Operation Breakthrough: An evening on Troost

Esmie Tseng

The mention of “Troost Ave.” oftentimes evokes mixed feelings for many Kansas City residents, often in terms of race, class and poverty.

On Monday, Nov. 3, a group of communication studies students took a “poverty tour” with Operation Breakthrough. The bus tour extended to neighborhoods east of Troost, stopping to allow guest speakers to board and tell their stories.

Operation Breakthrough, located at 31st and Troost, offers early education, child care and social services. Sister Berta Sailer and Sister Corita Bussanmas founded the non-profit organization in 1971 to address the city’s need for child care for the working poor. According to Sailer, the average foster child moves 2.4 times per year.

Today, Operation Breakthrough’s licensed capacity is 500 children, and it offers a variety of child education programs and pediatric health services. It also works with families through advocacy, referral and emergency aid, according to its website.

The tour stopped in front of a home Sailer’s friend Lisa once lived in with her children, leaving participants silent. All the windows and doors were boarded up and the concrete stairs leading to the porch were disintegrating. The lawn was overgrown and trash littered the front steps.

Lisa described sleeping in this home and positioning her children between herself and the wall because often in the night, a stranger would show up to sleep next to them.

“In this part of the city, there’s no tomorrow,” Sailer said. “People don’t think twice about shooting someone or getting pregnant because if there’s no tomorrow, it doesn’t matter what you do today.”

A woman named Christina told her story as well. She was molested by babysitters at an early age, became pregnant at age 13 and pushed into prostitution and cocaine by her mother at age 15.She had two more children and lost all three when she served two years in prison for selling drugs.

“I hated myself, I hated life, I didn’t care if I died,” Christina said.

After incarceration, Christina was accepted into Amethyst Place, a transitional housing organization for women in recovery for drug addictions. “[It was] the best thing to ever happen to me, Christina said

After 14 years sober, Christina has completed her GED and is attending college.

Many children of Operation Breakthrough have mothers at Amethyst Place. There are 38 apartments that accommodate 100 individuals. To be accepted, women are required to be 100 days clean and working a job or attending school.

Many residents of Amethyst Place, like Christina, were born disadvantaged.

“We often blame these women for bad choices, but sometimes all they have to choose from are bad choices,” Sailer said. “They’re not lazy. If we got rid of poverty, we could solve education, crime and a lot of the drug problem.”

To learn more about Operation Breakthrough or Amethyst Place, visit http://www.operationbreakthrough.org or http://www.amethystplace.org/