Thursday, October 8, 2015

All That Fits

Over the course of the years that I’ve been in the newspaper business, I have become more and more of a believer in the power of community journalism. No other news source is covering Grandview and South Kansas City like we do. I believe that wholeheartedly. We have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to bring our readers the good news and the bad news as it unfolds.

I’m not the source of the news. I don’t make it up, and I don’t print only what I want. If there’s bad news, I write about it. I have had my integrity questioned, my faith and morals challenged and my heart broken by readers’ reactions to stories I have penned. Stories that if they had gone unwritten, a certain disservice to the community would have fallen on my shoulders.

Most times, however, the things and people we write about are positive. I have met so many people in this community who have changed me for the better, who have helped develop me into the person and writer that I am today. To all those people, I am eternally grateful.

As I was preparing to write my column on National Newspaper Week early Monday morning, I tried to think of how I could tie in the fact that National Fire Prevention Week happens to fall at the same time. Right around the time this crossed my mind, I heard sirens. Not just the normal police car or ambulance siren, either. This was something major and I immediately knew I had a job to do.

I rushed out of my office door and saw smoke to the west. Something was surely burning. I quickly grabbed my camera and headed behind the emergency vehicles to what would become a horrific scene. Between the mayday calls, an injured fireman and the body of a victim, it can be hard to keep one’s emotions in check. I got some amazing photos despite the lump in my throat and the pure adrenaline that is felt when covering things like this.

That afternoon and evening, I pored through the 400+ photos I took throughout the ordeal. Some showed complete heroism, while others showed complete devastation. This, I thought, is why community journalism is still relevant. Sure, there were television news stations there covering the event. But, I was there first. I followed our guys; guys I know by name, down to the flames. I said a prayer as a captain from our department was taken away by ambulance. And tears fell as I learned of the resident who didn’t make it out.

Monday night, I went home to my quiet apartment in Grandview. With a roof over my head and a blanket to cover up in, I tried to sleep. Each time I closed my eyes, sights and sounds of the day kept me awake. As a journalist, it’s important to stay focused on the job at hand, despite personal ties or feelings. That’s probably, for me, the most difficult part of the job when covering breaking news in my hometown.

I don’t think I have to explain why I feel this newspaper is important to this community. The names in the bylines celebrate with you our accomplishments just as we mourn with you our losses. We don’t just breeze through when something big happens. We live here and we are invested in the people here. We love this community, and more importantly, we love what we do.

I also don’t think an explanation is necessary on why fire prevention can help save lives. The key message of this year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, October 4 through 10, is to install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of your home, including the basement. Smoke alarms save lives.

I’m lucky to be a part of a community of people and businesses that understand the importance of this newspaper. I take this job seriously and sincerely love what I do. Thank you for your continued readership and support. 

Mary Wilson, editor of the Jackson County Advocate newspaper, grew up in the Grandview, Missouri community. She volunteers her time with many local organizations. You can reach her at, or follow her on twitter @MWilsonJCA.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Local organization helps to empower those with disabilities through job placement

by Becky Davis

The past few months have been full of major life changes for nineteen-year-old Maya of Grandview. Her family moved this spring from St. Louis. She started a full load of classes at Longview Community College this fall, and she landed her very first job with the help of JobOne Careers.

Maya has been working at Dollar General for three months. She straightens up merchandise, repackages opened items and helps clean up the store. She loves having her own spending money and uses it for dates with her boyfriend. Her first paycheck went towards a fun time at Crown Center. She is also saving up for a Magic Bullet so she can make her own smoothies.

Co-workers appreciate Maya’s cheerful disposition and positive attitude. Maya’s supervisor, assistant store manager Loovetta Barnes, said that Maya is a great employee.

“I just love her,” said Barnes.

JobOne Careers Director Anne Hochstein said that Maya came to her job-ready.

“We helped her with her resume and made sure she knew how to interview and had basic job skills,” said Hochstein. “Then we needed to find something with flexibility so she could go to school.”

Although the Careers program is only 18 months old, JobOne has been around for 40 years. The Grandview location, which started as the Foundation Workshop, has been in existence since 1981. It merged with IBS Industries, a similar agency operating in Independence and Blue Springs. Today, JobOne employs 260 disabled individuals and 40 staff members at 14 locations throughout Jackson County. There are three workshops where employees complete sub-contracted jobs, a recycling center in Grandview, a document shredding business in Independence, and the new JobOne Careers being piloted in Grandview.

