Thursday, March 19, 2015

Grandview Pulls Breed-specific Ban on Pit Bulls



Geoff Hall, President of Wayside Waifs, celebrates Grandview’s decision to repeal the breed-specific ban with a pit bull puppy available for adoption. Effective immediately, Wayside Waifs is now able to adopt pit bulls to those living in the Grandview city limits. Visit www.waysidewaifs.org to see all of the animals looking for homes.

 

By Mary Wilson


After several months of discussion and education, the Grandview Board of Aldermen unanimously approved the repeal of the breed-specific ban on pit bulls in city limits. The ban was adopted by the aldermen on July 26, 2005, at a time when the city was dealing with pit bull dogs being bred and trained to participate in dog fighting, with the fights occurring out in the open within city limits. Due to the inherent aggressive behavior of the animals, the breed-specific ban was put in place.

When the ban was enacted, pit bulls living within city limits were required to be registered as dangerous animals and owners were to pay for an annual permit, inspection, insurance policy, specific housing arrangements and follow restrictions when kept or brought outside. At the time, approximately twenty pit bulls were registered that were known to be living in the city.

“After comparing Grandview with what surrounding cities around us have done, we’ve been able to fix the holes when it comes to dangerous animals in general, to where all citizens are protected as well as the animals,” said Ward 3 Alderman John Maloney. “We are looking to our neighbors to see their best practices.”

Community Development Director Chris Chiodini and his staff looked at neighboring Missouri communities, and found that some cities continue to have the breed-specific ban in place. Grandview chose to pull the ban, and in order for an animal to be deemed dangerous, the actions of the animal would have to be determined to be a threat to the community as a whole.

“It’s the actions of the animal only, and has nothing to do with the breed of the animal itself,” said Chiodini. “We had to tighten up the ordinance and make sure that in doing so, we continue to protect not just people, but the animals themselves.”

The ordinance approved last week removes any breed-specific legislation, and made necessary changes so that the information on the requirements for animals of any breed or kind deemed dangerous is easy to read.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Aldermen Approve Truman’s Marketplace TIF Plan

RED Legacy Aims for April 3 Groundbreaking

By Mary Wilson


On Tuesday, March 3, the Grandview Board of Aldermen gave the final approval on the second amended and restated Truman’s Marketplace Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Redevelopment Plan. A week earlier, the final public hearing for the TIF plan was heard, and the aldermen moved to postpone the final vote until their next meeting, in order to comply with giving a ten days’ notice.

As previously reported, the major component of the redevelopment effort has changed from a reconstruction to primarily a remodel of existing structures. Managing Partner of RED Legacy, Bart Lowen, presented the aldermen with elevation visuals as well as an explanation of what RED will be remodeling and how it will look when completed.

“One question we wanted to address is where we’re at with our tenants,” said Lowen. “Time kills deals, and that is the case in some cases, but we’re happy to tell you that, through this entire effort, of the approximately eighty-percent of the tenants that we had in lease in the former plan, all but one is moving forward with us. So, roughly seventy-five percent of the tenants in this project are still there today.”

Lowen added that his team has been working with those tenants to incorporate their businesses into the new site plan. RED will work with them to amend the signed leases to provide for the changes to the shopping center. Some were shifted or moved to accommodate the remodel effort.

“Burlington, for instance, is now on the south end of the site,” said Lowen. “We had to move them into an existing location.”

Of those seventy-five percent of tenants, Lowen said half of them have signed amended leases. One major tenant RED is still working with to sign an amended lease is Price Chopper, yet Lowen was confident that the grocer remains committed to the project. When the lease with Price Chopper is executed, RED will be well into the sixty-percent leased capacity range on the project for tenants.

Security has been an issue that’s remained prevalent in the plans for the shopping center, and Lowen stated that a good security program remains intact with the amended plan. There will be security cameras on the buildings as well as in parking areas. There will also be a patrolling effort during business hours. Along with the security efforts, shoppers will see new parking lots, upgraded landscaping, and a new street that will run through the project with lighting and upgraded facades.

