Wichita Children’s Home hosts open house at new campus (+video)

Bright colors, lots of Christmas decorations and spacious rooms greeted hundreds of visitors this weekend at the new campus of the Wichita Children’s Home.

Although the move won’t be officially made until mid- to late February, the doors at the new campus, 7271 E. 37th St. North, were open to the public Saturday and Sunday for visitors to see the results of the agency’s $12.5 million campaign.

All but $1.1 million has been raised.

“Our community has been so kind to help with this,” said the agency’s CEO, Debbie Kennedy. “What we are doing is giving our children who will be with us more of a homelike setting to live. The one we are in is absolutely wonderful and we love it, but it has more of an institutional feel because it was built more than 50 years ago.”

The idea for the Wichita Children’s Home began on May 14, 1888, when Wichita farmer Oliver Heady needed someone to care for his seven children

His wife had just died, and he was looking for someone to give 24-hours-a-day attention to his children.

His neighbor Catherine B. Garver, herself the mother of four, came to the rescue. Heady told Garver that if she would help him by caring for his children, he would be willing to donate a cow.

She did and asked other Wichita women to join her, and on Aug. 2, 1888, the Wichita Children’s Home was founded.

The home, now an emergency shelter for children, functioned as an orphanage for many years, especially during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It had several addresses before settling at 810 N. Holyoke.

A.A. Hyde, the inventor of Mentholatum, gave generously during the home’s infancy. Until 1988, the home’s various boards of directors were almost always made up of some of Wichita’s most prominent women.

The new campus features a 13.6-acre site at 37th Street North and Inwood, between Woodlawn and Rock Road. Rooms are brightly colored – featuring red and purple, orange and yellow, blue and pink – and filled with plush, cushy chairs.

Two refurbished carousel horses donated by Chance Manufacturing are prominently placed outside one of the doors.

There are kitchens and great living spaces.

“Our interior designer consulted with our residents about what colors they most wanted to see,” said Laura Kelly, the home’s director of community relations and volunteer services. “You will see that rooms are very colorful and in a wide variety. We have tried to create spaces of our own – so that when someone is coming in at 3 a.m., we are not trying to double or triple kids up. For the first time, some of these children have a bed and a door they close to not just feel private but safe.”

The agency has evolved into a shelter that provides services to homeless, abused and neglected children and young adults in the community.

“They will be able to have their own individual rooms,” Kennedy said Sunday. “They will have a gymnasium to work out and a green space to go outside and play – from football, basketball and cookouts. It is going to be wonderful and more familylike.”

The two-story building features a separate entrance where law enforcement officers can bring children to the home. It is sheltered from the public and the sometimes harsh elements of Kansas weather.

“This portico is a private entrance for the children,” Kelly said. “All the hubbub that happens out there is shut off from the kids.”

A sensitivity area for new arrivals has specific toys for children with developmental delays or who are coping with autism spectrum disorders.

Currently, the Wichita Children’s Home helps about 2,000 children each year, Kennedy said. With the new campus, they hope to help more.

Like several of the buildings the Wichita Children’s Home has had before, the new campus was built by support from local residents.

“There is a cornerstone that was salvaged from two buildings ago, and it is inscribed ‘Builded by the people,’ and it stands in front of our current home on Holyoke,” Kelly said. “And we will be bringing it here, because it is still true.”

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner