184th Headquarters Group helps Wellington kids in need

Left to right: Cathy May, family support worker, Saint Francis Community Services; Lt. Col. Deborah Balentine, director of staff, 184th Headquarters Group; Tammy Black, family support worker, Saint Francis Community Services; Senior Master Sgt. Lurina Lovegrove, superintendent, 184th Inspector General’s Office; and Gina Rusk, transportation supervisor, Saint Francis Community Services. Balentine and Lovegrove delivered donated items on behalf of the personnel assigned to the 184th Headquarters Group to Saint Francis Community Services in Wellington, Dec. 15, 2017. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

By Master Sgt. Matt McCoy, 184th Public Affairs

Members of the 184th Intelligence Wing’s Headquarters Group made a sizeable donation in December to Saint Francis Community Services in Wellington, Kansas.

The donations consisted primarily of clothes, backpacks, toiletries and everyday items. A gaming console, cookware and a television were also part of December’s round of donations.

Saint Francis Community Services is a non-profit, faith-based organization that serves more than 10,000 children in Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas through a broad range of programs and services.

The Wellington location provides temporary quarters for children who have been removed from their home and are awaiting placement with a foster family. Many times, the children have nothing but the clothes they’re wearing.

“A lot of time when kids come in here, they don’t have anything,” said Cathy May, family support worker, Saint Francis Community Services. “What’s nice is when people do bring in stuff, we can make up a bag and get them going because sometimes they have to wait two or three days before they find a placement.”

With very little funding, the organization relies on donations from supporters in the community.

Lt. Col. Deborah Balentine (left), director of staff, 184th Headquarters Group, and Senior Master Sgt. Lurina Lovegrove, superintendent, 184th Inspector General’s Office, delivered items donated by personnel assigned to the 184th HQ to Saint Francis Community Services in Wellington, Kansas, Dec. 15, 2017. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

The idea to support Saint Francis Community Services began in September 2017, with Senior Master Sgt. Melanie Graber, who was assigned to the 184th Inspector General’s Office but has since retired.

Graber was having a garage sale when she met Tammy Black, a family support worker at Saint Francis Community Services. Black was interested in buying some items when she began talking about the organization.

“One of the items was a suitcase,” said Senior Master Sgt. Lurina Lovegrove, superintendent, 184th IG. “[Tammy] and Melanie started talking and Melanie just ended up donating it. So that’s how we made the ties.”

Graber and Lovegrove had an idea to collect donations from Headquarters personnel and deliver them to Wellington on a quarterly basis. Lt. Col. Deborah Balentine, the director of staff in Headquarters at the time, was all for it.

“We brought it up at commander’s call as kind of our little adopted charity, volunteer thing we’re going to do,” said Lovegrove. “If people had donations, they could bring them to my office.”

Donations include children’s items from newborn to late teens. They also take travel-sized toiletries such as toothpaste and shampoo to get kids through the first few days in transient.

“Various individuals within the Headquarters Group bring in the donations,” said Lovegrove. “We’ve received baby bottles, tons of bags, tons of baby clothes from our members within Headquarters.”

Lovegrove was particularly proud to support an organization in a smaller community.

“It’s nice to help one of the outer cities and smaller towns because they don’t get as much support as the Wichita facilities do,” said Lovegrove. “I think it’s great. Anything to help those kids out.”