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

1516 Austin Ave., Suite 2
Waco, Texas 76701