HOT Fair & Rodeo Celebrating Their 70th Year

It seems 2023 is the year of anniversaries in Waco! Many organizations are marking milestones this year, including United Way of Waco-McLennan County, 100 years strong and the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo celebrating their 70th year as one of premier events on our annual community calendar. Both organizations are volunteer-driven, and this year, H.O.T. Fair & Rodeo has over 600 volunteers making sure participants and visitors have a great experience!

Not only has the H.O.T Fair & Rodeo been a social staple for our community for many years, but they have also found a way to turn all of that fun into a meaningful way to encourage Central Texas Youth to pursue their dreams through an ever-expanding scholarship program.

According to, the scholarship program began in 1991 when 19 scholarships were given out. Each scholarship was for $100. By 2013, they had moved up to giving out over $40,000 in scholarships.

Moving forward to current day, in 2021 they gave out $137,000 worth of scholarships to 36 Central Texas students. However, 2022 was a record breaking year when they awarded $250,000 to 49 students.
Providing scholarships is a central part of the mission of the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo, and it’s something they take seriously and have been doing well for many years. So, this year when you make time to visit the fair, enjoy the carnival, check out a concert or rodeo performance or enjoy some cotton candy or a funnel cake, you’ll know you’re contributing to helping make the dreams of the next generation a true possibility!

The H.O.T. Fair & Rodeo runs October 5-15th this year. For a complete schedule of events and everything you need to know about visiting, check out


Parent & Family Engagement

With school back in session, we know that parents in Waco are likely navigating lots of different ways to get involved in their kids’ school. Parent and family engagement in your child’s education can be challenging to navigate, but take heart, you aren’t alone in this challenge!

Family engagement should be a collaboration between all three and navigating this relationship requires trust and consistent, open communication. A partnership, in order for it to grow, involves a collaborative effort in planning, decision-making and the sharing of experiences. After all, our children are the future of public policy, education, and the workforce.

The effort we put into this relationship is an investment in their future. Thanks to data and research, we know that a child’s academic progress can be affected and influenced by both positive and challenging experiences at home, in the community, and at school. It might feel overwhelming to think about where to begin in giving your child these experiences, but don’t fret, we’re here to highlight a few ways you can engage in your child’s school experience to make a big impact.

Engaging in your child’s education can take on many forms, like serving on parent-teacher organizations, attending meet-the-teacher or parent informational events, volunteering at/chaperoning for school field trips or participating in school board meetings. Parents can also engage in the form of communication with the school through emails, virtual parent-teacher conferences, and social media. When we take time to look through the school’s parent pages to learn about policies, safety, and available resources, this is a form of engagement. These are all great ways for parents to be a part of shaping how our community and school systems care for its children. Simply by showing up and sharing your perspective, you can make an impact.

In our work to understand the aspirations and wishes of McLennan County families, accessing resources for families was a key theme that we heard. Oftentimes, schools are a great outlet to get connected to resources both within the school and out in the community. There are many nonprofits and community programs that are ready and willing to help families get their needs met!

If the above parent engagement opportunities aren’t feasible for you at this time, don’t underestimate your ability to engage in your child’s education by asking about their day on the ride home from school, making conversation at the dinner table, reading to them, and helping with homework. Any of these actions can make a meaningful difference in your child’s life.

Together, we can ensure our children have a better future right here in McLennan County!


Have you heard about the McLennan County Child Well-Being Movement? Partners of the McLennan County Child Well-being Movement worked collaboratively with residents to define focus areas and strategies to better support McLennan County’s children, families, and communities. Two of the five focus areas are to ensure access to high quality childcare and educational opportunities and to increase access to community resources.  In support of this movement and commitment to ensure access to community resources, we’ve listed free and low-cost resources available to help you and your student(s) prepare for the first day of school.

First Day of School Resources & Back to School Supplies

Your local school district is a great resource for free school supplies, haircuts, immunizations, and assistance with school registration. Waco ISD’s first day of school is August 14, 2023. Waco ISD is hosting a Back to School Family Fest on August 5 from 9am-12 pm at University High School and is offering free health screenings, immunizations, free school supplies and more at this event. Additional information to help your student prepare for that first day back is also available at the link provided.  Midway ISD’s first day of school is August 15. Midway ISD has an extensive guide on Preparing Your Child To Return Back To School and an extensive Midway Resource Guide with community resources you can access such as counseling and mental health resources. Another back to school event taking place is Rosalinda’s 7th Annual Back to School Bash which is scheduled for August 5 from 2-5 pm at the Bellmead Civic Center.

