On Being a Sister

Growing up across the street from a convent in Kansas City, Missouri, Roberta Furey always knew she was destined to become a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth. So it was no surprise to anyone that just two months after graduating from high school in the spring of 1953, she entered the community as a postulant. She was 17 years old.

Sister Roberta Sister Roberta’s first assignment to teach third and fourth grade at Topeka Assumption School in Topeka, Kansas came two years later. She created lesson plans, taught her students the “Three Rs,” and worked evenings grading homework. “I was a little wet behind the ears, but there were plenty of other teachers who helped me,” she said.

In 1958, Sister Roberta was assigned to teach first, second, and third grade at Mount Saint Vincent Home in Denver, Colorado. She quickly came to consider Denver her home. She subsequently spent several years at an orphanage in Helena, Montana, but returned to Denver in 1965. “I was so happy to come back,” she said. Collectively, over three separate missions, Sister Roberta has served at Mount Saint Vincent for more than 46 years.

Like any mother would, Sister Roberta taught her young charges how to tie their shoes, ride a bike, wash their clothes, and even prepare a simple meal. “I tried to teach them skills they would need later in life,” she said.

In the summer of 1983, she hired a young 22-year-old to work as a lifeguard at the pool. More than 30 years later, Kirk Ward would be named executive director of Mount Saint Vincent. “She ran a tight ship,” Kirk recalls. “But it was apparent to everyone that she truly cared about the staff and children.”Roberta

Throughout her 46 years at Mount Saint Vincent, Sister Roberta has witnessed laughter, tears, triumphs and heartache. Through it all, she has upheld the Sister’s mission of serving children in need.

Mount Saint Vincent Board member Sue Jackson believes that Sister Roberta is deserving of all the accolades one can bestow upon her. “I’ve known Roberta for more than 12 years now, and I’m here to say, she is like no other,” Jackson said. “She is so kind and so thoughtful. I truly believe that she represents the very heart of Mount Saint Vincent.”

Father John Costanzo, who has known Sister Roberta for nearly 30 years, wholeheartedly agrees. “She has such a sense of fun,” he said. “She makes you realize that being a Sister is a joyful thing.” But he says it’s her unwavering devotion that truly sets her apart. “Every single day, she prays for the children,” he said. “Her dedication to the mission of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth is steadfast.”

Update: It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we announce that our dear friend Sister Roberta Furey passed away on May 28, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. Read her obituary, obtain information on services, and sign the guest book here. Services in Leavenworth, Kansas are listed below:

Thursday, June 7, 2018
4 p.m. – Homecoming
7 p.m. – Vigil (will be livestreamed)
Ross Chapel

Friday, June 8, 2018
10:30 a.m. – Funeral Mass
Ross Chapel

Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth
4200 South Fourth Street
Leavenworth, KS  66048-5054

Read More

Farewell, Kay Mcdowell

At the end of this month, one of Mount Saint Vincent’s most fiercely dedicated, well-respected, and mission-focused child advocates will be leaving our organization. That person is our director of development, Kay Kelleher Mcdowell.

Kay’s relationship with Mount Saint Vincent began in 1996. That was the year she and her family began donating toys and gifts to the children at Christmastime. She distinctly remembers the first time she saw Mount Saint Vincent’s imposing building on top of a hill. “It was so big, regal even,” she recalled. It wasn’t long before Kay began volunteering her time there, eventually helping plan our nonprofit’s bi-annual Silver Bell Ball.

In 2007, a permanent position within Mount Saint Vincent’s development department became available, and Kay decided to apply. According to Sister Amy Willcott, the executive director at that time, the hiring decision was not difficult. “Kay had already given her time and her heart and her spirit to Mount Saint Vincent, even before she was hired,” Sister Amy said. “Knowing that she was already giving more than 110% as a volunteer made hiring her an easy decision.”

Kay took to her new position with gusto. As she met with donors, they welcomed her warm and grateful demeanor. “No matter who she interacts with, Kay understands the importance of building relationships,” said current executive director, Kirk Ward. “Whether it’s donors, staff, or the children, she treats everyone with caring and respect.”

In addition to meeting donors, Kay gave tours of the campus, managed events and volunteers, and spent time doing the thing that she loved most — spending time with the children. Her devotion to children is apparent to all who know her. “Kay’s compassion for the plight of traumatized children and her relentless drive to support their return to health is legendary in the MSV donor community,” said former Mount Saint Vincent Board member Jane O’Shaughnessy.

Kay remembers loading the kids into a bus, and renting out a theater to watch a Dr. Seuss movie. She recalls basketball games at local schools where the opposing team let the MSV Mustangs win by ridiculous margins. She recounts watching the children’s faces when they open their Christmas gifts and ask incredulously, “Is all of this for me?”

