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This special series explored the history and impact of the most distinct lines in Kansas City: Troost Avenue, the State Line, the Wyandotte-Johnson county line, and the Missouri River.

Operation Breakthrough To Expand Across Troost, Bridging Kansas City’s Dividing Line

Peggy Lowe
KCUR 89.3

Operation Breakthrough, a beloved early education center in Kansas City for more than four decades, announced Thursday a $17 million expansion that will reach across Troost Ave.

The organization's leaders said they had hopes of literally bridging the city’s historic racial divide.

Plans call for an enclosed walkway to link the current building, at 3039 Troost, with the old Jones Store at 31st and Troost. The current warehouse space, which is owned by Contract Furnishings, will be renovated into a gymnasium, more classrooms, and a “Maker Village” where at-risk children can learn life sciences, computer animation, robotics and other skills.

Mary Esselman, Operation Breakthrough’s CEO, said the expansion, to be open by this fall, will continue the vision of the center’s founders, Sisters Berta Sailer and Corita Bussanmas, retired members of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Operation Breakthrough will now be able to increase the number of pre-school and school-age children it serves from 430 to 720, Esselman said. It’s mission is to provide a safe and loving educational environment for children in poverty.

“Our bridge we’re building is very symbolic because Sister Berta always used to lament that there was this geographic dividing line in this city between poverty and prosperity,” Esselman said, “and this bridge really serves as an opportunity to send kids to greater opportunity.”

The expansion will help the city reach its goal of early literacy for all children as an economic development priority, said Mayor Sly James. He added that 90 percent of Operation Breakthrough's 5-year-olds are “kindergarten-ready,” in contrast to the national average of 50 percent for children living in poverty.

“This really is a big deal,” he said.

The new space means Operation Breakthrough won’t have to turn away so many children or place them on a waiting list, Esselman said, and kids will be allowed to stay with the center until they are 14.

The “Bridge to a Brighter Future” expansion will be funded through a capital campaign, with just $2 million yet to be raised.

Peggy Lowe is a reporter for KCUR and Harvest Public Media. She's on Twitter @peggyllowe.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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