Afterschool Programs and Childcare

Afterschool programs at an affordable cost are available through several community agencies. Mentoring Alliance offers flexible pricing for afterschool programming which includes discounts and scholarships based on household income, one on one mentoring, homework help, and a safe and reliable space for your student. Mission Waco Mission World offers afterschool programming for elementary, middle and high school students. YMCA of Central Texas has many options for extracurricular activities and the YAfterschool Program at specific locations. For additional information about YMCA’s program offering, click on the link provided above.

Medical and Vision Exams

Medical, dental services, and financial assistance are available through Waco Family Medicine. Free vision exams and glasses are offered to all Waco ISD Schools via The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Vision Center at the Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy.

Family Counseling

Family counseling is a crucial resource available to you to help address emotional, psychological and behavioral problems in the family. Counseling resources are available through agencies such as STARRY, Inc, & Waco Family Medicine.   

There are plenty more resources available to you through our designated agencies and through the Heart of Texas Council of Government. We wish you and your students a smooth and happy start to the first day of school!


Summer is just getting started and the heat is already here. There are boat loads of opportunities for kids to find fun and educational activities this summer. It is not too late to register for a lot of these activities/camps so if you have some summer weeks with activities unaccounted for, check out this list created by Waco Moms.

This list includes opportunities to build skills and explore not only Waco but Texas as well. Baylor University and McLennan Community College offer some great activities and camps even for younger children. There are also options for activities and camps in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) disciplines.

If you are thinking more along the lines of being creative while staying at home, you can find fun ways to stay engaged like learning how to make origami, doing mini science experiments, tracking the stars or phases of the moon, and even having a little cooking show moment to teach the kids in your family how to make fun and healthy food at home. Another way to supplement cooking at home may be to start a vegetable garden. The first two weeks of June are perfect for veggies! You could also look into general gardening and have fun curating your favorite plans and put together a plan for planting throughout the year. Remember to wear sunscreen!

If you are looking for ways to stay cool, continue on your creative streak and consider homemade popsicles or local pools so that we continue to be mindful about the ongoing drought in McLennan County. Although the situation has improved thanks to recent rainfall and we may be emerging from drought restrictions, it is still important to conserve as the weather heats up.

One important thing to remember is that it is good to check in on friends and neighbors during the summer. As the temperatures increase, they could need a cool place if they don’t have air conditioning, or they may be struggling to make ends meet and may need some help with finding food resources. As 41% of our community earns less than the basic cost of living, this is a stark reality. Waco and McLennan County takes pride in being a caring community and that means bringing that mentality to your neighborhood and your friends!

An additional option for summer activities is volunteering. This is a great way to give back while you have some additional free time. As mentioned above, summer is also a time where families can struggle as there are higher temperatures and schools are not always able to provide consistent meals to children. Midway ISD, La Vega ISD, and Waco ISD are among some local school districts in McLennan County that have meal programs to help with this. Check out Feeding America for resources to help find programs near you helping no kid go hungry if your school district does not offer summer meal programs! If you do not directly need these services, please share with those who may. Find a list of vetted partners that are doing good work for everyone in McLennan County on our website and look for upcoming volunteer events on their individual pages for ways to help our community this summer. Some nonprofits, like Caritas, are always looking for volunteers! Go sign up for volunteer orientation and get to giving back! It’s a fun way to get involved in your community and start a tradition of service in your family if you haven’t already.

Summer is also a great time to build community. Community is how we connect and are able to support other citizens living in the Waco-McLennan County area. If you are having a cookout with your family and friends, consider inviting a new face. If you hear of a fun event happening, tell your family and friends and make it an outing. You could even create your own event to foster community building and find small and fun ways to grow your connections across the Waco-McLennan County community. If you have a fun idea for fostering community, consider reaching out to community partners and businesses to make it a reality! You never know what can be possible with a little determination. Be sure to check out a calendar of Waco events happening this summer and get some on your schedule.