“We partner with Vocational Rehabilitation with the goal of helping individuals who have a disability but want to work in the community,” Hochstein explained. “Sometimes it might be someone who is already in the JobOne program who is ready to take that next step. Or, it may be someone like Maya who already has those capabilities and is transitioning out of high school.

JobOne Careers works on referrals from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), a program under the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. VR is designed to assist individuals with physical or mental impairments, providing services including guidance and counseling, vocational training, job-seeking skills and job placement.

JobOne also works with the Developmental Disability Services of Jackson County, known as “eitas,” which stands for “empowering individuals through advocacy and support.” VR and eitas are the major funders of the JobOne Careers program.

Rofique Miller is a Customized Employment Specialist for JobOne Careers. He and Hochstein set up information interviews with prospective employers to find out more about the businesses and what kinds of skills they require. They might also discuss how to make a workplace more accessible to a disabled employee. If accommodations are needed, they help employers figure out what could be done.

“When I meet with businesses, I want to learn what they need,” said Hochstein. “We don’t want to send a person who is not a good fit for a business any more than they want us to.”

Some clients don’t know what they want to do, so Hochstein and Miller will set up job shadows.

“Some of our clients don’t have work experience, so they are guessing about what might interest them,” said Hochstein.

“My job is to help our clients find employment that is based upon their interests,” Miller added.

Once a client is placed in a permanent position, JobOne keeps the case open for one year, staying in touch with the employee. JobOne staff members check in with the family, as well. Support is provided should a client lose a job, and help is given to find a new one. Permanent, meaningful employment is the ultimate goal.

There are challenges for the JobOne Careers program, as well. Cristy Carpenter, JobOne Employee Services Director, said, “Transportation is the biggest hurdle in our area.”

Currently, clients in the program are responsible for their own transportation. Sometimes that limits potential placements if the client depends on public transportation. For example, someone who lives in Grandview but needs public transportation to the warehouses in Lenexa is out of luck.

“Sometimes there are people we want to help, but there are too many barriers,” Hochstein said, “and we can’t help them reach their goals.”

“Helping individuals tackle a challenge and helping them remove that barrier is my biggest reward,” added Miller. Helping employers see that there are advantages to hiring employees with disabilities is also important to Miller. “We want to focus on what they can bring to the table,” he said.

The excitement of people getting a job who haven’t previously had work is special for Hochstein. 
“The pride they feel when they get a job for the first time is the pride I feel,” she said.

The JobOne Careers staff wants to educate employers. Since JobOne offered primarily sheltered workshops in the past, they want the business community to be more open to inclusion in the workplace, and not just because it’s federally mandated.

“It’s good for the business and it’s good for the individual,” said Carpenter.

“It’s the right thing to do,” added Hochstein.

Hochstein, Miller and Carpenter are all proud of Maya’s accomplishments. They see Maya as a shining star to what the program is about.  Maya is already scoping out her next job. She’s interested in bagging at the store, but is hoping her education will help her find a full-time job someday. Hochstein is pleased with Maya’s placement and considers her a big success.

“She’s a breath of fresh air,” said Hochstein.

Businesses in Grandview and South Kansas City that would like to learn more about JobOne Careers can contact Anne Hochstein at 816-763-7822, ext. 706, or

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fit for a Queen:

Local Nursing Home Resident Wins State Pageant

By Mary Wilson

Eighty-six year old Helen Hunter is not the typical nursing home patient. With her long, silky black hair and full face of makeup, she greets visitors with a warm smile and handshake. Hunter’s doorway is fully decorated in shimmery fringe; she breezes through with light eyes and a wide grin.

“It’s decorated for the queen,” said Hunter. “It makes me feel pretty special.”

She should feel special. Hunter, a resident at Life Care Center of Grandview, competed in and took home the crown in the Missouri Health Care Association sponsored Ms. Nursing Home Pageant after winning her district’s competition in June. Hunter, the cover lady for the 2014 Life Care Leader magazine, competed against 11 other ladies in district one. During the event, which was held at First Baptist Church of Raytown, she wowed the judges (local health care and senior services providers) with her beauty, charm and confident answers as they interviewed her about her life.

Hunter went on to compete for the state crown in Branson on August 24. Once again, she impressed the judges. This year’s title wasn’t Hunter’s first success in the annual competition. In 2013, she was crowned first runner-up in her district, leaving her with wonderful memories and the desire to compete in the pageant again this year.

Hunter’s background undoubtedly helped her prepare for the pageant. During her younger years, she worked as a fashion model and became a licensed practical nurse to help put her three children through private school. Once her children had graduated, Hunter became a Mary Kay Cosmetics beauty consultant. She thrived in this position and quickly rose to the top, becoming the first African-American senior director for the company, a position she held for 23 years.

