KANSAS CITY (KS)
The Leaven [Archdiocese of Kansas City KS]
November 24, 2023
By Moira Cullings
Safe environment coordinators (SECs) and Virtus facilitators are on the front lines of protecting children and vulnerable adults.
“And we recognize that both of those roles, oftentimes, are very difficult and sometimes underappreciated,” said Jenifer Valenti, director of the archdiocesan office for protection and care (OPC).
“So, it’s really important to us that they know how much we appreciate their excellent work,” she added. “And hopefully, they recognize what an important part of the prevention efforts they are responsible for.
“Because it really, in almost every way, starts with those two functions.”
As they arrived inside the parish hall at St. Joseph Church in Shawnee on Nov. 9, SECs and facilitators from around the archdiocese were greeted with a red carpet and a round of cheers.
It was the second SEC and facilitator appreciation day and the first with a theme: Rolling out the red carpet for our stars.
The day included networking opportunities, introductions and updates from the OPC team, lunch and a Q&A.
Father Scott Wallisch, pastor of St. Joseph, led the group in an opening prayer, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann shared a recorded video message.
“Your dedication and work in this unique ministry is helping to ensure the safety of many children and vulnerable adults,” said Archbishop Naumann.
“Please accept my heartfelt gratitude for your leadership and hard work that has been essential for the success of our local program,” he added.
Stan Nill, the Virtus coordinator for Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, was grateful his work was recognized during the appreciation day.
“It’s really quite special and much appreciated,” said Nill. “The staff of the office of protection and care shows their gratitude and constantly reminds us that they couldn’t do their job without Virtus coordinators doing their jobs.”
All adults who work and volunteer with children in the archdiocese are trained in the Virtus Protecting God’s Children program, which educates about the warning signs of abuse, how to prevent abuse and how to report it.
Nill became a Virtus coordinator in 2006 while he was working as Holy Trinity’s parish life director.
“I’ve worn several hats over the years while working for my parish,” he said, “and I feel there is no work that I have done that is more important than my role as Virtus coordinator.”
Mary Mueller was among the first group of facilitators trained in 2002 while she was working for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri.
In 2006, she was trained to facilitate Virtus sessions for the archdiocese, and in 2020, she took on the role of SEC.
In that position at St. Joseph, she takes care of administrative tasks by making sure volunteers and employees are trained in Virtus and have up-to-date background checks.
“I work with the ministry leaders, school and other groups to maintain a high level of compliance with the ‘Charter for Protection of Children [and Young People]’ for our parish community,” she said.
Mueller said that when parents entrust their children and vulnerable members to the parish and school, the parish has an obligation to provide a healthy and safe environment.
“For me,” she said, “it is not enough to just recognize that we have at times fallen short of deserving that trust.
“It is vital to be part of the solution, part of making sure that all of us as church are working together to raise healthy children and support faith-filled families in our parish communities.
“We have to move forward together.”
Valenti hoped the appreciation day would show the group of SECs and facilitators how much they mean to the archdiocese.
“I think a lot of times, people don’t really know how much work and effort and time is going into our ministry behind the scenes,” she said. “And it’s being done by these people.
“So hopefully, by highlighting their work and recognizing that contribution, that will also help our whole community to understand what it really takes to create a really strong safety net of protection for our vulnerable.”