Foster care dream team evolves in Kiowa County

Hannah Brown
Kiowa County Signal
The former Carriage House in Greensburg is being looked at by the unofficial True North board of directors as a possible site for a foster care home for boys in Kiowa County.

There has been talk of a boys home in Kiowa County for several years. First in Mullinville with a former resident proposing the old high school. When those plans fell apart, a group of Kiowa County residents along with one Comanche County Resident started working on a new project to bring a boys home to the area. 

“The planning for this particular project started in the minds of Brad Lingafelter and a few other members of the community shortly after the town hall meeting about the Mullinville boys’ home idea,” said Julie Keeton, Interim President of True North. 

True North is what the group has filed the 501c3 nonprofit under and what the board is referred to. 

This small group of people thought it was a great idea but they had concerns about someone running it who was not physically here. Jim Turner grew up in Mullinville and now resides in Wichita. Turner wanted to turn the old school building into a boys home but nothing more than brainstorming came about from his proposal.

Lingafelter is leading the efforts throughout the planning and start-up phase of this project. There will be a permanent executive director once the project is “officially” operational, but Lingafelter is filling that role right now. Lingafelter has extensive experience with both group homes and foster care. He and his wife KC are currently foster parents. Lingafelter will be in charge of day-to-day operations, making sure candidates for employment fit the environment and culture True North is trying to create, and ensuring individual children are getting their needs met. 

“While many of us (board and community members) involved have had thoughts and dreams since the Mullinville meeting, we have long said ‘if we only had someone with the experience to lead. We would be great supporting role people, but we need a solid leader,” said Keeton. “Brad initially had the same thoughts, and has realized in the months since that he is equipped to be that leader.”

True North board members said that they have the dream team of moving forward with this idea. Voting members of the board are Julie Keeton (Interim President), Sue Greenleaf (Interim Secretary), Jamie Brown, Melanie Deterding, Rian Tyree, Ryan Haase, Chris Wolfley, Todd Follette, and Megan Snyder. Non-voting members are Katie-Lee Harrison and Aaron Zadina. 

“We wanted to include people with varied skill sets and experiences, and feel we have assembled a dream team,” said Keeton. “Our board backgrounds include foster care experience, technology, finance, business, education, healthcare, and mental health, among many other things, and include people from all over Kiowa County. That was also important in the selection process, as this project will have a positive impact on more than Greensburg.” 

After forming a board, the members moved on to finding the perfect building. This is a complex process but the board is making progress. 

“We first compared various empty buildings in the county, and had contractors and DCF both help guide us to which building was the most financially viable option for our project. We initially thought the Carriage House building would be that, but wanted to make sure that was an accurate assumption,” said Keeton. “We are currently still in the purchase phase. There are many different ways we can approach the purchase, and the funding, and some of those items we are just waiting on information in order to move forward.” 

True North brought in a contractor to make a detailed list of what repairs would be needed for the building. DCF has also been involved to give the board an idea of what changes would be necessary to be in compliance with their rules as well. The next hurdle for the group is to get approval from the city to put a boys home in the building. Keeton said this isn’t a huge issue because it will be a foster home and not a juvenile justice home. True North was granted approval at the December City Council Meeting, which has allowed the board to move forward in the planning phase, as well as negotiating to purchase the building. 

There are nearly 7,000 kids currently in foster care in Kansas, and Keeton, along with other True North board members, know the need is high for foster families and group homes. 

“For these young men, this project will serve to do much more than just house them, feed them, and keep them alive to adulthood. The kids who will be living here are regular foster kids. That means they were taken out of their homes for things that were beyond their control (parents’ choices, death of parents, etc),” said Keeton. “Not kids who made bad choices and were taken out as punishment or to reform them (although those children are also still children, and need equipped adults to step up and step in).”

The problem lies in the fact that there are just not enough foster parents in general, let alone families who will take in teenagers. The number lessens still when tasked with taking in teenage boys. 

“These kids, through no fault of their own, are kids who would currently be sent from respite home to respite home, staying in one place at a time for a couple days and then passed along, sometimes staying in DCF offices or other less-than-ideal living arrangements,” said Keeton.

This impacts all areas of their lives. They can fall behind in school and struggle to develop any sense of stability. True North hopes that their group home will provide consistent adults in their lives and a chance to not only catch up and finish school, but also to prepare the boys for their future. Board members for the boys home have many hopes and dreams for the young men who come through their care. 

“We hope to have every child who leaves our home complete some kind of CTE certification (career and technical education), as well as financial literacy classes, and also have some kind of financial stability in the form of savings or a trust to propel them into a successful adulthood,” said Keeton. 

More important than any of those, according to Keeton, is the relational piece. She hopes each boy leaves with an adult who is invested in their life. This adult will help guide them throughout their life and could be a community member or a staff member they connect with during their stay. 

“Brad, myself, and every member of our board is excited for the opportunity to change that for a handful of kids at a time. The need is so great that we could open 12 of these just for boys and they’d all be full. And for girls. And for non-teenagers. And for sibling groups,” said Keeton. “But just like individual foster parents, we can only do what we are able to do, with what we have.”

 And that still matters, because it changes the lives of those specific kids.”

The True North board hopes to have the home ready and open for kids in time for the 2020-2021 school year, utilizing options through USD 422 Kiowa County Schools or through the 21st Century Learning Academy.