Federally backed network to mentor Prosper Waco effort

Waco, Texas J.B. Smith The Waco Tribune September 13, 2015 Equity

Prosper Waco is getting nearly $500,000 in national-level expert help to get started tackling Waco’s biggest social and economic challenges.

The federally funded National Resource Network will spend the next year helping the antipoverty initiative to create detailed strategies to improve income, health and education levels in Greater Waco.

Waco stood out among cities nationwide that applied for the help and will get the most substantial assistance, with an “all-star team” of experts in education, health and economic development, said David Eichenthal, the network’s executive director, who has agreed to directly oversee the Waco process.

“What we are really focusing on is going to places that are ready and willing,” he told Waco City Council members last week. “We asked, ‘Is this is a project or a program, or are you really trying to change the way you’re doing business?’ I thought it was incredibly impressive that there was a clarity of purpose that we’re really trying to change the way we do things.”

Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said the network will help Prosper Waco, which officially began work in February, get off on the right foot. “It’s so critical that we are successful early on,” he said. “We can’t wait three years to be successful. This gives us much stronger footing to build on.”

The idea of Prosper Waco is to align existing community institutions around common goals to help residents move up the economic ladder. Prosper Waco last month adopted five-year targets for community goals such as improving kindergarten-readiness and college completion, reducing the number of uninsured residents and decreasing unemployment and poverty rates.

Mayor Duncan added, there is a “huge disconnect” between needs and resources in Waco, one that the National Resource Network can help bridge. “That’s been our talk all along,” he said. “We don’t need a lot of outside money. We need strategies. We need specific guidance, and we need some help in connecting all the resources.”