Blue Door Project opens to foster youth

by Jill Ragar Esfeld
jill.esfeld@theleaven.org
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “It really was a godsend — because where do you find a house big enough for 16 kids?” said Carla Drescher.

The godsend Drescher is referring to is the former Monastery of St. Michael in Kansas City, Kansas, built in the early 1950s to house a cloistered order of Carmelite nuns.

The door to the old monastery has been painted a bright blue and, after some serious renovations this summer, it will become a foster home to 16 teenagers.
It is the first step in a program called the Blue Door Project — an amazing effort on the part of the Drescher family to serve children in need.
And that particular godsend was only the first of many.
 “If I could tell you all the different ‘God moments’ we’ve had,” said Drescher, a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, “it’s just incredible.
“It makes me want to cry.”

A worthy cause

Drescher has worked 25 years in child welfare. Her son Bryan followed in her footsteps.

When Drescher left her last position as director of behavioral health for the state of Kansas, she and Bryan started talking about the idea of opening a residential group home for youth.

“We obviously saw the great need,” she said.

The two pitched the idea to other family members and began praying.

“And we kept praying,” said Drescher. “We prayed that if this is really what we’re supposed to be doing, give us a sign, open a door.

“If I could tell you all the doors that have opened — there is no doubt in my mind that this is a God-driven mission.”

Bryan’s wife, Laura Drescher, agrees.

“In the beginning,” she said, “things were going quickly and I kept praying, ‘God, if this is not what you want to happen, let us know now because we’re full steam ahead.’

“Instead, he just opened doors and opened doors and opened doors.”

The first door to open was the acquisition of the old monastery.

“We started networking,” said Drescher. “One person we met told us about this house that used to be a convent.”

The huge white house in the 3500 block of Wood Avenue wasn’t on the market, but Drescher was told the owners might sell to someone who had a worthy project.

“They were very religious,” she explained. “And they wanted the right group that carried on a mission that’s dear to their hearts.”

Drescher’s plans to help youth fit the bill.

“We walked in the house and immediately knew this was home for us,” said Laura.

An inspection revealed the property to be in good shape, but many renovations are needed to bring it up to code.

“To do the project is about a half a million dollars, between the purchase and the renovation,” said Drescher. “We actually feel pretty good about the cost.”

A family affair

When word got out about the Blue Door Project, people began volunteering to help with renovations.

“JE Dunn [Construction] has agreed to provide us a general contractor who will oversee our renovation project,” said Drescher. “We are so thankful that they agreed to do that.”

A group called Faith Works — retirees who volunteer labor for remodeling nonprofits — will work on the project three days a week.

And The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection has a construction mission that will bring a crew out two days a week.

“The architect we have has done all of our architectural drawings pro bono,” said Drescher. “We have received gift after gift as far as the in-kind.

“I’m just in awe every day.”

When completed, the Blue Door will have bedrooms for eight boys on the lower level and eight girls on the upper level.

And the program will be able to support itself financially.

“Once we open our doors, then we’ll be self-sustaining because of the daily rate we receive from the state for each kid,” explained Drescher. “That’s kind of unusual in the nonprofit world — not always do you know where your next dollar is coming from.”

As a residential group home, the Blue Door will be unique because Bryan and Laura Drescher will be living there.

“We really wanted to have a family-like feel,” said Laura. “Many of these facilities get very institutional or hospital-like.

“We wanted to do whatever we could to instill the feeling of a home, built on a traditional family.”

Bryan will be part of the Blue Door Project staff. Laura will continue to work as a civil engineer.

The couple hopes to have family meals and movie nights and simply provide an example of a marriage.

The home will also be staffed full time.

“So we really are not going to be fully responsible for [the teenagers] at all times,” said Laura. “Us living there is just kind of a bonus to make it feel like a family.”

Investing in the community

Bryan and Laura, parishioners of St. Ann in Prairie Village, will be looking for a new parish in the community, too.

“We will miss St. Ann,” said Laura, who went through the RCIA program there just last year, “but we feel like it will be important to be integrated in a parish here.”

Joining a local parish is one way the couple hopes to show they are committed to the local community.

“Wyandotte County doesn’t appreciate people coming in and saying, ‘I’m going to fix your community,’” said Laura. “We want to say this is our community that we are investing in.”

At an open house held recently at the Blue Door Project, the Dreschers experienced another “God moment” when they received a surprise donation from a local youth group.

The group, comprised of high school seniors, had started raising money when they were in ninth grade. They didn’t have a specific purpose, just a hope that someday they would find a worthy cause.

They hoped to offer their donation to someone who worked with youth.

Then they heard about the Blue Door Project.

“Christ Lutheran youth group provided us a $29,000 check,” said Laura. “God put that thought into their heads years ago.

“They started fundraising for this project before we even came up with it.”

The home sits on 1.35 acres and has a 10-foot privacy fence. The Dreschers had hoped to design a recreation area for the teen residents.

Now, they have the perfect group of consultants.

“This youth group is going to guide us as far as what we want to do out back,” said Drescher. “We figure they’re about the age, so why not ask them.”

One definite plan is to build a meditation garden at the base of a giant crucifix in the backyard — a lasting memorial to the house’s earlier monastic life.

Work of mercy

“It’s a big undertaking,” said Drescher, “to get something like this up and running and then to be able to care for the children.”

And so, it’s not unusual to have moments of doubt.

“Every once in a while I get a little fearful,” she admitted. “And then I just try to pray and find some peace and know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

“It’s been a beautiful experience so far.”

As renovations begin, the Dreschers are working on fundraising, writing policies and procedure, hiring staff, recruiting volunteers and developing programming for the Blue Door Project.

Laura and Bryan are working on selling their house and moving into this new home under construction.

“We’re hoping we can open toward the beginning of August,” said Drescher. “If we have some long-term kids, we’d really like for them to be there before school starts.”

During this Year of Mercy, the Drescher family members said they are particularly aware of the Scripture passages that talk about caring for God’s children.

“And that is a call for all of us,” said Drescher. “I feel very blessed to be able to do that.”

How can you ignore the call when you hear God’s voice so clearly?

“I just truly feel like this is God’s destiny for our family,” said Laura. “And this is what he has planned for us.

“And it’s just really been his hand in this whole process.”

To help

The Blue Door Project would love to have the Catholic community involved in its efforts to build a loving foster home for local youth. To learn how to help, call (913) 961-0866 or visit the website.

Volunteers needed 

The Blue Door Project is in need of volunteers to come and make meals, but also to teach meal-making and budgeting, as well as to tutor and help with recreational activities. Call (913) 961-0866 or visit the website for more information.  

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