Cynics might dismiss the idea that anything of consequence could come of several hundred folks of different backgrounds and missions assembling one day to brainstorm how to battle local poverty. But then that would dismiss some exciting ideas that first took root at Prosper Waco’s debut conference way back in February 2015.
And Monday many of these folks assembled again, reviewed the germination of many of those unlikely ideas and raised yet other fertile possibilities.
Count us among the optimists in attendance. A Trib editorial board member at one breakout session found himself in a conversation on fine-tuning Project Link, a program in which foundation-funded “success coaches” are now closely counseling high school students about post-secondary prospects — everything from choosing the right school curriculum to filling out college application and financial assistance forms.
There was our robust discussion with a local hospital administrator about the work she and others have done to unleash “community health workers” to improve the health outcomes of those in struggling Waco neighborhoods. They’re viewed as links between local health care providers and those who too often neglect their health till crisis dispatches them to high-priced emergency rooms. Look for them to sweep neighborhoods soon.
And no less than Midway Independent School District Superintendent George Kazanas emphasized to us the potential significance of a model program shaped by Heart of Texas MHMR with local school districts, Child Protective Services and the juvenile justice system to address mental-health needs in school settings for improved behavioral and educational outcomes for children. Mental-health maladies don’t just strike adults.
One might well ask what some of the programs cited during Monday’s gathering have to do with poverty. But as former Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. remarked at one point, helping the poor better themselves and break long-established cycles of poverty means reforming such areas as education, mental health and access to medical care: “Poverty does not exist in a vacuum.”
The genius of Prosper Waco is its collective-impact model, which holds that solutions come from the carefully integrated, meticulously coordinated efforts of church leaders, nonprofit agencies, business leaders, educators and health care professionals no longer working to do good on their own but operating in unison, like a finely crafted watch with many intricate and moving parts.
And helping coordinate all this while trying to stay out of the way of all the interlocking gears is Prosper Waco. As Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver, who sits on the Prosper Waco board along with Duncan, accurately put it: “We can all see the benefit of it, but it’s not always easy to collaborate. A lot of people have been working in their own silos for a very long time.”
While Prosper Waco is still in the early stages, the number of promising projects in the works is stunning, a testament not only to the Prosper Waco staff but to many in our community who understand that working in concert on this extraordinarily complicated problem offers more hope than going it alone and possibly even working against hard data and strategic community planning.
Our compliments, then, to all who have selflessly opted to be a part of the solution and those assisting them. Some of the toughest work is definitely ahead, including course corrections that might be needed as programs are introduced and data reveal if they’re working or not. Never before has Waco gathered to battle such a formidable problem with so much intelligence, gusto and resourcefulness drawing from what already exists in our midst.