Be sure to catch a moment to breathe as well. Summers often dictate that we have fun and go on vacation but the busy nature of summer camps, vacations, summer reading, and self-improvement can cause even more fatigue. Take some moments this summer to truly rest. Remember that you matter!


Mental Health Awareness Month

United Way of Waco-McLennan County is focused on supporting our children, families, and communities. Part of serving the children, families, and communities in McLennan County means increasing access to mental health resources. When we released our Community Action Plan in August of 2022, we outlined strategies for increasing the capacity of McLennan County to expand local mental health services. These strategies include:

  • Providing free or low-cost, language-inclusive counseling services.
  • Creating partnerships that integrate counseling services within community programming.
  • Implementing targeted marketing strategies to promote counseling and mental health services (in English and Spanish).
  • Providing early education and interventions that address cultural stigma associated with the pursuit of mental health services within communities of color.
  • Conducting intentional recruitment of Black and Hispanic, Spanish-speaking, male and female mental health professionals to practice in McLennan County.
  • Providing scholarships to local people of color to pursue mental health careers.
  • Implementing a fast-track Spanish language course for non-Spanish speaking counselors.
  • Increasing the number of Licensed Clinical Social Workers working one-on-one with students to meet mental healthcare needs in schools.
  • Increasing local resources available for adult substance abuse (e.g. OSAR services, outpatient treatment, treatment beds, and drug courts).
  • Encouraging expansion of police referrals to Waco Connect for individuals with identified mental health needs.

We have started to implement other pieces of the action plan with community partners like our language justice initiative with the Hispanic Leader’s Network. The Heart of Texas Goodwill is also reviewing the plan to inform the final roll out of a community resource center. We anticipate goals in the mental health area to be accomplished in a similar way.

Just recently, the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District released their Mental Health Provider Directory brought in part through the Mental Health Access Program (MHAP) and the San Antonio Community Resource Directory (SACRD). The directory seeks to connect community members with a mental health provider specific to individual needs. Although this is only to help find providers, the sight also lists organizations to help in a mental health crisis.

Minority access to Mental Health services is a very prevalent issue in McLennan County and we have seen that access to resources in one’s primary language is lacking. The Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health provides an outline on how National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) standards can address communication needs. This is vital in our own community. A McLennan County community member said, “My doctor referred me to counseling but there was no one that could see me that spoke Spanish,” calling out the increased struggle that minorities face when trying to access healthcare services.

United Way of Waco-McLennan County seeks to lift our community voice to create a place where everyone belongs and has the opportunity to live their best life. That is why we are working with community partners to bring access and resources to our community. Data for 2022 shows that there is only one mental health provider for every 570 people within McLennan County. This is compared to the national average of one mental health provider for every 350 people.

This is becoming an increasingly large issue as staffing of mental health professionals continues to be low compared to an increased need for those professionals. The good news is that the trend has been going down in recent years. In 2020 there was only one mental health provider for every 650 people and that lowered to one mental health provider for every 620 people in 2021. We are working to ensure that the number of providers continues to increase for English and Spanish speakers.

To find more data on the state of mental health resources in McLennan County, check out the Waco RoundTable and the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District


Data: Waco RoundTable,in%20Health%20and%20Health%20Care


Earth Month

It has been an exciting few months for Waco-McLennan County and local efforts to make recycling and caring for our environment more accessible. If you have been following our social media at all, then you would know that Keep Waco Beautiful and other organizations including Owens-Illinois Glass launched their Glass4Good initiative recently where all districts in Waco will have a glass recycling bin. This is huge for a variety of reasons including keeping recyclable materials out of our landfill and providing funds that are funneled right back into programs supporting the Waco-McLennan County community.

While every day is Earth day, April is the time that we most focus on the well-being of our environment. Waco and McLennan County at large see the creation of sustainable and resilient practices as crucial to the maintenance of our local environment. They are tackling this issue in a variety of ways to ensure our community remains a healthy place to live.

 Waco and McLennan County are designated attainment areas by the EPA based on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) which means our county has superior air quality. Investments in infrastructure and vehicles used by the City of Waco have been made to reduce overall emissions in several different ways.

The City of Waco has secured a contract for 100% green, renewable energy that will save almost $3 million over the contracted period. They also had energy conservation at the center of new building projects to best serve the environment.