“It just creates an atmosphere that is a little bit more of an uplifting atmosphere that really helps to add to the security effort of the project,” said Lowen.

The elevation and look of the project has remained fairly constant, even with the changes from redevelopment to remodel. RED has made some tweaks and changes to the look of some buildings to accommodate the remodel effort, but the walkable environment the aldermen were looking for in the beginning has remained the focus.

“All the buildings remain; it’s just a façade renovation,” said Lowen. “This project right now is very flat, and we’ll start to create and add some character into the plan. We’ll be applying quite a bit of materials to the existing walls in order to create the façade upgrade the project will receive. This clearly is well more than a can of paint.”

Moving forward, RED will wait for the Grandview Board of Aldermen to approve the Paramaters Bond Ordinance and Bond Documents on March 24, and will then move forward with the purchase of the shopping center two days later on March 26. RED is prepared for a groundbreaking event to occur on Friday, April 3, provided everything in the next month goes smoothly.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Grandview Lowers Graduation Credit Requirement

by Mary Wilson


The Grandview School Board, at their meeting on Thursday, February 19, voted to approve a new graduation credit requirement. In 2001, the board approved raising the Grandview standard from 26 credits to 28.

“We are doing this in part of a review of all district areas to create better efficiency and look at things that have a financial impact on the district,” said Superintendent Dr. Ralph Teran. “Our current configuration, approved in 2001, was to go to the eight-block schedule and correspondingly increase the credits required to graduate.”

According to Teran, the eight-block schedule seemed to hit strides nationally in the 1990s. He added that block scheduling or a regular seven-period daily schedule seems to show no impact on student achievement.

“The block schedule costs more money,” said Teran. “It is more expensive to run the schedule that we have, and since there appears to be no correlation with student achievement. Sometimes more expensive things may be worth it, and I’m not saying it’s wrong to have block scheduling. It is a value judgment.”

Teran stated that the 28 credit requirement binds the school district to the block schedule, and if any other option is considered the requirement needs to be lowered. Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Kenny Rodrequez provided the board with a snapshot of what other districts require for graduation credits, and whether or not they have block scheduling.

“As far as we’ve been able to find in our area, we are one of three districts in our area that require 28 credits,” said Rodrequez. “The other two are Grain Valley and Park Hill. Other than that, most other districts hover around 25 or 26.”

Rodrequez added that the move from 28 to 26 credit hours required could open the opportunity for students to take additional dual-credit courses, as well as provide an opportunity to ensure that more students graduate on time.

“This could provide more opportunities for remediation that maybe the 28 doesn’t provide us with,” said Rodrequez.

Lowering the credit requirement will reduce the amount of electives students are able to take over their high school career, and according to Rodrequez, will not reduce the rigor.

“We have, in my opinion, one of the most rigorous requirements in the area,” said Rodrequez. “We require four credits of math, which is an anomaly in most of the surrounding areas. There are very, very few districts that require that.”

Grandview students are specifically required to pass through Algebra II in order to graduate, and are also required to take chemistry. Rodrequez said the rigor will come from the courses required, not from the amount of credits the students take.

He added that Grandview will soon be able to support an online-learning requirement, where at least one course would have to be taken in a virtual environment. This would be implemented over a period of time, and would be separate from the required credits and separate from the daily courses.

Ultimately, the board approved unanimously to approve lowering the graduation credit requirements from 28 to 26, beginning with the class of 2016.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

TIF Commission Passes Truman’s Marketplace 2nd Amended Plan

Once Approved by Aldermen, Projected Completion of Project to be Fall of 2016

By Mary Wilson

Grandview’s Tax Increment Financing Commission held a public hearing to hear the second amended plan for the proposed Truman’s Marketplace shopping center, formerly Truman Corners, on Wednesday, February 11. Joe Lauber, of Lauber Municipal Law, presented the proposed second amendment on behalf of the City of Grandview. Lauber represents the City as their special economic development legal counsel, and in that role he also serves as the legal counsel to the TIF Commission.