Kay is looking forward to taking on new challenges in her career, but says her time at Mount Saint Vincent was a gift. “The influence of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth will be with me forever,” she states. “It was from them that I fully came to understand the value of acceptance, that people are doing the best they can.” Those are truly words to live by.

Thank you, Kay, for your 19 years of hard work, service, and selfless dedication to the children of Mount Saint Vincent. You will be missed. ∼

Kay wanted to personally say goodbye to those who know her. Below is her farewell in her own words.

Dear Friends,

It has been my great honor and privilege to have had the greatest job in the world, because when one believes in a mission and is asked to support it, it is never work.

I have genuinely cherished my time working with my team, the volunteers, friends, and the many donors who give so much to Mount Saint Vincent. There is no metric to measure the success we have shared with the children because of you. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank each of you. God bless you all.

I also want to thank all the children of Mount Saint Vincent. During my time here, I have been blessed to get to know so many amazing students, residents, and alumni. My heart truly overflows with emotion when I reflect upon these memories; I consider each of you a gift that I will always cherish.

I want to thank all the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth; I have been blessed to serve alongside them. Each of you are champions of child advocacy, lights in this world that I will never forget.

I also want to thank my family. Each of you has given so much to Mount Saint Vincent and helped make my passion a reality. Those efforts can never be tallied, and you should be very proud of the part that you played.

Finally, I want to thank my loving husband, Mac. Thank you for being by my side and on my side, thank you for listening, and thank you for helping me do the impossible, time and again.

I know all of you will do everything in your collective power to ensure the continued success of Mount Saint Vincent. So in the words of the founder of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Mother Xavier Ross, I look forward to all the good that is yet to come.

Gratefully yours,
Kay Kelleher McDowell

Read More

Paw Prints, a Dog, and a Check

Like many therapy animals, Daisie has a sixth sense when it comes to people’s emotions. During a recent therapy session, an agitated nine-year-old boy squirmed in his chair. The young black Lab waited for a moment, sat down next to the boy, and then nuzzled the boy’s hand. The boy stopped fidgeting and slowly began to stroke Daisie’s head. “What a good doggie,” he whispered. Daisie looked into the boy’s eyes and gave a contented sigh. Such is the power of the human-animal bond.

A Child’s Best Friend

What is it about Daisie that children find so comforting? Maybe it’s the unconditional love reflected in her eyes. Maybe it’s her soft, silky fur. Or maybe it’s the sense of calmness they feel when Daisie gently lays her head in their laps. Whatever the reason, the children in treatment at Mount Saint Vincent love Daisie, who is one the many certified animals in the therapeutic program.

Learning to Trust Again

Animal-assisted therapy is often used as an intervention when a child who has been abused or neglected exhibits an attachment disorder or is distrustful of other people. Mount Saint Vincent’s program includes dogs, horses, guinea pigs, and even fish in the school classrooms. “A dog shows unconditional positive regard for the child, and once a relationship has been established, the child feels safe,” said Mount Saint Vincent Child and Family Therapist Teresa Coen, LCSW, AAT. “And when children feel safe and comfortable, they not only talk more, they also process more.” It’s that processing that can lead to healing from past traumatic events.

When Chuck & Don’s Pet Food & Supplies was looking for a beneficiary for its annual fundraising campaign in late 2016, they heard about Mount Saint Vincent. What better fit for a pet supply retailer looking to support a nonprofit than an organization that uses animal-assisted interventions to help children overcome the effects of abuse and neglect? Chuck & Don’s team couldn’t have agreed more.

Spreading the Word

With their beneficiary chosen, Chuck & Don’s began educating store associates about the work being done for children at Mount Saint Vincent. They in turn then educated their customers. As it turned out, store patrons were eager to make donations during the six-week “Paw Prints” campaign. Once the corporate donation was added in, the final campaign tally was more than $28,000. Chuck & Don’s marketing and community relations manager, Heather Ratynski, delivered the check.

“More Than We Ever Imagined”Mount Saint Vincent staff accepting check from Chuck & Don's

“I’ve delivered Paw Prints donations to nonprofits before, but the reaction of Mount Saint Vincent’s staff when they saw the amount was off the charts,” Ratynski said. Laughter and tears ensued as one of the therapists raced to notify the nonprofit’s Executive Director, Kirk Ward, and Director of Development, Kay Kelleher Mcdowell. “To say we were surprised by the amount of the check is putting it lightly,” said Ward. “We are so grateful to Chuck & Don’s and their customers.”

Just Another Day

As for Daisie, she takes all the commotion in stride. Following another successful therapy session, she happily accepts a big bear hug from her young friend. For this therapy dog, providing comfort and support for children who have been abused or neglected is all the reward she needs.

