For This Woman, Living In Johnson County Is Worth The Sacrifice
For decades Johnson County has lured people from all over the Metro with its promise of safe neighborhoods and good schools. Some have made sacrifices to make the move, because the cost of living in Johnson County is higher than other parts of the metro area.
Megan Rojas crossed the border from Wyandotte into Johnson County and is trying to make it work for herself and her children. On a recent visit to her home, her son, Julian, like a typical two-year-old, has already eaten two bowls of peaches and is still hungry.
“He eats all day,” she says.
He picks out Rice Krispies with milk and Megan tells him he has to eat at the bar in the kitchen.
“That’s one thing that I don’t like is that there isn’t enough space to put a table. So he has to sit at the bar or on the couch,” she says. “I wish we had a table. But living in a two bedroom doesn’t give you much space.”
Megan also has a daughter, Makenzie, who’s in fifth grade. Makenzie gets her own room while Megan shares her room with Julian.
“We can’t afford a three-bedroom. They’re like $800-900 a month. And I only pay $665 for the two bedroom. And it started out at $650, and then my second year they raised it to $665. And then this year they’ll raise it again. And that kind of worries me,” she says.
Rojas grew up in Turner, which is right on the border with Johnson County. Her father built his own house and it was a nice neighborhood. But she always wanted to leave Wyandotte County.
“I always wanted to move to Johnson County. Especially when I had kids. When I had my daughter then I really wanted to move out here,” she says.
She stayed in her childhood home in Wyandotte until two years ago. Then her now ex-husband left and her mother decided to sell the house. So she lived at Hillcrest, a transitional housing complex that allows families to live rent-free for a few months. She saved up for a deposit on an apartment and moved across the county line -- to Shawnee.
“We struggle a little bit more financially because it is just me now. Its nicer out here and the schools are better,” she says. “My daughter really likes school right now. She likes math club, student council and she’s pretty involved.”
Rojas works full-time for an answering service, where she takes messages for doctors’ offices and apartment maintenance calls. One perk is that she works from home three days a week, which means she can take care of Julian. The two days she has to go in, the state helps pay for Julian’s childcare. But she still struggles to make ends meet.
“I go through Catholic Charities a lot. When my husband initially left, they helped with my light bill. And they’ve helped me with my car. I use their pantry. They’ve helped out quite a bit,” she says.
Rojas is in Catholic Charities’ Community America program, which teaches low-income families financial planning. It’s held at their office in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. Before class there’s a free dinner for the families in the large, main room. Then the school-age kids go to a class where they learn about budgeting and savings. They provide childcare for the young ones.
In Rojas' class, about a dozen women sit in a semi-circle. Their upbeat instructor leads an activity where the women brainstorm ways they can teach their children about budgets and savings. They share ideas for low-budget activities they can do with their children.
“We had movie night,” Rojas says. “We colored eggs then watched a movie.”
“Oh that’s nice,” says the instructor. “Well, see and those creative activities, its so funny because how often do you feel like you get the chance to do something like that with the kids?”
“Not very, because I work nights,” says Rojas.
Other women in the group point out that those are the kinds of activities the kids will remember.
Financially Rojas struggles more than she probably would on the other side of the county line. But she makes the sacrifice for the sake of her kids, to give them the best upbringing and education she can. And overall, she's optimistic about the future.
“I think it’ll get better. It will. In time,” she says. “I mean, because if I just thought it was going to get worse then, you know what I mean? I’ve just got to stay positive.”
“And I stay positive for them,” she says, looking at her children.
This look at the line between Wyandotte and Johnson Counties is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.
We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them. Become a source for KCUR as we investigate Johnson and Wyandotte Counties.