by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan, — Respite care for children is a gift of time to families who need a little break, said Tom Racunas, lead consultant for the archdiocesan special-needs ministry.
But until recently, it was a gift the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas couldn’t give.
That will change in September when the archdiocese will launch a monthly respite care program for children with special needs from ages 6 to 18.
This spring, the special needs ministry received a $94,000 grant to run a respite care program for children from the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.
The recognition that a respite care for children program was needed came out of the work of the archdiocesan special-needs task force that was formed in fall 2015.
The task force conducted surveys, held conversations, and convened a listening session in spring 2016.
“Families overwhelmingly indicated a desire for a Catholic respite care program,” said Karen Kroh, the archdiocese’s associate superintendent for student services.
There are home-based respite care programs offered by private providers, but these are expensive, said Tom Racunas. There are also monthly faith-based programs, but none of them are Catholic.
“Our Catholic families are taking advantage of those respite care programs, but what they said to the task force is that they wanted their children in a Catholic environment,” said Racunas. “[They said,] ‘Why can’t the archdiocese make respite care a priority?’”
Kroh included information about the task force’s findings in a newsletter, which somehow made its way into the hands of Tim Keck, secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. He contacted Kroh and encouraged her to apply for a state grant to help fund a respite care program.
A group of archdiocesan task force members — including Racunas, Kroh, Cari Hilyer and Mary Ann Moore — put together a proposal and a business plan. In the spring, KDADS approved a three-year, $97,000 grant. Grant monies will pay for personnel and materials. The personnel will include nursing and directors of various programs.
“For year three, we’ll have to develop revenue sources to sustain the program beyond the third year,” said Kroh.
The archdiocesan program, to be based at Holy Cross School in Overland Park, will offer four hours of respite care from 4 to 8 p.m. on one Saturday a month. This, said Racunas, will give families the time to do what they normally would be unable to do.
One couple looking forward to the archdiocesan-sponsored respite care is Doug and Joanna Rivard, members of Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood.
The Rivards have four sons. Max, 15, has cerebral palsy and needs constant care. They’ve been taking Max to respite care at a church of a Protestant denomination and, though they’ve always been welcomed, the Rivards wanted a program that would integrate the Catholic faith.
“We value [respite care] so much because we can have some time with the other three boys and do things that we normally couldn’t do,” said Joanna Rivard. “Max is in a wheelchair, is nonverbal and doesn’t like being outside for long periods of time.”
The program will include many kinds of games and activities, said Racunas. There will be no charge to families to participate in the program.
Families and potential volunteers can sign up online beginning Aug. 1. Volunteers will go through training. For information, contact Racunas by calling (913) 647-3054, or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.