Andover children’s home ready to open its doors, provide love

The Sunshine Children's Home, a new home in northwest Andover, will begin taking in children who have been placed in police protective custody in Butler, Elk and Greenwood counties starting Monday. The home will be able to handle up to 15 kids, infants through age 17. (October 23, 2014)
The Sunshine Children's Home, a new home in northwest Andover, will begin taking in children who have been placed in police protective custody in Butler, Elk and Greenwood counties starting Monday. The home will be able to handle up to 15 kids, infants through age 17. (October 23, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

The spacious country-style home sits on Andover’s northeast edge. Large, round hay bales are clustered in a field to the north.

Pumpkins and yellow mums greet visitors on the walkway and porch.

Inside, a humongous kitchen is on the left, a living room with a high ceiling on the right.

Sunshine pours in through windows, bouncing off yellow and blue chairs. Eight bedrooms, eight bathrooms fill the 11,400-square-foot house.

A large rec room downstairs has everything from board games to a ping-pong table. A playground on a bouncy, rubberized surface awaits just outside.

All that’s missing are the children. And they’re coming.

Sunshine Children’s Home, a community-driven effort that began as a dream a decade ago, officially opens Monday. A public grand opening will be from 3 to 6 p.m. Friday.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see children the first day,” said Suzi Thien, executive director of El Dorado-based Sunlight Children’s Advocacy and Rights Foundation, or SCARF.

SCARF was founded in 2004 to protect children. The children’s home is the nonprofit’s largest undertaking.

The home will serve as a temporary emergency shelter for up to 15 children, from infants to 17 years old, who have been taken into police protective custody because authorities have determined they weren’t safe at home. The children will come primarily from Butler, Greenwood and Elk counties.

“No one is coming here feeling good,” said Thien, who spent nearly 30 years as a school counselor before heading up SCARF in 2008. “But when these kids walk through the door, we want them to feel loved and know we’re glad to see them.”

Thursday, workers were laying sod outside while staff members tidied up inside. Two large dining room tables will arrive soon.

Everything about the home and its setting says country. That’s by design.

Until now, the children often have been sent to the Wichita Children’s Home, an urban setting for many kids who are used to a rural atmosphere.

They’re feeling bad enough without also going through an additional cultural shock, said Jan Satterfield, a District Court judge for Butler, Greenwood and Elk counties.

Satterfield was the Butler County attorney in 2004 when she decided the area needed its own children’s home. But there’s more behind that desire.

When a child is taken into protective custody, authorities follow three options for placing the child in a safe environment. A family member is the first choice, a foster care home the second, and a children’s home the third.

A particularly bad experience with a foster home pushed Satterfield to add to the third option.

“There are very good foster homes,” she said, “but I prosecuted someone in foster care for physically and sexually abusing a child in that home.”

Randy Coffman, an Andover police detective at the time whose work included child abuse cases, also was on a mission. She wanted to establish a children’s advocacy center where child victims could be interviewed in a safe and child-friendly setting.

The two women joined forces and helped found SCARF. In 2007, the advocacy center was established in El Dorado. Work began the next year to create the Sunshine Children’s Home.

“We needed something that could provide a safe environment,” said Satterfield, who stepped down from SCARF’s board in 2010 when she ran for district judge.

The well-established Wichita Children’s Home has been that safe haven. But needs have been growing in south-central Kansas, especially in Butler County.

In 2010, Wichita Children’s Home took in 49 children from Butler County. Over a 24-month period that ended in mid-2014, 147 Butler County kids went to the home, said Laura Kelly, director of the home’s community relations and volunteer services.

“We needed a home in our community,” Satterfield said.

A breakthrough came in 2011 when Hope Community Church donated land for the home. The church’s leadership decided to carve out five of its 31 acres on its southwest corner for the home.

Funding for the $2.5 million project has come from donations, ranging from a $406,000 grant from a Delaware-based nonprofit to proceeds from the annual Buckaroo Ball.

No loans. Everything has been paid in cash, Thien said.

The work was driven by a 20-member task force that included moms, law enforcement, social workers and business people.

“This has all come from community involvement,” Satterfield said. “It’s finally here.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘miraculous’ because that means something sort of magically happened. This took a lot of work by a lot of folks.”

The home also provides the safe, secure environment that she envisioned.

Someone coming into the driveway has to be buzzed through a security gate and again to get through the front door.

Inside are security cameras, which are linked to Andover police and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office. Thien can get feeds from the cameras on her smartphone.

Doors are locked from the outside but not from the inside. Yes, a child could leave, Thien said, although she noted that at least two staff members are awake around the clock.

“This isn’t a lockdown,” she added. “It has to be safe and secure, but we don’t want it to feel like an institution. It’s comfortable and secure.”

Many of the bedrooms have colorful bandanas hanging from the valances over the windows.

Lettering with encouraging messages is on the rec room’s walls:

“You can never have too much happy.”

“Every child is a story yet to be told.”

Children will come into the home through a special intake room just off the garage. They’ll get a chance to take a shower, have their clothes washed or be provided with new clothes.

The children mostly likely will have been rushed out of their homes.

“We need everything,” said Thien, “because we’re giving kids everything. They’ve come here with nothing.”

When the home’s plans were first considered, two bedrooms were listed for future expansion. Common sense prevailed and those bedrooms were added to the final design.

“We knew we’d need all eight,” Thien said.

A couple of months ago, Thien met with a state social worker and Cheryl Pierce, the assistant Butler County attorney who oversees juvenile cases.

Pierce told her to expect the need to increase because she was seeing more kids in need coming from larger families.

“I just smiled,” she said.

SCARF also plans to take on a third project and establish a safe visitation and exchange center for children and their parents who are under court orders.

Fundraising for the home will be ongoing. The state’s daily stipend of $115 per day for a child in police custody doesn’t cover costs, Thien said.

But for now, Thien said, she looks around and knows that the home is ready to show children love.

“I wish we didn’t have to do this; I wish it wasn’t necessary,” she said. “But if we have a home, I want to do it right.

“And I think we have.”

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

Sunshine Children’s Home

What: Grand opening and open house for public, 3 to 6 p.m. Friday. The home is a temporary emergency shelter for children – from infants to 17 years old – who have been taken into police protective custody.

Where: 1918 N. Prairie Creek Road, Andover

More information: Go to Sunlight Children’s Advocacy and Rights Foundation’s website at scarfks.org or call 316-313-4107.