Archdiocese Local

Safe environment volunteers celebrated at Nov. 8 event

Jenifer Valenti, director of the archdiocesan office for protection and care, addresses facilitators and safe environment coordinators (SEC) from around the archdiocese at an SEC/Virtus Facilitator Appreciation Day on Nov. 8 at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

by Moira Cullings

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When Shannon Holcomb got the call to participate in Virtus facilitator training, it didn’t matter where she was.

“I was actually on vacation,” she said. “In the back seat of my husband’s truck driving down the road, I took my facilitator’s training the first day.”

By the second day of training, she was safe and sound at home.

“I had been really interested in becoming a facilitator for about three years,” said Holcomb. “When they called, it didn’t matter [where I was]. It’s an important ministry.”

Holcomb, an administrator of preschool at Xavier School in Leavenworth and a Virtus facilitator, joined other facilitators and safe environment coordinators (SEC) from around the archdiocese for an SEC/Virtus Facilitator Appreciation Day on Nov. 8.

The event was hosted by the archdiocesan office for protection and care (OPC) and held at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee.

Sandy Vielhauer, left, protection compliance administrator, and Kathleen Chastain, consultant to the archdiocesan office for protection and care, put together gift bags for the Virtus facilitators and safe environment coordinators at a day of appreciation Nov. 8. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

Jenifer Valenti, OPC director, and Sandy Vielhauer, protection compliance administrator, said their office was eager to show their gratitude.

“Our OPC team is so grateful for our front-line volunteers and employees who work tirelessly to raise awareness about abuse and make sure we do everything [we] can to safeguard our most vulnerable members,” said Valenti.

Forty-four people attended the appreciation day, including members of the OPC team, presenters and Father John Riley, chancellor and vicar general for the archdiocese.

Attendees were brought up to speed on updates to policies and processes that are forthcoming in the ministry and participated in a Q&A panel discussion with experts in safe environment and abuse awareness.

Monica Lane, left, veteran Virtus facilitator, and Amy Stork, victim care advocate, chat during the SEC/Virtus Facilitator Appreciation Day. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

They also had opportunities to network with others, something Ashley Vardijan, SEC at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, appreciated the most.

“I enjoyed building camaraderie through our challenges and sharing some of the successful ways to overcome those struggles within our roles,” she said.

The day left Vardijan feeling “renewed and appreciated.”

“I feel that the OPC does a great job of communicating and helping with coordinator needs on a regular basis,” she said. “But getting together in person helped build on that sense of belonging to the ‘team.’”

Franchiel Nyakatura, right, chats with Virtus facilitators at the appreciation day. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

Holcomb agreed.

“Sandy and Jenifer — the whole team there — are so welcoming,” she said. “Monica Lane and Franchiel [Nyakatura], the veteran facilitators, just welcome you with open arms and are right there to support you.”

The ministry of protecting children and vulnerable adults is something near to Holcomb’s heart.

She was previously a trainer for Army Child Development Services, where she focused on identifying and reporting child abuse, as well as preventing and responding to child abuse.

Becoming a Virtus facilitator was a logical next step for Holcomb, who wanted to be a resource for the Xavier School community, as well as Leavenworth parishes. She was moved by the idea of the appreciation day.

“To feel appreciated that we’ve taken on that role — I did not expect that,” she said. “That just showed the archdiocese’s commitment to this ministry.”

Father John Riley shares a laugh with LuAnne Montgomery from Church of the Ascension in Overland Park. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

Valenti and Vielhauer said their office plans to host an appreciation day each year.

“This ministry would not be possible or successful without the dedicated work of our local safe environment coordinators and Virtus facilitators,” said Valenti. “We also recognize at times this work can be difficult.

“We hope days like this help to bring about renewal and provide encouragement. We also hope to develop a network of support for each other.”

To learn more about the office for protection and care, go online to:

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage its website, social media channels. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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