Twenty-nine percent of Waco residents live in poverty, dozens of organizations fight the problem. No single group can conquer this task, but a partnership might have a chance.

This is the Prosper Waco initiative, a coalition of organizations with defined goals set to be accomplished by 2020.

The Prosper Waco initiative brings together local organizations in the Waco community to fight poverty. They have distinguished three focal points in their work: healthcare, education and financial security.

Dr. Matthew Polk, Executive Director of Prosper Waco, believes that Waco has the resources necessary to provide a prosperous life for all residents.

“We are legally a distinct organization but our role is nothing more than to facilitate large scale collaborative work around these big issues in the community,” Polk said.

The Prosper Waco initiative came about as a public-private partnership during Mayor Malcolm Duncan, Jr.’s time in office. While studying a solution for poverty, Duncan found the collective impact model intriguing.

“Collective impact is a fairly recently developed model for how communities collaborate to solve big picture social issues,” Polk said.

This model is held by five key actions. According to Polk these include shared goals, clear measurement of these goals, constant communication, collaboration amongst the organizations and a supporting group.

Prosper Waco is that connecting support for roughly sixty organizations, churches, hospitals and groups in the Waco area.  The organization began almost two years ago and currently employs six people. Dr. Brittany Fitz-Chapman became the Director of Data and Research in June 2015.


“So anytime you set a goal, it’s great to have a deadline especially something that you can kind of hold yourself accountable to,” Fitz-Chapman said. “The goals in general are something that we can hold our community accountable to.”

Prosper Waco has set 2020 as their deadline. The initiative is unique because of clear goals and benchmarks. Fitz-Chapman does not fear having to review and change certain goals.

“I think what’s really great about the collective impact framework, is that we have the ability to maneuver when it’s necessary,” Fitz-Chapman said.

Prosper Waco recently connected several health and education organizations with the means to apply for a System of Care grant. On their own, neither the health nor education sectors would have qualified for the grant. These organizations are now working with the help of Prosper Waco to provide children with mental health resources.

“When we’re all working on different activities, they might not seem related,” Fitz-Chapman said. “Having common goals and a common framework keeps everyone in tune and keeps everyone related.”

The System of Care grant is just a small piece of the over 5.7 million dollars that the Prosper Waco initiative has helped secure for Waco organizations.

Christina Helmick, Director of Communication at Prosper Waco, stresses the role that this backbone organization plays in the community

“I like to say we [Prosper Waco] work at the organization level and so we empower and convene at the organization level so that they can better collaborate and serve their population and their audiences at a higher impact,” Helmick said.

Fitz-Chapman reiterates that idea through her role collecting data.

“I am not an expert in education, health or financial security,” Fitz-Chapman said. “What I’m an expert in is going out and getting the data and then being able to bring it back in a way that is visually appealing to our steering committees and working groups.”

The issue of poverty in the Waco community is becoming more familiar not only to locals of Waco, but Baylor University students as well. To read a local Baylor student’s experience in a poverty simulation, click here.

Photo Credit: Pablo Gonzales