By JACKIE HOERMANN
The Kansas City Star
“Flower children” such as Rich Koch (back left), taught in the school and coached the athletic teams for $20 a month and a bunk in the convent.
“Sister Berta! Sister Berta!” squeaks a 7-year-old girl as she runs into the arms of Sister Berta Sailer.
“She’s too cute,” Sailer says. The girl is one of an estimated 10,000 children served in the last 40 years by Operation Breakthrough, a nonprofit organization providing social services to children and families in Kansas City’s urban core.
To mark its 40th anniversary, the center is having a celebration in September.
In 1971, Sailer co-founded Operation Breakthrough with Sister Corita Bussanmas in their living room as a temporary day care for four infants. Since then, the effort has grown into a full-service center that supplies more than 500 children a day with meals and academic enrichment programs as well as access to a clothing donation center, a food pantry and medical, dental, optometric and therapy services.
Sailer is always touched by stories of success and appreciation, including this encounter at the 20th anniversary celebration in 1991.
“My grandpa knows you,” a child told her.
“How do I know him?” she asked.
“You got him his first job.”
Sailer hopes to reconnect with “her kids” again, many of whom have gone on to lead successful careers.
Alumna Kim Randolph was one of the first children to attend Operation Breakthrough in the early 1970s. The education she received was “phenomenal,” she says, but what stayed with her most were the positive personal experiences.
“I basically grew up there,” Randolph says. “My mom was a single mom, and she worked in the mornings, so we’d do odd jobs for the sisters in the morning before school, like taking care of the babies. And we’d go back over there until my mom got off work. I even got my first job there.”
Randolph, who will attend the upcoming reunion, has since established a career as a chief operating officer at Davis Safety Supply.
“I think every one of us (alumni) can tell you that they left a mark on us,” Randolph says. “I don’t care if you went on to make mistakes. Even if you did, you always remember the good you received. … I wish my kids had those experiences.”
Randolph’s story and others are what Sailer calls one piece of a million-piece puzzle she and Bussanmas started four decades ago.
“We want everyone to come back and help us put the pieces together,” Sailer says. “We’re trying to put together our history.”
OPERATION BREAKTHROUGH BY THE NUMBERS85: Percent of families served living below the poverty line
100: Homeless children served
300: Volunteers each month
550: Children attending daily
1,700: Children waiting to get in
A block party celebrating 40 years will include live music, performances, food and activities for kids. “We want alumni, volunteers and all community members to come out so they can celebrate their own achievements as well as the achievements of the organization,” says Christine Minkler, special assistant for events and history at Operation Breakthrough. “Our next task is to put together an archive to record our history. We want people with memories to share them with us.”
When: Noon-5 p.m., Sept. 10
Where: 31st Street and Troost Avenue
Share your story and pictures: Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Operation Breakthrough is a beneficiary of the Kanrocksas Music Festival, today and Saturday at Kansas Speedway. A portion of proceeds will go to the center; single-day tickets are $99. Visit kanrocksas.com/tickets for a schedule and more info.