The purpose of the hearing was to hear public testimony on the proposed amendment to the Truman’s Marketplace TIF Redevelopment Plan. The original version of the plan was recommended for approval by the TIF Commission on December 14, 2011, and consequently approved by the Board of Aldermen on February 7, 2012. After the original plan was approved, some difficulties arose in obtaining the proper financing terms for the project due to the timing of the necessary acquisition of the shopping center property.

“As a result of that, the developer filed an amendment to the original plan in August of 2013 to address a solution to that issue,” said Lauber.

The first amendment to the plan was recommended for approval by the TIF Commission on September 11, 2013, and approved by the Board of Aldermen on July 1, 2014. According to Lauber, as the city and developer teams worked together on the financing of the first amended plan, additional difficulties with respect to the financing of the project and control of portions of the redevelopment area came to light.

“For this reason, the developer submitted another proposed amendment to the redevelopment plan on January 16, 2015,” said Lauber. “TIF plans are just that: they’re plans. They are made up of projections and estimates of how the developer and the city hope the development project will go. Many times, however, when the plan is implemented, the facts related to the redevelopment project cause a need to change the plans.”

The city’s goal with the project is to remediate blighted conditions through a comprehensive renovation of a woefully outdated and underperforming shopping center that serves as a front door to Grandview, according to Lauber. The city has selected RED Legacy, the developer, to implement the plan. Lauber stated that the goal has not changed from the original adopted plan.

“Some of the details of how this is expected to be accomplished have changed,” said Lauber.

The second amended plan changes are as follows:

• The developer will buy the shopping center using private sources of funds when bond documents are substantially complete and a bond parameters ordinance is adopted, prior to bond issuance.

• There will be minimal demolition, the project will consist primarily of remodeling exisiting structures.

• The total project cost decreased from $87,672,000 to $75,666,486, or 13.7% less.

• The developer’s portion of financing the project will be 31.4% if subordinate debt is paid back, or 38.9% if subordinate debt is not paid back. The public financing portion will be 44.69% if subordinate debt is paid back, or 37.4% if subordinate debt is not paid back. The rest will fall under third-party financing.

• The first amended plan had the developer’s return on investment at 12.69%, with the second amended plan showing the developer’s return at 9.91-11.51%.

• The first amended plan broke the project into thirteen different redevelopment projects. The new plan has four redevelopment projects, with RED Legacy completing projects 2 and 3.

• Initial financing will be private for acquisition of the shopping center, and includes city-backed TIF bonds that are taxable special-assessment bonds only and TIF revenue bonds.

• $34,000,000 in bonds has been requested for the project, with $31,200,000 for the developer.

• The developer is to buy $5,700,000 in subordinate debt.

“Based on the information provided, we believe that the commission should recommended that the Board of Aldermen affirm the findings made when they adopted the original TIF plan with the amended and restated plan,” said Lauber. “The developers have a lot more skin in the game than at any other point as we’ve gone through this process.”

Aaron March with the White Goss Law Firm, on behalf of RED Legacy, stated that RED and the city continue to work hard and diligently together to get the Truman’s Marketplace project going. After determining that project one, the former Sam’s Club property, wouldn’t move forward on development, RED decided to continue on with their plans under the assumption that project one might not happen.

“The amendment you have before you is the project we want to start in April,” said March. “We want to get started as soon as the city passes the ordinance moving the bond documents forward. We’ve got the tenants, the same tenants we had before, and we will renegotiate to move them into the revised project.”

March and his team are no longer relying on project one, a supposed big-box retailer, to happen. He stated that if project one doesn’t materialize, they will still be happy with the project.

“I’ve worked with a lot of developers nationwide, and 99.8% of them would have walked from this project a long time ago,” said March. “RED, to their credit, has said, ‘no, we don’t do that. We perform.’”

While the vision of the project from its original form has changed, March stated that RED is teed up and ready to get to work. He said it is a vision that can be implemented without exposing the city’s general fund to risk.

“As with most citizens in the city of Grandview, I’ve been watching this project progress, or not progress, through the years,” said Grandview resident Sam Samarasinghe during the public comment session of the hearing. “We are on the third year of looking at this project, and the only updates we’ve gotten are little signs stating another six months. I hope this is the last six months we give them, as there has been a significant lack of progress. It’s a seventy-five million dollar project and we’re getting a fresh coat of paint? That’s not what the citizens were promised.”