The water in the Waco-McLennan County area is of superior quality as evidenced by the rating from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The City of Waco is committed to the sustainable use of water resources and are also making it a priority to invest in sustainable storm water and watershed infrastructure. The Waco Wetlands are incredibly important to water quality and storm surge prevention and therefore must be sustained.

When most people think about taking care of their environment, they think about recycling. Waco and McLennan County are developing ways to make this easier for residents. From the Glass4Good initiative mentioned above to providing additional bins for recyclable waste excluding glass, the City of Waco is determined to make it easy for community members to play a part in helping our community be kind to the Earth.

Read more about Waco’s sustainability and resilience here. McLennan County continues to monitor the sustainability of businesses in terms of their environmental impact through the McLennan County PACE Report.

There are also a vast number of opportunities to get involved with cleaning up the land and water in our community. Check out Keep Waco Beautiful for opportunities to step out and clean up our city. If you are interested in opportunities to volunteer to clean up Lake Waco, call the Waco Lake Project Office at 254-756-5359. Celebrate Earth Month by signing up for the Green Communities Conference, going out and doing a little clean up in Waco-McLennan County, riding a bike, using minimal electricity, or recycling those boxes that have been sitting in your garage! Happy Earth Month!



Heart of Texas Goodwill recently launched their Resource Navigation help line as a way to assist McLennan County residents with finding the resources they need. A big concern that we have heard during our community conversations over the past few years was the lack of communication around resources in our community. Oftentimes the resources were available, but people did not know about them or how to access them.

Goodwill now provides local Navigators who are responsible for helping community members find the resources that they need. The resources include, but are not limited to:

  • Food
  • Utilities Assistance
  • Job Search Assistance
  • Transportation
  • Education and Training
  • Child Care
  • Housing
  • Counseling Services
  • State and Federal Benefit Assistance
  • Additional Services
  • Financial Education
  • Clothing

Some additional resources may include financial assistance, legal services, adult care, and support networks. All of the resources that the Resource Navigator can connect you to have been shared with them, learned about by them, or sourced through If you have a resource that could be helpful, please share the information with them so that they can provide a greater impact. They can connect you to emergency assistance resources included through other local organizations for individuals who may need immediate assistance.

The Navigators are available to answer calls Monday through Friday 9am-5:30pm. The Navigators do not currently have Spanish speaking navigators, but they hope that this resource may be coming soon. They want to grow and develop as the community needs. This program exists as one of Goodwill’s many initiatives to bring more access to services/resources to community members.

They are also working on a new program called Community Connect. This will be similar to a community resource center and will be opening in East Waco. They hope to house partner organizations that need space to provide services, meetings, information sessions, resources, trainings and programs in the East Waco neighborhood.

You can reach out and get connected with a local Navigator at 254-313-3480.


Over the past decade, education has been an increasing priority for our community. Various programs have been implemented through nonprofits and through the independent school districts to ensure student success. There has been a movement to retain Wacoans through education at McLennan Community College, Texas State Technical College, and Baylor University. Waco-McLennan County has understood the importance of creating a community that wants to call it home and that starts with education.

Education and its subsequent programs require funding. There are several ways this is done and recently, United Way of Waco-McLennan County got to be a part of that good work. Every year, the Waco ISD Education Foundation hosts the HEB Celebrity Cookoff. We had the privilege of attending and bringing Dr. Pepper BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders as an appetizer to share with those attending.

We met so many of our wonderful United Way volunteers and hundreds of incredible community members looking to support Waco ISD and education in general. There were dozens of community organizations represented at the various tables, showing off their appetizers, entrees, and desserts. It is always so fun to see the community come together.

With Waco ISD being one of the largest districts in McLennan County it is imperative that the community engages with their efforts to continually provide effective education that is accessible to all. That is why we jumped at the opportunity to participate in this event in support of the Waco ISD Education Foundation. At United Way, we use a holistic, two-generational approach when looking at education because the well-being of the whole family can affect how a child receives and participates in education. Read more about the specific work we are doing to better education and equitable access to educational opportunities in this month’s Child Well-being Movement Article.


