Waco program celebrates 50 years

By Abby Loop
Staff Writer

Tonya Williams, a Dallas native who has lived in Waco for the past 18 years, attributes her success and well-being today to one of Waco’s oldest non-profit organizations.

When Williams first came to Waco, she had three kids, and her husband was always on the road.

She was a homemaker and as her kids got older, she decided to find a job.

However, her job hunt was difficult and daycare for her youngest child was very expensive.

She had no idea how she was going to find care for her child and look for a job to support her family.

Williams then heard about the Economic Opportunities Advancement Corporation.

Williams said the organization and the programs it contained changed her life for the better.

“Someone told me about EOAC and that I should check into it,” Williams said. “I researched and ended up applying for a head start program they have.

I got my son in it and I don’t know where I would’ve been without it.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the organization’s community action programs that have helped people like Williams receive financial, family or employment assistance.

Williams said since her son was able to go to Head Start, an early learning education program for kids, she was able to have time to find a job and earn money for her family.

“It was a huge impact. There’s no way I could’ve afforded daycare,” she said. “My son got ahead of the grade there, what they taught him was above pre-school. When he did go to kindergarten, his teacher was impressed.”

According to its website, the organization was created in 1964 to implement and carry out the provisions of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.

Poverty, education and transitions to gainful employment are and have always been the primary goals of the organization. The non-profit organization caters to seven counties in Central Texas.

John Key, executive director of the program, said the program’s main mission is to help those in need achieve economic independence with seven different programs that range from childcare services to tenant-based rental assistance.

“We help with rental payments, utilities, give kids an opportunity to learn at an early age and help the elderly and veterans with weatherizing homes,” Key said.

“It can be difficult for some people to ask for help, but we want them to come to us. The best thing we do is help people.”

Deborah Jones, director for the Head Start/Early Head Start program at EOAC, said she believes the organization and its programs has been one of Waco’s best kept secrets so far, as many people haven’t heard of them over the years.

“We’re one of those organizations that doesn’t always get recognized,” Jones said.

“But we’ve been the forerunner for providing services to low income families, the elderly and the disabled for many years.”

Jones said in their Head Start program, she’s seen a lot of success with clients, including Williams.

Tina Gonzales, director of community programming, said the organization receives so many clients, that it’s almost hard to believe.

“We bring some decency and dignity to customers,” Gonzales said. “They can feel proud of assistance and be treated with respect. They receive the service they deserve.”

Waco resident Kim Talton said this is what EOAC did for her when helping her pay for a class at Hill College so she could graduate.

“I just called and asked about their services and they’ve been helping me ever since,” Talton said. “ I would still be struggling to graduate if it wasn’t for them.”

EOAC is continuing to play a part in the lives of Waco citizens today and members of the organization have more things planned in the upcoming months.

Key said the organization is currently planning a dentist day at Waco Charter School, a school founded by EOAC in 1996.

On November 13, the school will be visited by a local clinic and have dental exams free of charge.

“Kids will be able to get their teeth cleaned and checked and they won’t be charged anything,” Key said.

“About 94 percent of kids at this school are economically disadvantaged. We want to do this a second time as well but for the parents of these kids.”

Sabrina Gray, a Baylor alumna, is principal of the charter school. Gray said EOAC is providing a great service to students and parents of the school and encouraged Baylor students to get involved with EOAC’s offered programs.

“EOAC helps provide financial support for the school and for families, it’s an extra service that’s greatly needed,” Gray said.

“If students want to help out they have to have a willing heart and an interest to provide service. Our school always needs tutors and it’s a great opportunity to give.

The main thing is getting EOAC’s information out there and letting people know there is a need.”