Village people

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Father Jerry Arano-Ponce, pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park, blesses St. Agnes Child Care director Neona Russ and toddler Ireland Sullivan at the parish’s new infant child care center. Photo by Elaina Cochran.

by Kara Hansen

ROELAND PARK  — If it takes a village to raise a child, consider St. Agnes Parish here one such village.

When the parish decided to open an infant child care center, parishioners provided the help needed to make it happen every step of the way.

“The space where the infant center is now, was used before as the Montessori program, which was moved to the St. Agnes School building,” said Father Jerry Arano-Ponce, pastor of St. Agnes Parish. “In that way the space became available, but it needed a lot of repairs and modifications done to comply with the city and state requirements in order get the infant center license.”

The existing structure of the building itself was not changed, but the interior was completely remodeled and necessary items were purchased, largely with the help of St. Agnes parishioners.

“St. Agnes has a group of handy men who constantly volunteer to get things done around the buildings — the  buildings and grounds committee. They donated their time and talent to make the necessary changes,” said Father Arano-Ponce. “At some point in the renovation process, Dan Orpin, a parishioner, took over the plumbing work needed and oversaw the finishing of the project.”

Though St. Agnes already had a child care center for ages two and up, infants and young toddlers require some different equipment and furniture, such as cribs, changing tables, and floor toys. Items needed for the new infant child care center were requested through the parish bulletin.

“The parish was very supportive and donated all the equipment,” said Neona Russ, director of St. Agnes Child Care.

Russ said that it is exactly that type of community response that the parish is all about, and what she hopes parents of infants in the new child care center will experience.

“Parents can know that their babies are going to be safe and well-cared for, and that there are people here looking forward to them becoming a part of that community,” said Russ.

Father Arano-Ponce agreed.

“The new infant and toddler center is bringing in young parents as part of the parish,” he said. “It is a place where young couples, many of whom are even new to the parish, are meeting and getting to know each other. It is a place of making connections and beginning what can be a lifelong friendship, since those babies and toddlers most likely will attend St. Agnes School when they grow up and, hopefully later on, to Bishop Miege High School.”

The new infant child care center was something Russ had seen a need for in the community for years, but had to wait until the right opportunity presented itself.

“I field two to three phone calls a day from people looking for good quality infant care and it’s really hard to have to tell parents, ‘I can’t help you,’” said Russ, who has been the director of child care at St. Agnes for nine years.

Now she can help. The infant child care center at St. Agnes accepts babies from six weeks up through two years of age, at which time they can transition to the existing child care center for ages two and up. The new center received an immediate response . . . and is already full — with a waiting list. Russ encouraged expectant parents who might be interested to call immediately and get their names on the waiting list as soon as possible.

Russ said the staff she hired was excellent and would provide the highest quality care to the babies. And true to the “village” response, she planned to tap further into the parish resources to provide some extra care for the infants.

“I’d really love to get some of our parish grandmothers who are involved in the Altar and Rosary Society over here volunteering and holding these babies,” said Russ. “The community response here is so great. It’s a St. Agnes Parish thing.”

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