This will mark our 100th year of service to the Waco-McLennan County community. As we reflect on the past century, we are inspired by the lasting LEGACY of those who built and served our organization.  We came to the Waco-McLennan County community in 1923. Originally the Community Chest, United Way was brought to Waco by businesses. Giving can be overwhelming when so many are in need. Understanding how your dollars can be most effective is a daunting task. United Way seeks to alleviate that burden. Dollars donated to United Way stay local and thus have LOCAL IMPACT. We are able to amplify the impact of a gift because donations are pooled into larger grants that help fund crucial programs in our community.

Our legacy is many things, but most of all it is the foundation of COMMITMENT with which we plan to move forward on the strategies outlined in the Child Well-Being Community Action Plan that launched in August. Our ability to facilitate conversations and collaborate on solutions to improve the quality of life for local families and insure our children have a healthy start in life is our way to honor COMMUNITY VOICE and build a bright future for the people of McLennan County. Lifting our community voice to create a place where everyone belongs and has the opportunity to live their best life is our goal.

When you give to United Way, you give to the future. United Way is focused on elevating everyone’s voice because this community is our home and everyone who lives here should feel that. We have remained a part of this community for 100 years because of a culture of caring which has been focused on adapting to better serve the Waco-McLennan County area over that period.

We are embarking on a bold path forward in 2023, so we can serve our community for another 100 years. Not many organizations can say they have been around that long, but with your support we have come this far and will continue to serve as a model for living united.

We have great plans to celebrate 100 years of service while still keeping our focus on the future, because we know what has kept us around this long. Our LEGACY is built on a COMMITMENT to LOCAL IMPACT led by COMMUNITY VOICE, and so is our FUTURE.  Keep an eye out and let us know if you would like to learn how you can support your community by partnering with United Way! 2023 is a year of celebration, legacy, and passion to address issues in our community with actionable change.


During the holidays, it is not unusual for there to be an increase in volunteerism. When the joy of the holidays spreads to other areas of our lives, we often feel the need to give back to our community in some way. It is important to recognize that not everyone is filled with joy as the holidays approach. They could be facing hardship in a variety of ways and that requires support from those around them. When you give of your time and resources, it can be so rewarding to see a smile and know that you were able to impact your fellow human.

Waco and McLennan County are full of the giving spirit and we have proven that our community comes together to support those that need it. Having a spirit of giving helps bring joy to your life.

“Taking time to make memories is one of the best parts of the holiday season,” said Wendy Ellis, United Way Waco-McLennan County CEO. “My grandmother would take us with her to deliver meals to the elderly who couldn’t get out to spend the holidays with others. She would also take time to visit the nursing home residents and hospital patients. She was also known for being a Salvation Army supporter. She was one of the most joyful people I’ve ever known, and I believe her intentionality about serving others was a major source of her joy.”

Wendy Ellis ringing the bell for the Salvation Army with family members.

Her legacy of giving is a tradition the Ellis’ family intentionally tries to pass down to the next generation in a variety of ways, especially during the holidays. It can be anything from purchasing gifts for angel tree recipients, delivering meals, making donations or ringing the bell for Salvation Army. Whatever your family chooses to do, we encourage you to make time for giving back to the community this year. You never know what a blessing you may be for someone or what traditions or memories you’ll create!

Pattillo, Brown & Hill is an excellent example of a local business creating a tradition of giving at their office. Giving can happen anywhere and Reagan Fitz-Gerald, a United Way Board Member, decided to bring the angel tree giving concept (with a twist) to Pattillo, Brown & Hill this holiday season. She gathered a list of operational items that several nonprofits in our community needed. Items like reams of paper and printer ink are necessary, but do add up over the course of a year. These and others were written down and hung on the angel tree at Pattillo, Brown & Hill as a way to further give back to the nonprofits hard at work in our community. We thank them for embodying the spirit of giving and finding a unique way to assist our local nonprofits in achieving their missions.

The angel tree at Pattillo, Brown & Hill

This serves as a reminder that you can find a way to give wherever you are. Perhaps your place of work could be a great place to start because joy comes with the spirit of giving and is a great way to brighten up the days spent at work leading up to the holidays!


It may not be a surprise but thankfulness for family and friends was at the top of many of the responses we received when asking members of our community what they were thankful for. We first asked people in our community to answer what they were most thankful for in our community and in their life. Then we asked them who they were most thankful for.