“I’m president of the residents here at Life Care,” said Hunter. “Now I’m queen for the state, queen for Life Care, and I was the runner-up before. That’s four titles I have now.”

She prides herself on being an ambassador for the residents in the nursing home in Grandview. Hunter advocates for those who cannot speak for themselves. Living at Life Care Center for approximately 2.5 years, she has been actively involved in working with department heads to make the facility a better place for all residents.

“I’m getting things done,” said Hunter. “I believe in working with people, no matter who or what. I love working with people.”

She works with a group to set performance goals and constantly encourages more residents to attend her meetings. Hunter hopes to help energize residents and motivate them to live happy, fulfilling lives. Her goal is to make a positive impression on everyone she meets.

“I didn’t know that so many people were supporting me,” said Hunter. “This really put Life Care on the map as they’ve never had a queen before.”

Hunter said those at Life Care would like to see her in the pageant again next year. “I hope to not be here then,” she said. “My son is buying a home and I hope to be able to live with him soon. This place is more like a family than it is a nursing home.”

Friday, August 28, 2015

GC-4 Superintendent Announces Plans to Retire

The Grandview C-4 School District’s Board of Education announced today that Dr. Ralph Teran will retire from his position as Superintendent at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. Dr. Teran has served as Superintendent of the district since 2006. His dedicated leadership and strong commitment to student learning is best evidenced by significant improvement in student achievement. As reflected in the district’s Annual Performance Report, the district scored in the Accredited with Distinction status for the past two years.

Additional accomplishments include putting MacBooks in the hands of every high school student in the district, establishing Grandview High School as an A+ designated school, keeping the focus on instruction during difficult budgetary times, strengthening community and business partnerships, and substantial facilities improvements through the passage of three bond issues.

“I am grateful to the Board of Education for being an outstanding collaborative team of seven caring, smart and dedicated leaders. Likewise, Grandview C-4 staff members have impacted my life for the better in countless ways. I am a better person and educator because of the great work they do,” said Teran.

The Board recognizes and appreciates the Superintendent for all he has done for our students and schools, and wishes him great enjoyment in his future endeavors. The Board voted to accept Dr. Teran’s retirement during its meeting on August 27, 2015. Because of the timing of his announcement, the Board is in the best possible position to conduct a diligent search to find the right candidate to continue the district’s leadership. The Board has already met to discuss its search for the future leadership of the district and will continue to update the community as well as provide opportunity for input during the search process.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Grandview to see two-way frontage roads again

by Mary Wilson

While the US 71 Frontage Roads Study determined the City of Grandview to be be at a disadvantage when trying to attract tenants and developments along the new I-49 corridor, Grandview’s Board of Aldermen voted unanimously last week to begin steps toward phase one of conversion to two-way roads. According to the study, a two-way frontage road system will improve the ease of navigation and business access/visibility, promote neighborhood cohesion, reduce transportation costs to citizens and reduce emissions.  

“This will ultimately enhance Grandview’s competitive position for economic development and expand the local tax base,” said City Engineer Jackie White.

The first phase of the outer roadway conversion project will convert the I-49 outer roadways to two-way traffic from Blue Ridge to Main Street. This will require building ramps from I-49 to Main Street to enhance accessibility. The outer road at Main Street will be realigned to 15th Street to the west with a new road between Booth Lane and Beacon Avenue. Parts of existing High Grove Road, Goode and 129th Street will also be utilized as new outer roads. The existing U-turn bridge at Main Street will be removed.

Missouri Department of Transportation is designing the project improvements as previously agreed to in the Project Cost Participation and Road Relinquishment Agreement. The project is to be constructed with a maximum of $5 million of federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds from the Federal Highway Administration.

The actual amount of reimbursable funds received is based upon 80% of the construction cost up to the maximum allowed. The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission oversees the handling of the federal funds to the City. Part of the Commission’s responsibility is to insure that the project meets a variety of federal laws.

“We will receive back eighty-percent of the actual payments to the contractor,” said White. “We will pay the bills and then MoDOT reimburses us up to that $5 million. When that is spent, then it all comes from local City funds.”

The ordinance the Aldermen approved on Tuesday, July 28, authorized the execution of the STP-Urban Agreement with the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. The funds will not be available for disbursement until October 2017.

“The way that we are hoping it works out is that we will send the project out for bid around that time,” said White. “So, we could see construction begin as early as Fall 2017 or early 2018. We do have to purchase some right-of-way in certain areas.”