Ultimately, the TIF Commission unanimously voted to recommend the second amendment to the Truman’s Marketplace TIF Redevelopment Plan to the Board of Aldermen for approval. Prior to adoption of an ordinance, a public hearing before the Board of Aldermen will be held on Thursday, February 26, at Grandview City Hall, 1200 Main Street. A copy of the proposed amendment is available for inspection in the city clerk’s office.

Friday, January 16, 2015

County Prosecutor Strikes Violence with a Firm Hand

 

By Mary Wilson


The South Kansas City Alliance welcomed Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to their monthly meeting on Monday, January 12. Prior to being elected to her current position in November 2012, Peters Baker served in many capacities in the prosecutor’s office, working in nearly every unit.

“I love my job. I have a great, hard, lovely job,” said Peters Baker.
The prosecutor’s office undertook an ambitious challenge upon the arrival of Peters Baker to establish an anti-violence movement in the Kansas City area, called the No Violence Alliance, or NoVA. Peters Baker said that NoVA is all about collaboration between law enforcement, prosecutors and the community.

“If anyone is under the impression that one person or one entity can get something done, you’re probably mistaken,” said Peters Baker. “My goal is to make sure I further my partnerships.”
Peters Baker will be meeting with Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gordon and the KCK Chief of Police, due to the “imaginary line” that divides Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas. She sees the importance of building the collaboration across state lines to share information.

“Criminals know no lines,” added Peters Baker. “The people that harm their community harm my community and I want to make sure that we are dealing with them the way we ought to. Sometimes, that is with a very firm hand. ”
The major objective Peters Baker had in coming to the prosecutor’s office has been to address violence. While she has concerns in other crimes, such as stolen autos and burglaries, her main concern lies with violence, especially when it puts the community’s children in harm’s way.

Upon taking office, the homicide rate in Kansas City was at the top of the leaderboard nationwide, according to Peters Baker, competing often with Detroit and other cities known for violence. These statistics came as a shock to the prosecutor, who said that it seemed as if Kansas City was accepting of those numbers.
“Every year, sometime in November, we’d hit that number 100,” said Peters Baker. “One-hundred homicides in Kansas City per year, and we’d go over it. I thought, that is just unacceptable. It’s wrong and it’s not who we are. It does not have to be who we are.”

She went to work to find a program that would best address Kansas City’s number one problem: violence. She sought a program that was evidence-based, studied by the academics and had proven results. That’s what she, along with Mayor Sly James and Chief of Police Darryl Forte, brought to Kansas City. After roughly two years into the anti-violence movement, at the end of 2014, Kansas City saw 77 homicides.
“That’s great and I’m very proud of that,” said Peters Baker. “I’m also very disappointed in that number because 77 is still much too high.”

Peters Baker said that while the national homicide rate is roughly 4 per 100,000, Kansas City ranked at 23 per 100,000 in 2013. In 2014, Kansas City was around 16 per 100,000 homicides.
“Any reduction is a reduction to applaud and be happy about,” said Peters Baker.

The downside to those statistics is that Peters Baker is dealing with a seven-year-old victim fighting for her life after being struck by bullets while driving down a Kansas City highway with her family. Another example is an unsolved homicide in KCK of a 7-month-old boy, and another of a ten-year-old girl remains unsolved. She also spoke of a two-year-old that lost his life after an act of child abuse by his caregiver.   
“He’s actually our first homicide of 2015,” said Peters Baker. “There’s more, but I guess what I have to tell you is that Kansas City seems like a really awful place to be a child. I can’t tell you how angry it makes me when children pay the price for our violence problem. I find it completely unacceptable.”

She added that in 2015, Kansas City as a whole has to do better than in 2014 despite the market improvement.
“It is still not good enough,” Peters Baker said.

Peters Baker said that while the violence problem in Kansas City can feel a bit hopeless, it can be corrected. When a family is affected by violence, it impacts the community, which brought forth the KC NoVA effort.
“We believe we can further reduce that number,” said Peters Baker.

