Saint Francis Community Services plans to expand its work with foster kids and others in Wichita with the lease of a 68,000-square-foot building.
It’s also a partnership between the Episcopal-founded organization and the Catholic Sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph, who have leased their former convent to become Saint Francis at The Mount.
The new Saint Francis at The Mount will include:
- Administrative and training facilities for Saint Francis Community Services in Wichita
- Independent living for 20 youth ages 16 and older who are about to age out of foster care custody
- Independent living for teens and young adults who have already aged out of foster care
- Early Head Start and Head Start will sublease space from Saint Francis, offering services for 15 newborn to 3-year-olds and for 20 3-5-year-olds, including children in foster care and family preservation
- Saint Francis Migration Ministries, which assists in resettlement of refugees in Wichita
- A behavioral health program offering outpatient services
The new facility is a continuation of Saint Francis’s original mission, said Tom Blythe, chief operating officer. The organization began in 1945 in Ellsworth, Kansas, with a home for boys. Now, it is responsible for about 3,700 foster children.
The new programs at The Mount will allow interconnected care for children and young adults, said Trish Bryant, vice president for children and family services at Saint Francis.
The former convent has four floors, multiple kitchens, several dormitory-style areas, laundry rooms and numerous offices. The sisters left many furnishings for Saint Francis to use.
The independent living area for girls about to age out of custody includes individual rooms and bathrooms. A few have a second room attached to the bathroom, allowing a place for young mothers in foster care to keep their children.
While living there, they will have the opportunity to complete high school or earn a GED, work a job on or off campus and prepare to live independently.
The Head Start classrooms — painted in bright greens and purples and set up with toy kitchens and puppets — will serve children from birth to age 5 who are in foster care or family preservation. In some cases, the young women in the independent living program may have their own children in the Head Start programs.
“One of the biggest barriers, especially for young moms, is getting adequate daycare so they can go out there, get an education, get a job and feel that their child is being well taken care of,” Bryant said. “That’s really why we wanted to do the partnership with Head Start, to really give these girls a chance to get their feet on the ground and really get back in the community.”
Some of the programs will begin this year. The final component will be the independent living program for teens and young adults who have already aged out of custody, scheduled to launch in 2020.
About 50 employees have already moved from Saint Francis's cramped Harry Street office, freeing up space in the East Harry location to provide additional client services.
Another 50 staff will be hired to work at The Mount, including clinicians, behavioral and mental health workers, support staff and career counselors.
Already licensed for substance use programs in Salina and Kansas City, Saint Francis is seeking a license for a Wichita program, to be located at The Mount. The plan is to hire a licensed psychologist and several counselors who can serve both the youth in independent living and the public.
Saint Francis Community Services has a five-year lease with the Sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph. The lease will cover the cost of utilities and maintenance.
The more than 40 Sisters of St. Joseph have recently moved into a 57,000-square-foot center at the south end of the property, leaving the original convent space empty.
They’re right next door to the Head Start classrooms, and the sisters already have been asking when the babies will arrive.
The sisters will have the opportunity to volunteer in the Head Start classrooms, tutor youth in independent living and provide other support.
Sister Margaret Nugent, director of community life and services for the Sisters of St. Joseph, said it made sense to partner with Saint Francis. First, the sisters had an empty building.
“Secondly, they do what we would like to do if we had more sisters and energy,” Nugent said. “It coincides with our mission.”
She and the other sisters are excited to see their former convent full of life and activity, she said.