Operation Breakthrough expansion helps bridge divide between rich & poor

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A $17 million expansion of Operation Breakthrough is being celebrated Thursday for helping to break down barriers between rich and poor.

The expansion at 31st Street and Troost Avenue will literally bridge a dividing line that's been in place for generations.

Operation Breakthrough bought the former Jones store building on the west side of Troost to add classroom space for nearly 300 more children.

The non-profit pre-school and child care center serves only poor families. It will add new programs, including a gym for organized sports and a maker village where kids can explore their interest in science, cooking, computers and robotics.

A pedestrian bridge will connect the campus over Troost, keeping everyone safe and providing a important symbolic connection to the expanded opportunities the center creates for children when they enter kindergarten ready to learn.

"We have spent the last eight months working with the city to get a bridge approved," said Mary Esselman, CEO of Operation Breakthrough. "Sister Berta, who is one of the founders, used to really lament that she always saw Troost as this dividing line between poverty and prosperity. Their whole life was, for the founders, to really remove barriers. That bridge is so symbolic of our kids moving across into a greater opportunity for a better future."

The new building also will be home to health and wellness programs, not just for enrolled children, but also to serve neighbors around the center.

Operation Breakthrough is raising $17 million to pay for the expansion. The center received challenge grants from family foundations that require at least $2 million in additional donations or pledges.

The center currently serves 430 children. Boosting enrollment to more than 700 with the expansion still won't eliminate waiting lists of underprivileged kids. There just aren't enough accredited early learning programs to meet the demand.