Evan Hebert, a Baylor student graduating this December, is a new face on the Prosper Waco team, spearheading the CampusTown branch of the initiative.
Kristen Ritch of Waco Business News spoke with Hebert, who has been an integral part of the New Student Programs at Baylor and has been an advocate for loving Waco during his tenure as a student.
A portion of our conversation with Hebert is posted below.
Can you tell me a little bit about your heart for Waco, growing up here and transitioning through college at Baylor and into adulthood in Waco?
Evan Hebert: So I grew up across town, I didn’t really come downtown unless it was for the Fourth of July or other big events. When I got to Baylor, I decided to live off-campus and, through that, I met people who were living downtown. That’s kind of where everything got started for me. I lived at the Waco High Lofts, and they were significantly older than me, so I didn’t really hang out with them. They were doing their own stuff, which kind of left me alone a lot my freshman year. Which was tough, being eighteen, but also I could do whatever I wanted for the first time ever—I got the explore all of the local shops and the cool views of the city. After my freshman year, I got a job working with new students [in Baylor’s New Student Programs, as a Line Camp Leader.] I got the opportunity to use what I had learned over the last six months and show them, show their friends. That was kind of where it all started: watching other people fall in love with [Waco] made me fall more in love with it each day.
So, it was nice to see people who I had never seen before find spots that I showed them, it makes me feel old actually, more than anything else. I got a tattoo [of iconic Waco buildings] that actually helped me get the job I’m in now. So, if I ever want to work in a big city, I’ll have to find more surface area. So, it’s nice being here now. A lot of people who are like minded to me are wanting to stay here and do cool stuff. It’s nice because we’re the next wave of people that are making decisions and bringing cool stuff here. It’s nice not to be just a spectator, but to have my hands on it. I get to use my passion and talents to collaborate with Prosper Waco, while still learning more about their mission. The more I learn, the more I realize it’s close to what I do independently and it’s cool to have a platform to do it on.
Not all of our readers are familiar with Prosper Waco—can you explain to them what it is, what its purpose is and how it has impacted the community so far?
Prosper Waco has been going on since 2014, so a few years now. They are focused on—they have three pillars which are Education, Healthcare and Financial Security. So, their whole thing is a model called “Collective Impact,” which is a city-wide model. Not many cities are doing it right now, but it gets all of the groups in the city that have the same goal or are having the same conversations and it brings them together. They had their summit two weeks ago, which got all the big city leaders together. It was actually my first day on the job, so it was kind of overwhelming.
So, collective impact is meant to bring communities together so that there isn’t a huge chasm between organizations. Prosper Waco gets the people that are doing things together in the same room. They take the people who have been working for years on making Waco better and allow them to work as one.
Okay, but your part of Prosper Waco is “CampusTown,” an initiative to keep Baylor grads in Waco post-grad. Tell me more about that aspect of Prosper Waco.
There’s three branches to what I do. There’s Love, Serve, and Work Waco—which is kind of the most important one. My job focuses on retention, so finding students jobs and internships, which is perfect. So, “Love Waco” is like the River Float that happened a couple of weeks ago and the pop-up event this past week—those are kind of under my umbrella, too. I’m not planning those events, but I am marketing them, because I am kind of like the liaison. I’m marketing to students. I’m trying to make the social media accounts that I have kind of “the hub” for all of the things. It’s going to take some traction and some work, but, hopefully, people who are looking for a job will check there and scroll through.
“Serve Waco” is about getting out into the community. So, this week I went out to the World Hunger Relief Farm, I took a tour. They host a lot of things that no one really knows about. They’re always open to doing just about anything. So, if you wanted to have a group hang-out with a projector, then they would set it up for you. They do farm-to-table dinners. So, honestly, I’m just making people more aware of cool things that are happening in Waco. It’s what I do. It’s nice because I’ve gotten to be connected to all of the “movers and shakers,” and they basically help me figure out what’s next. I’m basically doing I’ve kind of been doing for years, but now I have actual authority.
What impact do you think that infusing Baylor graduates into local businesses will have on Waco?
That ties in to “Work Waco.” I think it’ll be great because Baylor is a highly-ranked university, so we’re getting a bunch of intelligent minds staying in Waco. Whereas, in the past, we’ve lost them to bigger cities like Dallas, Austin or Houston. This initiative trying to get students to stay here full-time. And it’s not just Baylor, we’re also looking at MCC, TSTC, etc. We’re downtown, and Baylor is the closest school to us, but we want students from across the city and from all different demographics. There are different trades and focuses, and we think that we could benefit from bring them all together instead of making them separate. There’s a lot of value in the people coming from non-Baylor schools that tends to be overlooked.
I just connect students with jobs. So I spent a few hours today at MCC and TSTC speaking to various college reps. I’m getting in touch with all of the student activities departments for each school, and [Waco] will give me graphics that I will send out to the universities for the students will have them. And then the schools are telling me what they are doing in relation to the city. So I’m really just a middle man between a lot of people. We have the goal of keeping people here and utilizing initiatives like—Kevin Renois is in charge of the Waco Entrepreneurs, he is in charge of finding ways to help them.
