Leawood Catholics brew up support for WyCo family center
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
LEAWOOD — “If you’re pro-life, you have to be ready to take care of the children,” said Church of the Nativity parishioner Eileen Drape, co-host of a “coffee and sweets” gathering in honor of Blessed Sacrament Family Center in Kansas City, Kan.
“That’s what I love about the center — it gives young girls who decide to have their babies the support they need to finish school and get a job,” she said.
Mary Ann Caffrey, who is co-hosting the event, said several women from Nativity Parish have decided to start an auxiliary in support of the family center.
“The idea is to create a network of supporters so that any time they need something, they can call on us — whether it’s individuals going down to do an activity or fulfilling the need for donations,” she said
When the Gardner Foundation, which was originally located at Blessed Sacrament, decided three years ago to move its offices and close its day-care center, it notified Blessed Sacrament pastor Father Bill McEvoy.
Knowing how essential the Catholic presence was to the community, Father McEvoy acted quickly to save the day care.
When he turned to Blessed Sacrament parishioner Wanda Bibbs for help, she gladly accepted the challenge.
“My condition was that we would be able to evangelize the children and teach them the Gospel,” she said. “Once he agreed to that, I committed to be there lock, stock and barrel.”
Bibbs, now executive director of the center, quickly recruited volunteers to help her bring the old building up to code. Within months, the facility was operating again as a day care and also offering a variety of programs to help local families in need.
Bibbs has a long history with Blessed Sacrament. Her son Calvin was one of the last graduates of the parish school before it closed. And many area parishes know her from her 20 years running Grace Center (a maternity home for underage women now housed in the former convent at Blessed Sacrament), which she still co-directs with her husband Calvin. The two facilities are close in more ways than one. Young mothers who are helped through Grace Center often leave their babies at the Blessed Sacrament Center when they return to school or go to work.
The facility, which offers day care and before- and after-school care for children six weeks to 11 years old, is open from 6:30 in the morning until 5:30 in the evening. It currently has 53 children, but is licensed for 99.
In addition to child-care services, the center is a place for families to get help with finding jobs, learning life skills and improving parenting skills. It also offers programming to local seniors.
“We are trying to be a parish ministry to serve all of our families — families that range in different age groups,” said Bibbs.
As anyone who has visited the center will attest, this is Bibbs’ life, 24/7. She has an integrated vision of serving her clients, 95 percent of whom some would classified as the “working poor.”
To Bibbs, however, they are moms, dads and kids who need her help.
“She believes that if she nurtures the children, that helps the moms. If she helps the moms, that helps the children, too,” said Drape. “If she helps families, she helps the dads. And then of course, if she helps all those, she helps the community.”
Father McEvoy praises the faith- focused approach Bibbs has brought to the running of Blessed Sacrament Center.
“This is not only a ministry that provides a needed and quality service for underprivileged people, but it is also a ministry of mission: We’re evangelizing,” he said. “We’re sharing our faith.”
“Many children spend more waking hours with us than they do at home, so they are being raised with Christian values,” added Father McEvoy. “We all want our children to be raised in a household of faith. That is ultimately what the Blessed Sacrament Family Center is — a household of faith.”
To get the Blessed Sacrament Family Center auxiliary started, Caffrey and Drape, along with other Nativity members — including Caffery’s daughter Kelly Bjorseth, Millie Brown, Elena Fallon and her daughter Liz Vivona — have organized a coffee to be hosted by Diana Henry in her home.
“We’ve sent out 325 invitations,” said Caffery. “It’s a great Lenten project and it’s going to be a great time for everybody to come together.”
At the coffee, women will have an opportunity to meet Bibbs and Father McEvoy, learn about the Blessed Sacrament Center and join the auxiliary for a membership fee of $100.
“People say, ‘What can I do, just me, with my little $100?’” said Caffrey. “They’re overwhelmed, so they don’t do anything. Well, this is an opportunity for them to do something.”
Bibbs appreciates the show of support. She has many plans to expand the services of the center and high hopes for its future.
“Whatever God decides for us to do in that building, we’re going to try to provide those services, because those services are changing the lives of people in the inner city,” she said.
But the primary purpose of the facility will always be pro-life.
“Anybody who needs child care so they choose life for their child, I’m going to find a slot for them,” Bibbs said. “So we’ve got to raise money, so we can pay the bills!”