St. Richard breaks ground on Special Kids expansion

JACKSON – St. Richard Catholic Church held a blessing and groundbreaking for the start of the new special kids’ and boy scout building on Sunday, March 26 after the 10:30 a.m. Mass.

The new 3,000 square foot building, located across the street from the church, will be completed for the start of the 2017 fall semester.

The area for special kids will contain a classroom with one-on-one areas, art room, kitchen and work room. The scout space will have a large room for meeting and group activity along with three smaller classrooms for meeting, and ample storage room for all their camping supplies.

Kim Turner is the director of the Special Kids Program at St. Richard. The program is designed to help high school students with developmental disabilities. Anthony Warren, senior staff writer for the Northside Sun recently interviewed her about the program the new facility.

What exactly is the Special Kids Program?

“It’s a ministry that provides individual programs to students with developmental disorders. The programs depend on each student. Each child’s goal is different. One might strive to study academics, while one strives to learn life skills and live alone. That’s the ministry.”

Is the program part of the St. Richard school?

“No; the elementary does have a ‘Special Kids’ program, but it’s separate from us. We are a separate ministry of the church.”

What ages do you serve?

“Ages 13 to 21, and we are looking at (expanding) to include an adult program as well.”

I want to go back and ask about the adult program. Why is St. Richard looking at doing that? Also, what age group will the new program serve?

“There seems to be a need. There are great places out there, but some of the students like our program and we just see a need. We’re just in the beginning process of it. We’re not sure where it’s going to lead yet.”

Is the program free for students?

“No, there is a tuition.”

Is Special Kids open only to Catholic students?

“Absolutely not. Anyone is welcome.”

What disabilities do you serve?

“We have a range of children with special needs. There’s not one specific.”

How many instructors do you have?

“We have three teachers, and then we have a lot of volunteers who come in and teach art, dance. Everything is very scheduled, so we have times for them to come in and work with (the students).”

In addition to tuition, how does Special Kids raise money?

“We have a golf tournament every year. This year, it will be October 5. We also have contributors (who give) throughout the year. We have a huge raffle for a weekend at Perdido Key that also raises money. The golf tournament is at Deerfield.”

Let’s switch gears and talk about the new building project. Why is a new facility needed?

“We were in a building that we have just outgrown. We have taken that property and are building the special kids building and also a Boy Scout building. We needed more space and that would be more of an educational space to benefit students.”

Is the building just for improving the experience for current students, or do you hope to expand Special Kids to serve more teens?

“Both; right now, we don’t have a limit of how many students we’ll take, but we have a goal of having 10 or 12. We are creeping up to that number now, and we just need more space. We’ve designed the new building to be the best for these students. There’s a kitchen area, a social area, a classroom area, and also – this is my favorite part – an open space that will provide for one-on-one interaction with students, where teachers can work with the children, and where children can have areas for iPads, art (and the like).”

How are students chosen to participate in Special Kids?

“We meet with parents and students and decide if it’s a good fit for them. We talk to parents about the goals they have for their children, and if our program fits those goals, they’re in.”

How long are students with the Special Kids program?

“Nobody’s left since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here four years now. (Students) finish out at 21. Hopefully, we’ll get an adult program next year and (graduates) will go into that, if that is their desire.”

Is Special Kids’ objective to make all of its students independent, in terms of being able to live on their own?

“I wish I could say there is one specific goal, but each child is different. If it is the desire of the student and parents that the student should live independently, then yes, that is what we’re going for. There may be some children where that is not the goal. They may want to learn (to prepare) their own food. We strive for students to be as independent as possible.”

(Interview reprinted from the Northside Sun Newspaper.)

St. Richard breaks ground on Special Kids expansion

St. Richard breaks ground on Special Kids expansion

Father John Bohn, pastor of St. Richard Parish, blesses the ground where a new building to house the Special Kids and Boy Scout programs will be built across from the church. (Photo by Maureen Smith)

Father John Bohn, pastor of St. Richard Parish, blesses the ground where a new building to house the Special Kids and Boy Scout programs will be built across from the church. (Photo by Maureen Smith)

Father John Bohn, pastor of St. Richard Parish, blesses the ground where a new building to house the Special Kids and Boy Scout programs will be built across from the church. (Photo by Maureen Smith)

St. Richard breaks ground on Special Kids expansion

St. Richard breaks ground on Special Kids expansion

Workshop addresses violence of human trafficking


This photo illustration depicts the effects of human trafficking. (CNS illustration/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

