New service provides opportunities for those with special needs

Jack Farnsworth displays his staff lanyard from Holy Trinity School in Lenexa. Jack also has duties at Catholic Charities and St. James Academy, Lenexa. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

by Marc and Julie Anderson
mjanderson@theleaven.org

LENEXA — “Where I going?”

That was the question Jack Farnsworth, a 19-year-old with Down syndrome, often asked during his junior and senior years of high school. 

The question first arose when Jack’s twin brother Nick started talking about college. As a typical teenager, Nick was planning for life beyond high school. Jack’s needs, however, were different.

According to Carol Farnsworth, the boys’ mother, the question became a running theme in the Farnsworth household, and only increased in frequency as time went on.

“It really tugged at my heart,” said Carol. “We realized he didn’t have a plan after high school.”

As Carol started researching options, she found long waiting lists at many adult day service providers in the area where Jack could further develop his skills and maybe find work. So, Carol created her own solution — and enlisted the help of everyone she knew.

Known as Happy Hearts Working — an organization founded by the Farnsworth family, Debbie Polys and countless others — the nonprofit is a licensed community service provider with a vision of providing “an enriching Christian day service program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” The organization is committed to creating job, volunteer and skill-building opportunities for   associates to lead a purposeful, joyful life shared with others.

Happy Hearts is funded by a combination of Medicaid, private pay and charitable donations. In addition to providing day services at its Bonner Springs headquarters, the organization partners with area businesses like hair salons and schools to identify volunteer, internship and employment opportunities.

Jack, as the organization’s first associate, has enjoyed a range of opportunities: He has received traditional day services, volunteered through Catholic Charities, and been employed by Holy Trinity School and St. James Academy, both in Lenexa. At the grade school, his responsibilities included duties in the lunch room and library; at the high school, he managed the Spirit Shop. 

According to school officials, Jack’s employment has been a win-win situation.

“Having Jack Farnsworth at Holy Trinity is such a blessing and a win-win for all who are involved,” said Liz Minks, the assistant principal at Holy Trinity. 

“Throughout his time in the lunch room and the library, he has brought an example of genuine, pure joy wherever he goes,” she continued. “He brings out the best in kids of all ages. It is so evident that he has already transformed the community.” 

Minks said the students and faculty have been so touched by Jack that they have raised money for Happy Hearts — the sixth-graders alone raised more than $1,600 through a readathon. 

Kelly Kinnan, a school librarian, said Jack’s joy blesses the entire school community. 

“He can make any task fun,” she said. “When he alphabetizes the books, he cheers himself on!

“He loves to be around the kids as much as they love to see him!”  

According to Shane Rapp, the principal of St. James Academy, Jack’s work has been invaluable.

“Having Jack at St. James has been a great way to live our mission, while also providing a valuable service to our school. Seeing him in the office a couple times a week has brightened people’s days, and he has helped us get some work done in our Spirit Shop that we’ve been wanting to do for a while,” he said.

What does Jack think of his newfound purpose?

“I like my jobs,” Jack said, grinning as held up his staff lanyards.

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