Paula Solano works at Blue Cross Blue Shield Texas and is on the United Way of Waco-McLennan County Board. She shared her thankfulness for community efforts to collectively address disparities (education, housing, health care, nutrition). She also expressed thankfulness for her ability to serve her community and be an advocate who inspires others. Paula is most thankful for her daughters, her husband, and for her older sister who paves the way in community outreach!

Haley O’Connell, one of our staff members, is most thankful for compassionate and caring healthcare, her first home, and the river walk. She is also thankful for Jesus, her husband, and her friends and family.

Zachary Teague works at Topgolf and is one of United Way’s Loaned Executives (LEs). He is most thankful for his amazing management team at Topgolf, stable employment, his family, and his health. He is thankful also for his mom, his admin and supervisor, and his grandpa.

Eloisa Cruz Arredondo, a Community Advisory Board member with our Child Well-being work, is most thankful for her health, her freedom, and her job along with her parents, siblings, and partner. She also expressed her thankfulness for her coworkers and her Inspiracion Families.

J.T. Carpenter works at Texas Farm Bureau and is on the United Way of Waco-McLennan County Board. He expressed his gratitude for a stable food supply, a community that cares for one another, and our first responders. As for the people he is thankful for, he is most thankful for his wife and children and Waco’s teachers.

Belinda Jennings works at Extraco Banks and is one of United Way’s LEs. She is most thankful to God for continually blessing her family, to be able to give back to her community in a meaningful way, to have an employer that supports her passion for Community, and for the health of her family. She is most thankful for her family, her parents, and her friends.

Emilie Cunningham, a Core Partner Team member with our Child Well-being work, is thankful for those quiet five minutes in the morning over the last sip of coffee and a body that can walk without pain. She is most thankful for teachers and our clinicians expanding families’ choices & empowerment: Girlinda Robinson and Elva Dryer. Girlinda is a CNM [Certified Nurse-Midwife at Waco Family Medicine] and Elva works as an IBCLC [Lactation Consultant at WFM].

Chris Gerick works at Alliance Bank of Central Texas and is also one of United Way’s LEs. He is most thankful for his relationship with Jesus, his health, quality friendships, and a career that can provide for his family. He is also very thankful for his wife and kids, community members that continue to serve to give of their time to others and friends that hold him accountable.

Hailey Sparks works at Texas Farm Bureau and is one of United Way’s LEs as well. She is thankful that her kids are happy and healthy and for the United Way and its efforts. She is most thankful for her amazing kiddos, her family, and her close friends that have become family!

In all the things we see that people are thankful for, we see Waco and McLennan County at the center. Know that we are thankful for the community support in Waco and McLennan County and for the spirit of giving and togetherness that is so evident here. We hope that this season is one of reflection on the blessings you are most thankful for in your life. It can be hard to stop and show gratitude in this busy world, but it is important and helps to reset our priorities. Thank YOU for being a part of our efforts to lift our community voice to create a place where everyone belongs and has the opportunity to live their best life!


Around this time of year, I rave about all things pumpkin. This seasonal craving is rooted in my family traditions. Growing up, cooler days meant time for muffins. Most Sunday evenings, you could find me in the kitchen with my family baking a batch of warm pumpkin muffins. We would eat them fresh out of the oven with some butter and wash them down with warm tea. Those special moments spent in the kitchen are so meaningful growing up because it is a space were tradition and stories are shared, helping to form deeper family bonds.

Bringing kids into the kitchen is a fun way to connect them to their family long after they have grown up. These small moments spent creating memories will not be soon forgotten. One of my favorite memories and traditions growing up came around Halloween each year. My family treated it more as a Harvest Fest, and we would make a delicious corn chowder that we referred to as “Birthday Soup” (recipe below). Although we usually ate it at our birthdays, my sister and I loved it so much that my parents made it as a special treat for Halloween.

We would make breadsticks, tossed salad and iced sweet tea with lemon. My sister and I would get in our costumes after eating and go over to our church to get some candy playing the different games they had set up. More often than not I chose to be me from the year before. Quite boring, but it made the years when I did dress up all the more memorable. Some of my favorites include being a pumpkin and a puppy!

