Mullinville native Jim Turner proposes converting the old Mullinville grade school into a group-care foster home for Kansas children, with hopes it will revitalize the city of Mullinville at the same time.
The City of Mullinville began what could be the first of several talks about allowing a 501c3 organization to lease the former grade school and turn it into a group home for foster children. A special town hall meeting was held Monday January 7, 2019 to discuss the subject with Jim Turner, a former alumni of Mullinville school system, sharing his vision for revitalizing the community.
Turner said not too long ago he was driving from Wichita area, where he lives now, to Mullinville, when he drove through Wellsford and Cullison, each of which have populations of a 100 people or less. Turner said he was shocked to see that the once formidable cities were now almost gone. Turner said he doesn’t want to see Mullinville end up the same way and with only about 247 residents presently living there he feels without something changing in 15 years, the outcome could be similar to nearby towns.
“I just want to help the community I grew up in” Turner said.
Turner’s idea is that an organized 501c3 organization, organized and run by volunteers and a board of directors from the community, would create a group home similar to Youth Horizon in Wichita. According to their website, Youth Horizons is Breaking the Cycle of Fatherlessness though Christian mentoring, residential programs and promoting public awareness.
“This would have a religious overtone,” Turner said.“The old grade school would have to have some remodeling done.”
Turner said he has already raised most of that money and assured those at the meeting that the rest would be raised before any work was started.
“The annual income needed to keep it going would come from the state, private donations and grants,” he said.
Noting that none of this would happen overnight as there are license requirements and work to be done before it can all be pulled together, Turner said it would take some time and would happen only if approved by the city council.
“This would not be a warehouse for kids or a juvenile hall detention center but we want it to be a home,” Turner said. “Mullinville could be a place to give these kids an opportunity to become functional adults that would be able to turn around and be tax paying citizens.”
Turners said his hope was that this would be a place kids could receive life skills to be productive members of society, and with the love and support of the community it he believes it could happen. With over 6,000 children in foster care in the state and 5,000 couchsurfing teenagers in Wichita, Turner reminded the more than 35 Mullinville residents in attendance that it cost $76,000 a year to house an inmate.
“Unless someone comes along and mentors these kids, we as taxpayers will continue to pay for that,” he said.
He urged those present to rally around the idea and support making a difference in these kids lives.
“Phase one would possibly start out with about 12 boys perhaps about 14-18 years of age, a couple of house parents and perhaps four other employees,” he said.
By bringing in this program to Mullinville, Turner said it would enlarge the tax base for the community, would not cost the taxpayers anything, increase employment, and would benefit the city by the lease agreement, thus helping to revitalize the community. Turner believes that, at capacity, after several phases and over several years, it could grow to 60 boys with additional employees.
Students would attend the Kiowa County school system, either by virtual school or in person, depending on the situation. When Staci Derstein, Superintendent of Schools, was asked during the meeting what her concerns were about the impact it would have on the school system she said she would just want to make sure the needs of that many students coming into the school at once could be met.
Turner reminded her that it would be their desire to work hand in hand with her and the state would be compensating the school system for the extra students.
Linda Kendall, who voiced a favorable opinion of the idea, asked what would happen to the Alumni Room housed in the grade school building.
“It would be handled in a safe way in which the community would see fit, but it would be my desire to assure none of the history is harmed,” Turner said. “After all if you take away that history you are taking away mine as well.”
Several residents made comments to the effect that all kids in foster care are not bad kids, they are just kids in bad situations. Many have parents with problems and addictions causing them not to be able to take care of them. Turner said some of the kids have handled their situations better than other, and he shared about his own personal experience with his grandchildren in foster care.
One resident in attendance suggested they gather a group of residents and city council members to go and visit other group homes such as Youth Horizons.
Mayor Andy Kimble told the crowd before he dismissed the group that this would not be the last meeting about the subject and urged those interested in going and looking at other group homes around the state to contact city hall and let them know. The process for deciding to pursue a group home in Mullinville would be more community conversations, perhaps inviting the CEO from Youth Horizons to talk to the community. He said the final decision would eventually be made by the Mullinville City Council sometime in the future.