It’s the beginning of a new chapter for Operation Breakthrough, said Kansas City Mayor Sly James.
The mayor joined a packed crowd of supporters on an icy Thursday morning to share the Kansas City-based organization’s formal announcement of its $17 million capital campaign and expansion project. The effort — dubbed “Big Dreams, Bright Futures” — notably includes a boost for the nonprofit’s STEM programming, as well as a literal and symbolic vision to bridge the social divide that Troost Avenue has come to represent.
“We’re not doing this alone; we never can, and we never will,” James said. “But we’re trying to mobilize this community to achieve reading proficiency for every single child in this city, regardless of their color, regardless of their socioeconomic status, regardless of the ZIP code that they live in, regardless of their parents’ economic abilities.
“Every child deserves a chance. Every single one.”
Mary Esselman, president and chief executive officer of the early childhood education care center, echoed the mayor’s sentiments, saying Operation Breakthrough took one step closer Thursday to achieving the dream of its founders.
Sister Berta Sailer and Sister Corita Bussanmas, co-founders of Operation Breakthrough, envisioned the organization serving as many children in the economically depressed area as possible, Esselman said.
The expansion will include a physical bridge from a soon-to-be-renovated building on the northwest corner of 31st and Troost to Operation Breakthrough’s current facility at 3039 Troost, helping to close the gap across a “geographic dividing line in the city separating poverty from prosperity,” she added.
“When you look at that bridge today,” Esselman said, noting a rendering of the walkway on display. “That becomes a symbol of what [the sisters] always worked to, in terms of trying to remove barriers for the children that we serve so that they would have those opportunities to reach their full potential.”
Fewer than half of the 5,400 4-year-olds living in Kansas City attend preschool, Esselman said, emphasizing Operation Breakthrough’s need for expansion.
“We could fill Operation Breakthrough several times over,” she said. “We always have hundreds of children on the waiting list.”
Expansion, which will include a new MakerSpace, STEM lab and gymnasium, will allow space for 720 children across the campus, enabling them to stay at Operation Breakthrough until age 14, Esselman added. Children will also have access to programs that will build life skills such as critical thinking and collaboration, as well as classes in arts, robotics, life sciences and a teaching kitchen.
“The need is great. Our wait list is long,” said Judy Heeter, a co-chair of the campaign, emphasizing the need to expand. “We turn away children every year. That is heartbreaking.”
The Operation Breakthrough family is thrilled to have “amazing support” from Kansas City in launching the public phase of it’s $17 million capital campaign, she said.
“We are 90 percent of the way toward our goal,” Heeter said. “We just need the public — the entire community — to help us reach the rest of our goal. We know that it’s achievable because we know a lot more kids like this need to be with us when school opens in August.”
Jack Kilroy, another co-chair in attendance, recognized many in the room during the announcement, including volunteers and several foundations, including the Sherman Family Foundation, the Sunderland Family Foundation and the Donald Family Foundation, among others.
“This is an exciting day for Operation Breakthrough in terms of growth,” Kilroy said. “Operation Breakthrough is establishing a national model for what we can do to educate kids and to bring social services to the assistance of families to make a difference in their lives.”