As organizers look to re-open the doors to Walt Disney’s historic Laugh-O-gram Studios, they’re introducing Kansas Citians to a new era along Troost — in-part ushered in by a Kansas City Chiefs star and one of the city’s highest impact non-profit organizations.
Plans for Operation Breakthrough’s Ignition Lab were on full display Thursday night, as Thank You, Walt Disney Inc, DigiSTORY KC, and Plexpod gathered residents for a third and final virtual session that teased plans for the Laugh-O-gram Studios project.
The session offered residents a glimpse at ways Kansas City’s east side has evolved in recent years through a virtual walking tour and presentations — with a heavy focus on the impact of Operation Breakthrough and its early education experiences; ways the nonprofit prioritized young people in the historically underserved community; and what’s to come as the planned September launch of its Ignition Lab nears.
The Ignition Lab project was made possible by Travis Kelce and his 87 and Running Foundation, which in August announced the donation of a vacant muffler shop near 31st and Troost to Operation Breakthrough. The space — which sits immediately north of the nonprofit’s existing expansion building — is expected to house skills-based resources that include a student co-working facility, digital media lab, makerspace, an automotive and engineering lab, and an on-site food truck to be run by culinary arts students.
“What we focus on is real-world learning — and that means getting your hands dirty,” explained Tyler Baker, community engagement and partnership coordinator at Operation Breakthrough. “It’s actually tinkering with things, taking things apart.”
Described as a natural extension for Operation Breakthrough, Ignition Lab is geared toward students 14 to 18 — a demographic group that the organization has struggled to reach as they age out of Operation Breakthrough’s existing programs. It was a pain point that pushed Kelce to further his involvement with the organization, said Mary Esselman, president and CEO.
“Travis Kelce has been working with Operation Breakthrough for the past five years and he actually sponsors our robotics lab and our robotics program,” she explained, noting he visited the organization shortly after it opened its expanded facility in 2018.
“He said, ‘So, what happens next?’ and we talked about the fact that kids age out at 14. He’s particularly passionate about high school and wanted to think about what his legacy could be for Kansas City,” Esselman continued. “We’d had our eye on the muffler shop for some time [and he] purchased that for us.”
Click here to read more about Kelce’s participation in the project and involvement with Operation Breakthrough in the Kansas City Star.
The latest expansion for Operation Breakthrough is expected to answer long-held questions for kids left out of the program in some of their most critical years, Baker added.
“You’ve got these babies and you have them until they’re 14 years of age and then it’s like, ‘Okay, we did that program — see ya later,’ that’s a big, ‘What if,’ right there,” he said of growth potential and impact opportunities presented by the launch of Ignition Lab.
“We’re really looking to work toward [equipping] kids who are powerful, entrepreneurial, working toward career development, working toward college if they want to, internships, scholarships — kids who are getting real-world training for big jobs that are happening right now in Kansas City.”
The conversation also highlighted area developers and community leaders that included Crissy Dastrup, co-founder of Troost Market Collective; Dianne Cleaver, president and CEO of the Urban Neighborhood Development Initiative; Gary Sage, senior business development officer emeritus of the Kansas City Economic Development Corporation; and Audrey Navarro, managing partner of Clemons Real Estate.
Thank You Walt Disney and its team hope a strong, strategic alignment between the parties will further elevate work to bring the east side into the fold of a modern and bustling economic, entrepreneurial, and creative Kansas City — while preserving and putting on display its history, culture, and neighborhoods, organizers said.
Click here to learn more about Thank You, Walt Disney and its mission to revive Laugh-O-gram Studios.