With the design being done by MoDOT, according to White, they will control the timeline.

The Aldermen also approved two other ordinances. The first is an ordinance with Select Construction Enterprises for the relocation of a steel bridge that previously spanned over the Blue River on 40 Highway. Both MoDOT and city staff agree that the bridge is historically significant and can be reused as a pedestrian structure on a city park trail over the Little Blue River.

The City of Grandview applied for and received $320,000 of Transportation Alternative Program funds through the Mid America Regional Council for the relocation and restoration of the bridge for this purpose. The project has been split into two phases: to relocate the bridge and to restore it for pedestrian purposes. Any funds not used in the relocation of the bridge can be used for rehabilitation. The bridge will be moved from its current location to Grandview before the end of September 2015.

An ordinance for a subdivision agreement with PG, LLC, was also approved. This second plat of Sunrise Farms will be a development of forty homes on nearly 11 acres south of 143rd Street and east of Byars Road. The developer will complete this portion of the project with single-family residential lots as it was envisioned with the current Conceptual Development Plan for the area, in hopes that the new lots will join the existing homeowners association.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Center Schools begin year with positive financial outlook

By Mary Wilson

The Center School Board received a quarterly financial report, summarizing the fiscal year of 2014-2015, at the regular meeting on Monday, July 27. Leading up to the report presented by Director of Business Dr. Michael Weishaar, the board of education has kept an eye on the budget given the current fiscal climate.

“We’ve had a lot happen in the last four or five weeks, good and bad,” said Weishaar.

Near the end of June 2015, the district received notification from Jackson County regarding protests to property taxes of approximately $300,000. For the year, Center School District received a hit of $900,000 total in protests.

“We have begun our talks to find out what we can do, if anything, to forecast this a little better going forward,” said Weishaar. “Some of those protests to taxes have gone back to 2012.”

Despite the nearly-million-dollar hit, the district completed the year at negative $1.1 million, a decrease of $500,000 from the prior year. Coincidentally, the proposal for the 2014-2015 budget was right on target with where the district ended up.

“Keeping in mind, six or seven months ago, we thought we’d be at $1.6 or $1.7 million deficit,” said Weishaar, “the conservative aspect we took all year certainly showed. We could have been under one-million dollars had we not been hit with the protests again.”

With the negative $1.1 million, the district’s reserves began the next fiscal year at 25%. Last month, the board of education approved a budget of negative $380,000.

“We’ve got some challenges and we need to be conservative again,” said Weishaar. “We don’t have any contingency fund built into the protests to taxes, so any that come up this year will come off of that bottom line.”

Weishaar went on to say that he believes the past year was unique in the amount of protests to taxes the district received. To continue the good news, however, the county delivered preliminary assessed valuation for the district of $380 million, $11 million higher than last year and a 3.1% increase.

“I’ve always said, for every million dollar increase, it’s about $55,000,” said Weishaar. “When assessed valuation is down and starts to climb back up, you don’t necessarily gain what you lost when it was down. When it goes up a lot like it did, it forces you to drop your tax rate ceiling.”

With an $11 million increase, the district will see their tax rate dramatically decrease. The final assessed valuation numbers will be received from Jackson County in September. This is the first time in eight years the district has seen an increase in assessed valuation.

“It is time to celebrate. Bottom line, we ended the year with the $500,000 decrease,” said Weishaar. “Kudos to the staff, the teachers, and the directors for keeping an eye on every dollar we spend. We couldn’t have done it without the group effort.”

The board also heard a report from Lorenzo Boyd, Managing Director with Stifel Financial, bond underwriters for the district, regarding their bond financing outlook. The district will continue, with Stifel’s partnership, to look for ways to save on interest in bond financing going forward.

Also at the meeting, Elizabeth Heide, Director of Human Resources and Student Services, presented to the board a new program to help meet the needs of students in the district. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a concept developed by Dr. Tim Lewis, a professor at the University of Missouri, which helps the district to create interventions to increase student success.

“As we analyzed our data last year, we realized we needed to look into how we can reach more kids,” said Heide. “We need to find where the holes are with our kids.”

The district will partner with Dr. Lewis and his team of researchers to begin looking into the data and discovering ways to provide interventions in the learning and behavior patterns of students. There is no charge for the partnership, as Lewis will use the research garnered to grow the program.

The Center School Board meets monthly at Boone Elementary. The next regular meeting will be on Monday, August 24.

Editor’s Note: The Jackson County Advocate is proud to increase our coverage to include Center School District news and sports.