by Moira Cullings
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “I live and breathe protecting children,” said Maureen Reintjes.
The resource specialist at Sacred Heart Parish in Shawnee isn’t exaggerating.
She spends her time volunteering as a victim advocate with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
She’s also on the executive board of Missouri Missing, an organization that, among many things, supports families who have missing loved ones.
But her role as a safe environment coordinator (SEC) at Sacred Heart is just as important, she said.
“It means a lot to me,” said Reintjes, “[to be] able to get so many people aware that they need to be watching out for children.
“We’re on the front line here.”
Each parish and school in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas selects an individual to act as a local SEC, said Sandy Vielhauer, protection compliance administrator for the office of protection and care.
“The archdiocesan mission of protecting all those whose voices may be silent and unheard would not be possible without the local SECs,” she explained.
“These dedicated individuals work with their parish ministries to ensure all employees and volunteers working around youth and vulnerable adults are appropriately trained and screened,” she added.
Their work is a pertinent part of the office of protection and care’s mission to protect children and vulnerable adults in the archdiocese.
One of their key responsibilities is ensuring that every adult who works or volunteers with children in some capacity at the church or school has been trained in “Protecting God’s Children — Virtus.”
Virtus is a child safety awareness program led by volunteer facilitators.
All adults who work with children within the archdiocese are required to attend a Virtus training session and undergo a background check before being allowed to do so.
SECs ensure that this applies to everyone — from teachers to parent volunteers to CYO coaches.
“It’s a lot to keep track of,” said Karen McDonald, registrar at Church of the Nativity Parish in Leawood. “I sometimes call myself the Virtus police.”
Nativity has more than 2,000 households and more than 5,500 parishioners.
“And we have a very generous parish with lots of volunteers giving their time and talent to work with the kids,” said McDonald, who acts as the SEC there.
McDonald said the Virtus training is an effective way to educate adults; the videos, especially, show how abuse can happen and how to prevent it.
“They get very passionate then about protecting the children,” she said. “They second- guess sometimes things or situations they’ve seen.
“They become more aware. They become great advocates for our kids.”
Both McDonald and Reintjes said their workload varies based on the time of year. It’s busier as school starts in the fall, during CYO sports seasons and when religious education is taking place.
“It depends on what’s going on in the parish and school what the volunteer needs are,” said Reintjes.
Overseeing Virtus is one of multiple duties these women are in charge of at their parishes, but the work is a fulfilling way to spend their time.
“I’m a mom, and I’m a granny of two beautiful girls,” said McDonald. “I understand how trusting and vulnerable kids can be.
“We as adults are put here to protect them, to help them, and working together collectively as a parish [and] as an archdiocese, it has a big impact on the future of our kids.”
Playing a part in that protection is “a big responsibility,” added McDonald.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” she said. “I’m just privileged to be part of that Nativity village, that archdiocesan village, and to do my part to keep all our kids safe.”
To learn more about the office of protection and care, go online to: archkck.org/protection-and-care/office.