There’s a place called Thinc Space on 6th and Franklin, which is just a place for entrepreneurship students that helps undergrads launch businesses. It’s nice because we’re keeping students in the city who have been here for four years. Waco is kind of expanding and growing. Obviously, we have people who do want to stay and help the community thrive. We want to have people who want to be here, we don’t want them to just feel obligated because of a job. So, our hope is that they have their 9-to-5, but they also want to pour into the community. And [people wanting to stay and invest in Waco] is definitely trending upwards.
Are you looking to connect with high schools, or utilize programs like that of the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy, which helps high school students graduate with a marketable skill?
I met with a liaison for Region XII, and they talked about “Cafe College” in San Antonio. It’s free of charge, kind of a non-profit, where students can go to get help with FAFSA, applications, or how navigate applying for and paying for college. It helps students be more adequately prepared coming out of high school. Because we want our students to succeed in college or in whatever path they choose. While CampusTown is focusing on college campuses, I’m only four years away from talking to high school students. It’s important to reach down to the high school, and even the middle school, students in some way in order to get the roots going. And then they would hopefully feel welcome downtown, too. It’s not just a place to buy coffee or ice cream—there are things to do down here, and we hope their voices are heard as well.
How do we combat the negative effects of gentrification, keeping it an affordable location for families who have been here for generations?
If we get these hotbeds of education, healthcare, medical and financial assistance going downtown, then everything will thaw out more quickly than if we were to be spread out initially. It’s tough because you want to take some place and make it better, but you’re taking a place that’s been there for years and saying “this isn’t good enough.” It’s really important to say that we’re wanting to improve this area, but you as a person are not harming it. We want to give you the tools and resources to help. It’s tough to look around and see whole neighborhoods being torn down because those were people’s homes. We need to look at these areas and make sure they have access to groceries and to medical care and figure out how we can improve the area for all Waco’s inhabitants. We don’t want anyone to think we’re just shoving them out of the way to build a Denny’s, or something. It’s important to have that face-to-face interaction—how can we help you? What do you need? What can we do to bridge that gap?
What are some of the things that CampusTown has in the works?
We’ve been getting ideas from MCC about how we can connect Baylor students to MCC students to TSTC students. Something that I’m pushing for is a downtown intramural league. You go to big cities, and they’re always doing that. I was in Chicago a few weeks ago, and the guy I was visiting had an intramural sand volleyball game down at the pier. And Waco has a ton of different locations to do sports—there’s the Heart of Texas Complex. I’m really hoping to get some sort of intramural league started. I know they have something like that in Hewitt, but it’s more Hewitt-focused, and I’m looking at the Greater Waco Area. I’m hoping that I can start it off by doing a 3-on-3 basketball tournament that anyone in town can join, but specifically geared for students. The whole goal is inter-campus interaction. There’s a kind of stigma between students from different higher education schools in the city; there’s a perceived power difference, and my goal is to smash that.
We’ve seen an unprecedented amount of growth over the past five years, definitely accelerating over the past two, what are the biggest changes that you’ve seen?
So, you’re seeing a lot more culture—more mom and pop shops. [Our designation as a Waco Cultural Arts District] happened two weeks ago, and it’s true. You’ve been seeing murals that are like “Waco this” or “Waco that,” but you are now starting to see more art coming up because people have more avenues to be creative downtown. A guy I used to work with over at Common Grounds, his parents are moving to Waco to open a pop-up greenhouse—they’ll show up for four hours. You’re seeing more people willing to take risks because they are feeling more welcome to jump into downtown.
What changes, or what businesses do you hope to see come to Waco?
Downtown, right now, is kind of a niche market. There’s only so much you can do here. There’s not a whole list of things to do here. I’d love to see a true financial district pop-up because we do have business students who love Waco, but there isn’t a competitive market for them to stay here. The hope is that a big name would come in and keep students here with more attractive jobs.
What is your overall vision for Waco—your hopes, dreams, aspirations?
My hope is to see more green spaces downtown. Something that isn’t really being talked about is at all is actually seeing [the square in between Austin Avenue and the Courthouse] turned into a park with wi-fi. I want this to be the hub of downtown. I truly would like to see this be grass and trees, maybe a dog park.
Are you thinking of the Town Square like they have in Denton, TX?
Yes, a lot of real estate is taken up surrounding it, but I think, with Austin Avenue already being developed and, hopefully, Washington being taken to two-ways, then people would feel directed to the square. And it would be a place for people to meet as a community. My personal hope is for this to be a park, because we have more than enough parking spaces. Just talking about it gets me excited.
Our Parks and Recreation Department is great, so you never know. Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
I’d love to see the Brazos River to turn into a day’s worth of events. I’d love to see a Civic Theatre open up. We have one across town, but you don’t know about it if you don’t know about it. I’d like to see more culture pop up, like an art museum. I’d really like to see the different districts—you have the Silo District and downtown two blocks over—but I’d like to see them connected. I don’t want it to be like Dallas or Austin, but to have an identity of its own. I want it to be more of a Portland—cities that still seem small and are known for their culture.
Evan Hebert is a Waco native studying Business & Corporate Communications at Baylor University. Progressing out of a love for the city where he was raised, Evan was selected to be the coordinator of the CampusTown Waco Initiative in September of 2016. As a member of the Baylor community, Evan has been involved with New Student Programs as an Orientation and Line Camp Leader, introducing incoming freshmen and transfer students to Baylor. He also served in Penland hall as a Community Leader. He became a familiar face while working at the popular coffee shop Common Grounds.