The collaboration relies on prosecutors, police, the community and pastors, to deliver messages of hope and redemption. If hope and redemption are offered and not taken, Peters Baker said that her office is the next step.
“If violence happens, it’s not just one person; everyone in that network is going to get hit,” said Peters Baker. “So we warn them. We bring these folks in that we have identified are engaged in a life of violence and we offer them another path.”

Social services workers are present to offer a real solution to violent offenders. Peters Baker said the main message is simple: don’t shoot people; don’t hurt people.
“Some people need the help to get out of that cycle,” said Peters Baker. “Not everyone is going to listen to us, and that’s where the law enforcement side comes in. We’ve got to be tough and we’ve got to be ready to handle the kind of violence that happens in our city.”

Of the 77 homicides, Peters Baker’s office filed more murder in the first degree charges than any other prosecutor in Kansas City. She credits that to the collaboration brought forth by KC NoVA.

“Violence begets more violence,” said Peters Baker. “You’ve got to stop it before it begins, or there’ll be more violence. We need to intervene and let them know there’s another way.”

KC NoVA is supported by its partner agencies, which have donated personnel, time and equipment, as well as outside funding from local grant makers, including the Greater Kansas City LISC (Local Initiative Support Corp.) and Jackson County COMBAT.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Four Grandview Bars Granted Two More Years of Smoking

by Mary Wilson

Despite heated discussion at the regular session of Grandview’s Board of Aldermen last Tuesday, December 23, the board granted an additional two years for four bars to comply with the Clean Indoor Air Act, originally adopted in July, 2011.

The original ordinance provided for smoke-free air in workplaces and public places. After considering several options, it was the final decision of the board to provide a three-year exemption for bars, whose primary business was to serve alcohol, and would provide a phase-in period for those businesses. That period afforded them time to transition to a different business model, install outdoor seating, or otherwise prepare for compliance by August 1, 2014.

At the time of its adoption, there were four bars that met the requirements of the ordinance: Elbow Bend, Doghouse Bar, Pete’s Place and Corner Bar. During their December 16, 2014, work session, the board discussed the extension of the exemption for bars. During that discussion, Ward 3 Aldermen Jim Crain and John Maloney were vocal on their position to not grant the exemption. The newest alderman at the table was conflicted about which way his vote would swing.

"I’m not a big fan of government control and I’m not a big fan of breathing smoke in," said Ward 1 Alderman Michael Allen. "I feel passionate about both things, so I’m still up in the air as to which way to go."

With Ward 1 Alderman Sandy Kessinger and Ward 2 Aldermen Brian Hochstein and Annette Turnbaugh voicing support for the extension, and Mayor Leonard Jones, whose vote would only be considered in the case of a tie, also showing support for the extension, it was clear that the new ordinance would pass.
 
During the regular session, before the final vote on the ordinance, Maloney was the first to provide his thoughts.

"I was one of the three aldermen who voted no originally on this which then sent it back into discussion," said Maloney. "We debated everything from six months to three years on an extension. It passed with a unanimous decision and nothing has changed during that time with the dangers of second-hand smoke. More importantly, there hasn’t been one legal argument to amend this ordinance."

Maloney pointed out that the board has not heard from any of the bar owners in recent months prior to the board action last week.

"I think it’s a slippery slope to change an ordinance when it’s rightfully written," added Maloney. "It’s not outdated, and it’s not in noncompliance with the law by any means. This will financially benefit a very select few."

Alderman Crain was the next to voice his concerns over the potential changes to the original ordinance, and read his comments aloud after asking to have them verbatim in the meeting minutes.

"After months of whining and complaining, a compromise was crafted to create a special class of business apart from all other classes," said Crain. "We agreed to a three-year exemption for four bars… to give them time to transition to a different business model to prepare for compliance. Here we are, four months after the compliance date contemplating another two-year extension."

Crain went on to say that since the compliance date passed in August, the law has not been enforced due to direction given to the police department by Mayor Jones.

