KidsTLC has been transforming the lives of children and families experiencing mental and behavioral health challenges, developmental trauma, and autism for nearly 50 years. What started as an emergency shelter for abused and neglected children has expanded to further help children and youth in crisis.
Over the last decade, their mission has continued to grow and meet community needs by implementing innovative new programs—including outpatient services and family support.
Last spring—just as the pandemic was gripping the nation—the Johnson County organization seized the chance to purchase a neighboring skilled nursing facility that was set to close up shop. “Longtime board members had always had their eye on this property. It was literally in our backyard, adjacent to our campus,” says Shannon Wickliffe, KidsTLC’s chief development officer. “It was an opportunity we had to pounce on—pandemic or not. We took possession early last fall.”
The facility—which was originally built in the 60s— “needed to be updated in terms of safety and security, but had a good blueprint for our needs,” says Wickliffe. “With the acquisition, we have doubled the size and footprint of our campus.” The expansion—its biggest in over a decade—is designed to get more kids in need off the state’s waitlist and into KidsTLC’s expansive list of renowned programs. “At any given time, there are typically 100-140 kids on that waitlist for psychiatric residential treatment. Eventually, this expansion will allow us an additional 50 residential beds. It’s a tremendous opportunity for these kids and their families.”
KidsTLC started moving kids in this past December, just before the holidays. With the expansion, the organization predicted doubling their program needs. Many local businesses stepped up to help with Christmas gifts and donations for the kids.
The additional campus offers tons of greenspace for outdoor activities. It’s been a welcome addition—and then some, says Wickliffe. “Sunshine does everybody good. I love walking around and seeing kids throwing footballs, playing outside, and just being kids,” he says. “Now they have plenty more space to do just that.”
Architects are mapping out the potential for small athletic fields in the new outdoor arena, but they’re also eyeing bigger projects. “It’s going to set us up for the next 15 to 20 years, as it also gives us the space beyond this expansion,” he says. “Our architects tell us we could easily fit in a couple more buildings. Bottom line, it’s a gamechanger for KidsTLC and families desperately seeking hope for their children.”
The expansion also means hiring another 150 employees to take care of the additional kids. Recruiting has been underway since late last year and will continue through much of 2021. It’s a win-win across the board says Wickliffe. “It’s going to bring the thing that we do so well to so many more kids and families who are in need. It’s heartbreaking to think of all the kids in the state of Kansas who can’t get the help or services they need,” he says. “We’re going to be able to cut that waitlist by a third. And, in many cases, we are a place for kids where there is no other placement. No other place is equipped to take them. Because of our high-quality services and our expertise—we’re going be able to take the most vulnerable and the toughest of the toughest kids. That’s meaningful.”
Right now KidsTLC is in the middle of a comprehensive giving campaign—a multi-tiered approach to help them with their continued growth. “We’re eager to get the expansion completed, but also ensure we reinvest in our existing campus so we can re-engineer it to work better for us and our kids. Remember, for our kids, this is their home.”
In addition to the 50 new beds, the added space will offer the organization’s revered residential programs, outpatient programs, and parent support programs to have a little breathing room. For now, though, Wickliffe is just excited to see smiles on faces. “The kids over there are excited. It’s like they get to move into new digs—bright, open, spacious digs. They love it,” he says.
As the pandemic ebbs, Wickliffe says KidsTLC has weathered the storm and is looking forward to getting back to a sense of normalcy this summer. The organization’s popular golf tourney scheduled for June 7th is already sold out—a good sign, says Wickliffe. And their upcoming annual benefit on October 9th is steadily building buzz. “Trust me, we’re all looking forward to that,” he says. “It will be nice to see—and celebrate with—people again.”