Read More

The Goodbye Tunnel

A guest post from Executive Director Kirk Ward

Kirk Ward, LCSW

What is it about time-honored rituals that we find so captivating? More than achievements or accolades, they signify rites of passage, once-in-a-lifetime moments, the crossing of a threshold in life. For me, the Goodbye Tunnel at Mount Saint Vincent has become one of these cherished events.

The children who participate in our residential or day treatment programs attend our on-grounds K-8 school. Upon arrival, they may be one or more grade levels behind their peers, lack the ability to focus, or exhibit distrust of others. With clinical treatment and a healthy dose of patience, they gradually begin to feel safe and trusting of the adults around them. Once that level of safety and trust is achieved, the children often start making huge academic gains. From that moment on, there’s no stopping them. It won’t be long before they are ready to begin a new chapter in their young lives.

The Goodbye Tunnel originated years ago; no one knows exactly when. Its purpose, though, is clear. In keeping with our value of fostering a caring spirit, it celebrates every child’s unique accomplishments. That caring spirit is evident as the staff proudly send a child out into the world, knowing that he or she has the knowledge and tools to succeed.

The days leading up to Jacob’s recent discharge date were charged with emotion. He felt the pride of accomplishment, the joy of becoming part of a family, and the nervous uncertainty of life beyond the caring confines of Mount Saint Vincent.

Finally the moment arrived. The school doors flung open, and Jacob raced toward the school gate, backpack and coat flapping behind. The 30-foot sidewalk was lined with two dozen cheering staff. Amid smiles, clapping, laughter and tears, he received hugs, shouts of encouragement, and high-fives as he made his way through the human tunnel, his face beaming.

Once past the gate, he waved goodbye one last time. I watched, a little misty-eyed, as he looked up and took the hand of his new caregiver. For me, there is no greater feeling in the world than to give a child the support and care they need to succeed in life.

Read More

Club House Combines Fun and Learning

With his hands on his hips, Recreation Therapist Rob Johnson surveyed the room. It was a jumble of mismatched furniture, storage boxes, and tables piled with used household items. Most people would see an unorganized mess. Rob saw a possibility. His vision of creating a club house was about to become a reality.

Today, the Aspen Club House is an inviting and welcoming space with plenty of activities to choose from.

The clubhouse features:
• An arcade-like basketball game with two hoops
• A wall with magnetic poetry to cultivate literacy and foster creativity
• An Xbox One with Kinect, encouraging children to move their bodies
• A handmade, three-foot-tall dollhouse fosters unstructured, imaginative play
• A Nintendo Wii outfitted with Rockband and other active games
• A “store” where tickets can be redeemed for healthy snacks and drinks
• A full-sized foosball table to develop gross motor skills
• An adjacent kitchen where children learn cooking skills

A STEM-based activity the children especially enjoy is reverse engineering. It involves disassembling a manmade device in order to figure out how it works.

STEM-based learningRecently, Rob showed three children how to remove the housing of a DVD player. None of them had ever used a screwdriver before. Learning the difference between a flathead and a Phillips is a practical skill they will need later in life.

“They were fascinated to see the gears and LED lights when the DVD tray slid out,” Rob said. He pauses. “Actually, I was pretty fascinated myself,” he admits.

What’s next on the agenda for club members? “I was thinking of getting together with [Music Therapist] Chris Wojdak and hosting a Wii Rock Band play-off,” Rob said. “I think the kids would love it.”

Other Posts

Paying Kindness Forward

From Foster to Forever

V is for Volunteer

A Tradition of Giving


Read More

Mount Saint Vincent Appoints New Board Members

DENVER, Colo., February 20, 2014 – Mount Saint Vincent, a leading provider of clinical treatment for abused, neglected, and mentally ill children, announced the appointment of two new members to its 14-member board of directors. Sheryl Gonzalez-Ziegler, Psy.D., LPC, RPT, is the principal owner of The Child & Family Therapy Center at Lowry. John Svisco is chief business process & accountability officer at CoBank. Both individuals are at-large members serving three-year terms ending in December of 2017.

“Because we provide clinical treatment for abused, neglected and mentally ill children, Mount Saint Vincent will benefit greatly from Ms. Gonzalez-Ziegler’s expertise as a child and family therapist. Mr. Svisco’s many decades of strategic business experience will be instrumental in guiding our organization as we move forward in a challenging economy,” said Mount Saint Vincent Executive Director Sister Amy Willcott.

Mount Saint Vincent has served the needs of more than 18,000 children and their families for more than 130 years. Originating as an orphanage in 1883, the agency became a residential treatment center for abused, neglected, and mentally ill children in 1969.