"I feel another exemption sponsored by personal friendships is not only improper, but perhaps illegal," added Crain. "To my knowledge, the four businesses have done nothing to satisfy the purpose of the original exemption, and, guess what? Two years from now they will be back again."

Showing support for the exemption, Alderman Hochstein was the next to speak.

"The two most important provisions that were initially in this ban; and furthermore, the exemptions were that there are warning signs at the entry stating that smoking is allowed in this business," said Hochstein. "Additionally, there was a condition that was included for a revocation, or a removal of the ban, should any of the bars lose their license(s), change location, or have a change of ownership. So, at this point, we still have four bars that qualify for the exemption."

Hochstein pointed out that he is in favor of all aspects of the clean air laws, and supported the previous ban as a citizen.

"The four businesses currently cater to patrons who choose to smoke," added Hochstein, "and these businesses have been operating in this manner for their entire existence. The customers here know the deal. These are bars, their patrons are adults, and a lot of them are smokers. Those that are not choose to enter an environment where they fully understand the risks of what they’re doing."

Alderman Turnbaugh stated that her relationship with the four owners of the bars has been in a strictly business format for a long as thirty years or more.

"To imply I would put personal friendships above my duty as an alderman is impugning my integrity," said Turnbaugh.

Ultimately, the vote was split down the middle, and Mayor Jones broke the tie in favor of the amendment to the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2011. The limited exemption for the four bars will end on August 1 2016.
 
 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mama Kansas City and Her Sixty-five Boys

A Local Woman’s Story on How Lost Boys from Sudan Saved Her Life

 

By Mary Wilson

As families across the country gathered around their tables this week to focus on being thankful, one local woman concentrated not on what she has to be grateful for, but whom. Gina Kerns Moreno, who owns Integrity Staffing Specialists with her sister, Betty, and husband, Reno, knows she has so much to be thankful for, despite hard times in her life.

Moreno and her husband have four children, two each from previous marriages, and she defines her marriage to her first husband as being married to the "devil." The children from this marriage were not Moreno’s, but as step-parents often do when combining families, she fell in love with the boy and girl as if they were her own. The "devil," as Moreno describes, was abusive to her and the children, and eventually the marriage ended due to a massive gambling debt he accrued.

While Moreno was still married to the "devil," the kids were in a foster home after their mother, who was in prison, signed away her maternal rights. When the foster family expressed interest in adopting them, Moreno discovered that there was no money left for her to fight for custody of the children.

"He had $18,000 on one credit card from getting money at the boats," said Moreno.

At that time, she knew in order to get the kids, they would have to file for bankruptcy. In order to protect herself and her own assets, Moreno left the "devil" and the kids, while remaining in contact with the children over the years.

"He filed bankruptcy and I lived on $50 a week for many years because I was $90,000 in debt because I did not file for bankruptcy," said Moreno, "$30,000 of which was for getting the children."

After several years, the older of the two reached out to Moreno and reestablished a connection with her and her new husband.

Moreno is currently in her 34th year in the employment industry, working her first five years at Missouri Job Service and then working for a global employment service in which she was very successful. Eventually, she ended up working for a company called Dan-D Services, owned by the Dittoe family.

"For eight years working there, there was a lot of bad," said Moreno. "The good thing was while I was working at the Independence office, and through my work meeting people from all walks of life, I worked with the Don Bosco Refugee Center."

She worked with Dennis, from the Don Bosco Center, who was a political refugee from Bosnia, and in March of 2001, he came to visit Moreno and Dennis told her about the Lost Boys from Sudan.

"He said, ‘We’ve got a bunch of boys coming, and we don’t know how many we’re getting,’" said Moreno. "My big deal was, if I’m going to help any of them, they have to be able to read, write, understand and speak English. He assured me that they would all speak English."

He explained to Moreno that the government was bringing the orphans to the United States and they would be given free apartments for three months, after which they would have to start paying for their own living expenses as well as the $850 cost of the airfare to get here.