By Maureen Smith
A new task force in the Diocese of Jackson is taking on the issue of human trafficking in America. The effort was started by Sister Therese Jacobs, BVM. Her order, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, picked this urgent issue as one of its key social justice initiatives in 2014. She helped organize a workshop held at Jackson St. Richard Parish on Saturday, June 27.
Catholic Charities has developed the task force to take next steps to address the problem. A faith-based group out of Biloxi, Advocates for Freedom, provided speakers for the human trafficking workshop. Members of the task force also made presentations. Dorothy Balser, director of parish based ministries for Catholic Charities Jackson, said close to 50 people attended the workshop. “At the end we had pledge cards that gave people an opportunity to make a commitment to the effort,” said Balser. “They could request a speaker, host an informational event, form their own local task force if they were from out of town or join our task force,” she added. People were also invited to pray for the victims of human trafficking.
According to the Sisters of Charity website, “Trafficking of human persons is the buying and selling of people for any purpose, including sex, prostitution, forced marriages, servitude and forced labor. Trafficking is exploitation and a violation of human rights and human dignity and is intrinsically evil.”
Sex trafficking is the most common. “One statistic that stands out is that human trafficking is the second most prevalent crime, second only to drugs,” she said. “The picture that is before me is that you sell a drug once, but human beings can be sold multiple times a day – sometimes 20 times a day,” she said.
Sharon Robbins, one of the speakers from Advocates for Freedom said she became involved when she noticed strange activity in her own gated community. She came into contact with the founder of Advocates for Freedom when she was trying to figure out what to do about the groups of young girls being loaded into a van late at night. The information she was able to gather led law enforcement to open an investigation and take action.
Robbins urges everyone to pay attention to their surroundings, saying many people would be shocked at some of the cases happening very close to home. She said she has personally heard of stories of trafficking, even trafficking involving children, in Mississippi. She said acting on an uneasy feeling or reporting suspicious activities could save someone’s life.
Robbins said Advocates for Freedom has assisted in more than 100 rescues since it was founded five years ago and is always looking for volunteers. The group tries to help survivors immediately find a safe place to take shelter and later tries to assist with medical and legal fees as well as housing and job assistance.
“Eighty-five percent of missing children are being trafficked,” she said. She focused her presentation on tactics traffickers use to lure children who might already be in abusive situation, young people with low self-esteem or who might be shy and lonely.  Advocates for Freedom has more statistics and contact information on the organization’s website,
“It is happening in Mississippi and we are trying to  make sure those who are the most vulnerable are identified and targeted,” Balser explained. The task force wants to make people aware of the issue, engage law enforcement and advocate for the victims.
She said the workshop presenters said travel corridors are common sites for trafficking, especially in places where there may be a port or the intersection of two interstates. Traffickers lure young people, especially young women, through social media or they find runaways and promise them a better life.
Balser said once the group is able to identify potential victims, the task force will take on the role of identifying resources for them. “We don’t currently have safe houses. We need to identify resources and potential partners,” said Balser.
Anyone interested in joining the task force or getting involved in the effort can contact Balser, 601-355-8634, or by email at

Special Kids, Scouts start fund-raising for new facilities

Joshua R. helps prepare a meal as part of life skills training in the Special Kids Program.

Joshua R. helps prepare a meal as part of life skills training in the Special Kids Program.

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – St. Richard Parish has officially kicked off an effort to build a new facility for the Special Kids Program as well as a Boy Scout building and parking lot. The building will be located on property already owned by the parish, across from the main church building.
The Special Kids Program serves young men and women with intellectual and emotional disabilities. Younger students take classes in St. Richard School while the older kids, age 13-21, go to a parish-based program currently located in a house owned by the parish. There, teachers Kim Turner, Lindsay Blaylock and Agnes Morgan build individualized education plans for each student based on their strengths and needs. “It is the best place to be,” said Turner. “These kids are happy. The program offers a calm, stable, happy place and they are learning over here,” she added.
Because each student’s needs and goals are different, they all get very personal attention to learn life skills such as cooking, shopping, cleaning and how to navigate social situations. The students visit the public library, plan menus, shop for, cook and serve meals to special guests and run a small gift booth in the parish office. During the academic portion of the day they will all focus on one theme, but each will get a personalized lesson. “Let’s say we’re talking about money. Some kids will be counting money from the gift booth and talking about how to use it while others will just be recognizing forms of money,” Turner explained. When the students go shopping each one has a specific job. One may push the cart while another uses a written shopping list. Still another may use pictures to find needed items.

Before Special Kids Golf Tournament last year, Mary F. practiced putting.

Before Special Kids Golf Tournament last year, Mary F. practiced putting.

Every year the students host a golf tournament to raise money to support the program. This year the tournament was Thursday, Oct. 17. Turner said they prepared for weeks so the students would know what was expected of them. They have also planted a garden from which they can harvest their own food.
This is the only program in the diocese for children and young adults with these types of disabilities and Turner said the fact that it has a Catholic base is one of the aspects she loves best about it. Pastor Father Michael O’Brien agrees. He said the program is good for the whole St. Richard community, including the typical kids who take classes with the special kids in the separate elementary school program. “It is so good for them to go to school in that atmosphere,” he said. “It’s pro-life all across the board,” he went on to say.
The new development would also include a place for the Boy Scout troops to meet. That program was meeting in another house owned by the parish, but the structure is in need of repair. The special kids building, already named Farrell Hall in honor of Msgr. Patrick Farrell, who founded the Special Kids Program more than 30 years ago, would be connected by a porch to the Boy Scout building. An architect will design each to fit the needs of each program. Turner said updating the design would allow the program, which currently serves seven students, to expand.
A third goal of the project is to add off-street parking for events. Father O’Brien explained that the parish already owns some empty lots across the street. Currently people coming to events in Foley and Glynn Halls have limited parking along the street. Parish leaders decided to join the three efforts into one so the whole development could be cohesive. It will include landscaping and fit into the neighborhood.
Those who wish to donate can contact the parish. Donations can be earmarked specifically to each of the three projects. For more information, call the parish office at 601-366-2335.