SALINA, Kan. (AP) - At the age of 68, Mary Henry wanted something to do besides sitting in her Salina home watching television.
Ironically, it was a tragic event that she viewed on television that led to her next calling.
The Salina Journal (https://bit.ly/1MhhUqZ ) reports Henry heard on the news about a man kidnapping and attempting to murder his former wife in Salina, and learned that four children younger than age 10 had nowhere to go following the incident. Henry decided at that time she was going to help children.
“The lady from DVACK was on Channel 12 and she was saying that they were having a hard time finding a place for those kids to go,” Henry said. “I sat there and cried for a little while. Fifty-thousand people (in Saline County) and we don’t have any place for those poor children to go. So I started looking into it.”
A child can be taken from a home for a number of reasons, according to Adam Paredes, a juvenile intake officer for Saline County, including neglect, abuse or the arrest of a parent.
“We report to the police department and we do a short intake on that child. The police give us the documents that this child has been placed in police protective custody. We, at that time, find placement.”
The child is placed somewhere for 72 hours, until a judge can conduct a hearing and make a decision on a more long-term placement.
Paredes said that in the past, it often was difficult to place children who were in police protective custody.
“I’ve been at the police department four or five hours because I couldn’t find placement. I call all the agencies and they call me back and say, ‘Hey, we’re still looking,’ ” he said.
Mendee Kramer, who supervises the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Program through Community Corrections, said that children were sometimes placed in care facilities as far away as Pittsburg or Kansas City.
In recent months, though, options have opened up.
District Judge Mary Thrower, Saint Francis Community Services and Catholic Charities have worked together to try to increase the number of homes for children in need.
Henry also has started working toward construction of a Salina Children’s Home, but that will take about $1.5 million and more than two years.
Kramer said three homes recently have become available for children in police protective custody, and four more should be available soon.
Paredes said that will make it easier to find a reliable home in which to place children.
He and his wife, Lacy, recently opened their home to children in police protective custody, although they haven’t yet received a placement.
Kramer said the majority of children in need of placement are newborn to 14 years of age.
“It’s not ideal to move these kids away from homes and schools,” she said.
Henry hopes to build a house that will provide safe, 72-hour placement for 15 children on land outside the Salina city limits.
She has established a nonprofit board that’s trying to raise $1.5 million to build an 11,000-square-foot building with eight bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a kitchen, office and utility room.
A fundraising children’s fashion show is being planned for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Ambassador Hotel. Admission to “Bears on Parade” will be by donation.
“Bears are going to be our signature,” Henry said.
Bears and some clothing for the event have been donated.
Henry is being helped in her efforts by her cousin Cathy McMahon, who retired as speech-language pathologist at Central Kansas Cooperative in Education, and three others. She has received status as a nonprofit organization and has organized a board of directors.
The First Southern Baptist Church is donating office space for the organization.
Henry has sought advice from the Sunshine Children’s Home, which opened near Andover in October 2014.
She also contacted the Kansas Department for Children and Families and was told of the need for a safe home for displaced children.
“I was off and running,” Henry said.
Henry said she has been involved in child care off and on for 40 years.
“I have a heart for kids,” she said.
Paredes will host “Foster Change,” to increase awareness about foster care, at 7 p.m. Sunday at the new Community Christian Church. Jeff Piepho will be a guest speaker.
Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, https://www.salina.com
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