About Mount Saint Vincent

Mount Saint Vincent, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency founded in 1883 by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, provides treatment and education for children who are victims of abuse, neglect, or suffer with mental health issues. Mount Saint Vincent is a leader in the application of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) and trauma-informed care. The agency is one of only four organizations worldwide designated as a flagship site for NMT, an honor bestowed by the ChildTrauma Academy of Houston, Texas. Mount Saint Vincent’s extensive program offers residential treatment, day treatment, in-home treatment, parent education, a K–8 school, and community early learning center. For more information, visit www.msvhome.org.

Elizabeth Roberts, Marketing & Communications Specialist
E-mail: eroberts@msvhome.org
Phone: 303-458-7220 ext. 241

Read More

Cathy’s Story of Hope

In August of 2012, Cathy was excited to board a plane bound for Iowa to join her adoptive parents. With suitcase in tow, she waved goodbye to the medical workers, teachers, therapists and staff at Mount Saint Vincent Home who made this new chapter of her life possible.

Cathy has come a long way in her journey to overcome the effects of her horrifying past. When a social worker first found her in the fall of 2004, she was homeless, abused and neglected, living with her parents in a car. Over the next five years, she lived in a series of four foster homes and two residential treatment centers.

When she arrived at Mount Saint Vincent Home, the severity of her trauma was apparent; she did not make eye contact, did not want to be touched, was nonverbal, and had frequent violent outbursts. According to her case worker, Cathy endured what can only be described as years of horrific physical abuse. She was nine years old.

Cathy was low functioning cognitively and in a constant state of fearful agitation. “Her level of anxiety was through the roof,” said treatment therapist Susie Wiberg, “but notable to everyone was her deep sadness. Her sense of utter hopelessness was profound.” Cathy’s nearly uncontrollable behavior was a challenge for the staff. “There are other treatment centers that would have turned her away,” said director of development Kay Mcdowell, “but we were committed to help this poor child. We never gave up on her.”

Kirk Ward, Mount Saint Vincent’s clinical director, used the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) assessment to evaluate Cathy’s specific needs and determine which therapeutic modalities and treatment techniques were most appropriate.

Ward learned about NMT following a search for a relationship-based, trauma-informed model. “NMT is a developmentally sensitive approach to trauma treatment,” said Ward. “It’s an intuitive model that focuses on the elements that make people human and expands on innate instincts and skills. These include very natural activities like rocking and soothing kids, praising kids—actions that are simple to do but have big impacts on brain development. It’s not a blaming model in any way, so it makes it much easier to collaborate with the people working with the child. It’s all about moving forward with new techniques that can easily be implemented to help a child grow.”

The NMT model was developed by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally recognized authority on children in crisis and founder of The ChildTrauma Academy. The ChildTrauma Academy granted its prestigious Flagship Program designation to Mount Saint Vincent Home in July 2012, making it the fourth treatment facility in the world to earn the distinction.

Following the principles of NMT, Cathy’s days were highly structured and repetitive. She was told where she was going, how long she would be there, what she would be doing, and with whom. The consistency reduced her uncertainty and anxiousness, allowing her feel safe and secure. “Until she felt safe, she couldn’t begin to form relationships,” said Wiberg.

“It took us a long time to get to know Cathy because she didn’t interact with anyone for so long,” recalls Mcdowell. “When she finally did open up, it was clear she did not know how to play—how to have fun and just be a kid. We literally had to teach her how to play.”

Cathy had a strong tactile sense and used manipulatives such as Lego blocks to build elaborate structures. She developed a love of board games, spending many hours with staff members and other residents playing Monopoly.

Cathy’s treatment included art, music, and animal-assisted therapy. All were effective on different levels, but it was the animals that helped her turn a corner. “The unconditional love of the dogs resulted in a breakthrough for her,” Wiberg said. “She loved being with them and clearly felt safe around them.”

Slowly, Cathy began to improve. She formed relationships with staff and other residents. She started speaking more. Eventually, she learned to laugh.

By June of 2012, after three years in treatment, Cathy was ready to be placed with an adoptive family. Her case worker identified strong candidates in Iowa—a childless couple who were willing to work with a special child who required a high level of care.

The couple flew to Colorado for a five-day visit that exceeded everyone’s expectations. “The visit was absolutely awesome,” Wiberg said. “There was an almost immediate bond between Cathy and her prospective family.” Following two days of supervised visits, the couple was allowed to take Cathy off campus. They shopped for shoes and sunglasses, played miniature golf, visited the zoo, and, of course, spent many hours playing Monopoly. By the end of the visit, the couple agreed to adopt Cathy.

Just before she left for the airport, Wiberg asked Cathy how she felt about leaving Mount Saint Vincent. Cathy said, “I’m excited because I know my new mom and dad love me.”

Cathy is home at last.


Read More