strategic marketing (utilizing geofencing and other household data) for recruiting the right candidates for these courses, and the difference has been clear. From October 1 of this year up to now, we have received more than three times the number of applications we received from October to December of 2022. This significant increase is exciting because it means more of our community members who need better jobs with family-sustaining wages are receiving access to training that can get them there.
Another focus of 2023 has been the “teacher pipeline.” It’s no secret that school districts all over the state are dealing with shortages in quality teachers, and our local school districts are no exception. Prosper Waco has been helping our local school districts meet this challenge in two ways. First, we are serving as the fiscal agent on a $1.4 million dollar grant from the Gates Foundation that will provide assistance to Waco ISD and LaVega ISD in their efforts to create sustainable strategic staffing plans and teacher prep programs. Second, we have partnered with the Texas Impact Network to help our local school districts in their efforts to increase their Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), which rewards highly effective teachers and allots bonus funding to school districts that employ these highly effective teachers. It is imperative that our community continue to recruit and retain teachers that have received high-quality training so that the children of our community will receive the best public education possible.
Data and Research
Prosper Waco has always centered itself in data and has made it a priority to provide high-quality data and analysis for those local partners who need these services. We spent several months researching the structure of our existing ecosystem of homelessness services, producing a report and set of recommendations on best practices for a more efficient and effective organizational structure. This work will be used by the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition and the City of Waco as they decide the best path forward for ending homelessness in the Heart of Texas Region.
In 2023, we also provided many local partners with data and analysis that can be used to inform their strategy, including
Maps and tables of poverty and income for The Shepherd's Heart
Data on women and children for Jesus Said Love
Housing maps for the City of Waco
Analysis of palliative care data for Community Healthcare of Texas
Regional maps of educational attainment for TSTC
Charts of trends regarding disconnected youth for a coalition of opportunity-youth-serving agencies
A survey of juvenile arrest data and school discipline data for ChangeWaco
These are just a few of the many ways Prosper Waco has worked this year to harness the cooperative spirit of our wonderful community partners to pursue system-level improvements in health, education, and financial security. If you would like to learn more about our work throughout this year, please reach out with any questions to email@example.com.
Jeremy Rhodes, PhD
Sr. Director of Data & Research