When we had finally worn out from the games at church, we would go home and my parents would start making homemade donuts. Once, our puppy got up on the counter and ate a whole dozen while we showed our parents the goodies we received! These are some of my fondest memories of growing up and the importance of time spent together is evident as I look back over the years. Every tradition that families celebrate is unique and special in its own way!

As Hispanic Heritage Month ended earlier this month and as we look to Día de Los Muertos at the end of the month, tradition, memories and heritage are front and center. Take some time to remember your traditions and heritage. Reflect on how it has shaped you and the ways you celebrate now. It is said that the heart of the home is the kitchen and so gathering your family in the heart of your home to share traditions and stories is a beautiful way of remembering the past and building the future.

“Birthday Soup” aka corn chowder:

  • 1 can Campbell’s regular Cream of Potato soup
  • 1 cup Swanson chicken broth
  • 3 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 can Southwest Corn, partially drained
  • 1 small can sliced mushrooms, drained
  • ¾ small can mild chopped green chiles, drained
  • 2 cups shredded, cooked chicken
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Cooking instructions:

  • Add all ingredients except for cheese into a large pot
  • Heat until hot, just to a boil
  • Then remove from heat
  • Add the cheese, stirring until melted


Labor Day Weekend always produces an extreme nostalgia for me, but this year it was especially strong. Our family started the weekend with a Saturday morning trip to the WestFest parade. In my youth, my grandmother, MiMi, would take me to the parade every year. When I was young, I was a spectator, but as I grew, I would ride a horse in the parade along with my older cousins. However, this was the first time I had attended in many years, and it was my first time to see it through my son’s eyes.

Sometimes, when we’re experiencing an event, we have no idea how much it will affect us until years later. It seems like daily, something happens that reminds me of MiMi and our adventures together. I had four amazing grandparents who were very invested in my life, but MiMi was the one that incorporated our relationship into every aspect of her daily life.

We traveled and shopped, laughed until we cried, and celebrated all holidays in a big way, but she was unique in the effort she put into Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day and Veterans Day. Life with her was fun, but she never forgot what was most important.

She taught me how to celebrate, but she also made sure to teach me how to be a helper. First, I attended vacation bible school, and then, when I was older, I volunteered with her in the kitchen serving cookies and Kool-Aid. We delivered Meals-on-Wheels, distributed poppies on Memorial Day, and made sure to make extra plates on the holidays and deliver them to people in town who couldn’t get out to be with family and friends. She also volunteered at the local hospital and served as a docent at the museum.

When she retired, she took a job as the director of the local senior citizen center. She would always say, “I’ve got to go take care of my old people.” Many were younger than she was, but she believed age was just an attitude! Without realizing it, I believe her spirit of community service and volunteerism truly impacted my career path, and science seems to back me up on this theory.

A study by the BYU Department of Family Life shows a correlation between children’s social behavior and their relationship with their grandparents. The study suggests when grandparents are more engaged in children’s daily lives, they will be more social, more involved in school, and more likely to show compassion for people outside of their immediate family and closest friends. The correlation can be even stronger in single-parent homes.

These relationships are equally important to the grandparents. In a 2018 survey conducted by AARP, almost 90% of grandparents said their relationship with their grandchildren is good for their mental well-being.

In 1978 President Carter declared the Sunday following Labor Day as National Grandparents Day. The statute declaring the holiday states its purpose is “to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help children become aware of strength, information, and guidance older people can offer”. However, while it has been around since 1978 Grandparents Day hasn’t become as popular as many other holidays.

With the hectic pace of day-to-day life, we can often forget to stay connected with people we don’t see as part of our routines. However, at United Way of Waco-McLennan County as we work on improving the quality of life for children across our region, we are learning more and more about the important role grandparents can play in the life of a child. If you have a grandparent, I hope you’ll take a few moments to celebrate that relationship and the richness it can bring to your life.

MiMi and her granddaughter having fun!

“As a United Way CIC member, I’ve had the opportunity to champion the way forward at increasing the equity in grant-making. Collectively, we strive to move the dial in a direction whereby funded programs are representative of the communities they serve.”

Paula Solano, 2021 Community Investment Council Member

1227 N. Valley Mills Drive,
Suite 239,
Waco, TX 76710