by Jill Ragar Esfeld
OVERLAND PARK — “All of us are touched in some way,” said Kim Hammers, executive director of EMBRACE. “Whether it’s a child in our home, or our friend’s kids. We want to be sure they can be served in their home parish.
“That’s why we’re here.”
EMBRACE is an acronym for Enriching Many By Reaching All in Catholic Education.
In collaboration with the Catholic schools office of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, the organization offers grants and assistance to help Catholic schools provide an inclusive education supporting children with disabilities and learning differences.
On Sept. 30, EMBRACE held its first-ever fundraiser entitled “Embrace the Brew” at Rock & Brews restaurant in Overland Park.
The evening was a success, raising more than $100,000 and bringing awareness to the organization’s important mission.
EMBRACE was started in 2018 by a small group of parents who wanted to do something to help children with any kind of learning difficulty to be successful in Catholic school.
We started [EMBRACE] because we know kids with special needs in our Catholic schools need support,” said board president Jim Kernell. “We wanted to do everything we could to help our Catholic schools bring these kids in and keep them there.”
The cause is close to Kernell’s heart as his youngest daughter has Down syndrome.
“When she was born,” he said, “we realized this was going to be a challenge in the Catholic schools.
“We have three older children. We wanted to keep all the kids together.”
Fortunately, at the time, Hammers was principal of St. Agnes School in Roeland Park where the Kernell children attended.
“And she said we will support her at our school,” recalled Kernell. “Our daughter started at St. Agnes and then we transitioned to Curé of Ars.
“And now she’s a junior at Bishop Miege.”
In the beginning, EMBRACE was funded by generous donations. When Hammers came on board this year, momentum picked up and a fundraiser was planned.
“I’m passionate to serve as many kids as we can in our Catholic schools,” she said. “We’re not here to go in and tell schools what they need.
“We’re here to listen to the administrators in the building — they’re the experts.”
Hammers should know. She has a 30-year background in education with the archdiocese: 12 years in the classroom and 18 years in administration.
“I made kind of a switch for the last part of my career, working with schools in the archdiocese to support kids with needs,” she said.
Since 2018, EMBRACE has given about $500,000 in grants to hire resource staff and personnel or provide materials to help support kids.
“We also give scholarships to any teacher who wants to get a special ed certification through Benedictine College,” said Kernell. “That also has been a very successful program.
“The more teachers we have with special ed backgrounds in our schools, the better they can help all the kids.”
Beginning this school year, EMBRACE will also be providing professional development and training for paraprofessionals in the archdiocese who work with students with learning differences and disabilities.
“Our goal is to help fund the schools so they can service as many kids as possible,” said Hammers. “And I think our schools want to do that.
“I know I did as an administrator.”
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