by Tom Racunas
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Carol Farnsworth vividly remembers exactly when the Holy Spirit began to call her to a new mission in her life.
Her son Jack was a sophomore in high school. He was sitting on the couch along with her, her husband Steve and Jack’s twin brother Nick.
The discussion centered around where Nick was thinking of going to college, and was just about to end, when Jack interrupted.
“Where I going?” he asked simply. The question stunned Carol and Steve. “His question left me silent,” Carol said. She had no answer.
She knew the usual paths for most high school graduates like Nick — college, technical school, competitive employment — were not options for Jack. Jack has Down syndrome.
Carol and Steve knew that even with Jack’s many strengths and gifts, his goals and dreams for his life could not be fulfilled through traditional avenues.
That was when Carol began to search for services and programs that would be a good fit for Jack. What she discovered was that in the state of Kansas, securing programs and services for a child with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) is not easy.
In order to receive services in Kansas, a person with I/DD must qualify for funding. Funding can cover the cost of housing, tuition for day-service programs that help the individual develop social skills, pursue continuing education or start job training.
Without financial help from the state, out of pocket costs to a family could reach $50,000 per year. There are an estimated 4500 Kansans with I/DD waiting for services due to funding shortages. In other words, the waitlist to access these services is about nine years.
Carol knew that Jack’s transition to a fulfilling adult life could not be put on hold for nine years. So, Carol and Steve, members of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Shawnee, devout in their faith and trusting in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, began the process of starting their own day program.
They shared their vision and mission with friends and acquaintances. “Believers,” as Carol calls them, fulfilled the need for spiritual, financial and material support. In June 2019, Jack became the first associate of Happy Hearts Working (HHW). There are now nine associates.
Carol’s goal was to ensure that the young associates’ days would be filled with meaningful and purposeful work in a safe, Christian environment that would give them an opportunity to make a difference in the community, sustain new friendships and be valued for their contributions.
To achieve that end, Carol began to make connections in the Catholic community. The first collaboration was with Catholic Charities. Associates volunteer at TurnStyles Thrift Store. During the school year, associates work at St. James Academy in Lenexa, the parish office of St. Ann in Prairie Village, St. Ann’s Young Children’s Center, St. Joseph School and Sacred Heart Parish in Shawnee, as well as 15 area businesses.
This summer, since schools are closed, the associates began working one day a week at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas. Deacon Mark Meis, interim director of the center, finds it a good fit.
Not only have the HHW associates made an impact on the beauty of Savior Pastoral Center by helping with both indoor and outdoor work that would not otherwise have gotten done, but providing the group with meaningful labor has given the associates fulfillment in their lives.
“You can see it on their faces! They are bottled-up sunshine!” he said.
Michael Moore, facility engineer for Savior, said that the associates have been a tremendous help. “They are a great group of young adults — happy and energetic. It has been a joy to get to know each one of them.”
HHW associate Sydney Jenkins’ recent work at Savior Pastoral Center involved helping cut and move tree limbs.
“I like making new friends and being in nature,” said Sydney. Her mom Lori Jenkins said that HHW has been a “godsend” to their family and that Sydney loves working in the community.
“Without HHW, Sydney would be sitting at home,” she said.
Karen Overbey’s daughter Rebekah attends HHW three days a week.
“Rebekah has been on the waiting list for services since 2018,” Karen said. Karen added that she loves the concept of HHW because they focus on activity in the community and not keeping clients “warehoused” or doing assembly line work.
“Rebekah loves working at Savior Pastoral Center because she loves being around people,” she said.
“Every aspect of this collaboration has been positive,” Deacon Meis concluded. “The associates are welcome to come back here every summer.”
As for Jack, he is now on the path to happiness and fulfillment. Thanks to Happy Hearts Working, he knows exactly where he is going!
For more information, to volunteer or make a donation, go online to: www.happyheartsworking.org.