Charity started by 2 nuns 4 decades ago growing - KCTV5

Charity started by 2 nuns 4 decades ago growing

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Few would have thought that two nuns could have such an impact on Kansas City.

Together they started a charity providing mostly single moms the freedom to work while their children are safe.

Sister Berta Sailer and Sister Corita Bussanmas started Operation Breakthrough in 1971. There were only four children, but their mothers needed childcare in the mornings and afternoons.

"This started without a plan and I'm not a good planner. But a lot of people have come along. The interesting thing is, when we needed people, they were there," Sailer said.

Today Operation Breakthrough houses a daycare, medical clinic, library, parenting classes, a food pantry, clothing for all ages and operates on an $8 million budget serving 500 kids.

Such a center was unheard of when the nuns came to town.

"There were no homeless people when we first came to Kansas City. Everybody had a place to live. It might not have been a palace, but everybody had utilities, most people who wanted it had a job. There were no food pantries in KC because everybody had food," Sailer said.

The nuns are well-known in Kansas City and, although Bussanmas is retired now, Sailer keeps the center running smoothly. She said she worries about the working moms who come there, many of whom count on help from the government. She said once those moms marry or get a promotion, the benefits are taken away.

"In this part of town, the government rewards failure and punishes you if you succeed. It's crazy," Sailer said. "If a mom comes and says, ‘Sister, I'm getting married,' I have to bite my tongue not to say, ‘I'm sorry.' The minute she marries someone in her same economic group, she loses healthcare, childcare, housing and food stamps."

An admitted worrier, it's those things that keep Sailer up at night, but she's also reaping the rewards. In all, some 70 kids from Operation Breakthrough have sought the safety of her home over the years. She and Bussanmas have not only fostered them, they have adopted four.

"No, I've never wanted to marry, but I have the enjoyment of having children and watching them grow up," she said.

Sailer is now in her upper 70s, but says she's feeling good these days and has no real medical issues. Still, she's conscious of her age and planning for the future of Operation Breakthrough.

As for the children, she'll always be Sister Berta, a constant in their ever-changing lives and she'll never age.

"The other day I was parking my car at a grocery store and I parked in the senior citizens spot. My 12-year-old girl says, ‘you can't park here.' I said, ‘I bet I can,'" Sailer said.

Sailer and Bussanmas worked side-by-side all the way up until six months ago when Bussanmas retired.

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