In the decade since Avance Waco first opened in 2002, the nonprofit organization has helped 1,600 mostly Hispanic low-income families by giving them necessary skills.

Even in this lingering recession when donations are scarce, about 50 families per year are helped through the organization, which means “to advance” in Spanish.

At their building on Clay Avenue, free bilingual classes are offered that give parenting strategies dealing with childhood illnesses, family finances and prenatal and childhood nutrition.

With the addition of a new executive director, Jessica Attas Xolalpa, Avance is poised to help yet more Waco families.

Xolalpa, 33, was hired this month as Avance announced expansion of programs in other markets including Tucson, Ariz;, Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Washington, D.C.

Avance Waco is part of a national chain of nonprofits that successfully stresses early childhood education and parenting skills to stop the generational cycle of poverty.

“I’m excited about all of the changes nationally that Avance is undergoing,” Xolalpa said. “Waco is part of a program that has not only impact here in the local community but nationwide.”

We’re excited to have such a qualified leader running this important facility. Xolalpa, fluent in Spanish, teaches sociology at Baylor University where she received her master’s and bachelor’s degrees. For 10 years she taught at a college in Cuernavaca, Mexico, before returning here to her hometown.

“I want to strengthen our existing programs and reach more people through more programs,” she said. “I hope to really grow Avance Waco.”

Xolalpa says she is eager to strike collaborative partnerships with local school districts such as Waco ISD and LaVega ISD to teach classes to at-risk youth. She also is trying to stoke the fires of generosity by encouraging Wacoans to give to this worthy organization.

We remind readers that one of Waco’s greatest philanthropists, Bernard Rapoport, held a special place in his big, giving heart for Avance Waco, which is heavily funded through the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation. We urge citizens to take a look at all the good this organization does, and could do, for our town.

In helping teach parents to teach their young children skills that will ready them for kindergarten, Avance puts them on equal footing with those of considerably more means.

Parents are taught they are the first and most important teachers for their children through a 9-month program that meets weekly.

“Avance has ensured the path to prosperity is available for so many young girls and boys,” San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said in a press conference streamed over the Internet Tuesday from Avance headquarters in San Antonio. “Brain power is the current for success. Every single person in our community has a role to play to ensure that we find that prosperity and foster that brain power.” Indeed.

Knowing parents are the most important role models a young child will ever have is an empowering tool. Equipping young parents with skills can ensure that future generations model that behavior, build upon it and strive for success. Although 91 percent of Avance parents nationally are high school dropouts, 94 percent of Avance children graduate from high school; 43 percent go on to college.

Avance president and CEO Richard Noriega says Xololpa has the skills to continue this trend as well as “an intuitive understanding of the dynamics required to lead an educational program serving the Waco community.”

We welcome her.


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