"I thought, okay, I can do this," said Moreno. "Nothing ever happened with it, and I kind of forgot all about it. Until one day in August, in came Dennis with two vehicles full of nine boys in our front door. They were so thin and so tall. He told me, ‘Gina, these are the Lost Boys I was telling you about.’"

They all introduced themselves to her, and she knows she did not even remember their names due to the shock of them standing in her office. They all needed jobs, so Moreno got to work to find placement for the nine. The next day, nine more came in. And then more the next day. In total, Moreno handled the job placement for 65 Lost Boys in Kansas City.

"That first group, I don’t even know how to describe the emotions I felt for them," said Moreno. "I had been through this horrific marriage. I left those kids and I promised them I would never leave them. I had Reno, who is the best person in the world, and I still felt like something was missing in my life. When they walked in that office and introduced themselves to me, I was bound and determined, I didn’t care what I had to do, I was going to get those boys jobs."

Moreno was successful in finding them jobs. One in particular, named Joseph, came in when Moreno was not in the office and was assigned to a job at a furniture manufacturer. She decided, after being told that Joseph was small, to go by the next day and check on him.

"He instantly grabbed my heart," said Moreno. "He was so little, and he wanted to be a doctor."

Joseph one day told her about how much he loved eating the "hamburger sandwiches" from the vending machine. They talked often when Moreno would visit with him at work, and eventually Joseph brought her a VHS tape. When she got home that night, she put the tape in, and it was a 60 Minutes story that featured Joseph and the story of the Lost Boys.

"Before then, I had no idea what these boys had been through," said Moreno. "I wailed. I didn’t cry, I wailed. It featured Joseph in Kansas City and a boy named Abraham in Atlanta."

Joseph had been one of two boys picked to follow on their journey, starting back at the refugee camp in Kenya. In the story, the need for mentors for the boys in America was advertised, and Moreno went to work to find out what she needed to do to be a mentor.

"By this time, we had our 65 boys who were employed and doing pretty well," said Moreno. "When I found out about the mentors, I contacted the Don Bosco Center to find out more information."

Moreno was informed that there were certain financial requirements in order to qualify. Living on $50 a week, she explained that was all she had for gas, cigarettes, clothing and food. She could not be a mentor to the Lost Boys. She was told she could mentor people from other countries, but she refused.

"After I saw the video, I called every friend, every family member, everyone I knew, and we all got involved," said Moreno. "None of us had money to give, but we did what we could to help."

Moreno recruited Virginia Bell from the Hosanna Lutheran Church in Liberty, who, together with her women’s group and Dan-D Services, eventually paid back the airfare for all the boys in Kansas City. With up to nine boys living in an apartment, Moreno and those she recruited to help, including her best friend Susie from her hometown of Clinton, went into the apartments and discovered the horrible living conditions the boys were in.

"They didn’t even know how to work the alarm clock," said Moreno. "One would stay up all night and watch the clock, waking the others when it was time to get up."

The volunteers Moreno brought together pooled their resources and furnished the boys with food, clothing, blankets, toiletries and other necessary items.

"It took a long time, and we separated the donations in our office," said Moreno. "We’d then take all the donations around to the boys, and take everything in and show them how to use it."

They also established 100 Hot Dog and 100 Hamburger nights, where the boys would learn to cook hot dogs and hamburgers, and it became a regular night for Moreno’s volunteers and the Lost Boys. Over the years, Moreno became known by the boys as Gina Mama Kansas City. She continued to help them out with their needs, and they became a part of her family.

"The experiences that we’ve had, just having them in our lives, has made a huge difference," said Moreno. "They’re not just the Lost Boys of Sudan. They’re grown men and they are a part of our family. God put me there, I believe, at a moment in my life to give me the part of myself that was missing and to let me be fortunate enough to take this journey with them."

A lot of the boys are still in contact with Moreno and her family. Some still rely on her for advice. Joseph is currently in another country working on his education to become a doctor. Most recently, a film was released that was loosely based on Moreno’s story with the Lost Boys, called The Good Lie.

"I’ve stayed out of the spotlight, I’m better in the background," said Moreno. "There have been so many laughs, and so many tears. I would not have changed anything. I didn’t save them, these boys saved me."