A Non-Profit Alliance for Kansas City

A Non-Profit Alliance for Kansas City

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were closed and Kansas City families needed help more than ever before, an alliance of nonprofit leaders took the initiative to collectively establish educational programs for children in our community without any direction, funding, or support. Without hesitation, they successfully created an alliance to address the need for local child education services.

“We decided we were going to believe in each other. We’re going to trust one another and trust this process. That, as long as we’re doing the right thing for children and families, everything else will be fine … I think it was our finest hour.

— Tonia Gilbert, Executive Director, Upper Room

Five non-profit leaders, including Tonia Gilbert, formed and somehow found funding for the Out-of-School-Time Collaborative that would allow them to open locations across the city where young people could stay all day, be safe, and continue to learn. The program launched in September 2020, and despite many challenges, successfully continued through the end of the academic year in May 2021.

Please visit the Kauffman Foundation‘s original post with full details.

Kansas City non-profit leaders

ELC is Closed on July 6, 2020

Dear Parents,

Please know that the health and safety of your loved ones are our utmost priority. We were notified that one of our staff may have been exposed outside of the Early Learning Center to COVID-19. Out of an abundance of caution, Upper Room Early Learning Center is closing Monday, July 6, 2020, in order to have the Center deep cleaned, and all staff are making arrangements to receive testing as well. The staff in question is self-quarantining until notification of test results. Upper Room is taking every step to ensure the Early Learning Center is a safe environment and plans to reopen on Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

Safety procedures we have in place include:

  • All people entering the center must wear a face mask;
  • Taking temperatures of every staff and child daily;
  • Not allowing parents in the classrooms – staff will take your child back each morning and bring them to you each evening;
  • Staff being tested for COVID-19;
  • Providing sanitizer and wipes for computer sign-in/out;
  • Washing hands throughout the day;
  • Maintaining six feet distance in the foyer area and in classrooms as much as possible;
  • Cleaning and sanitizing all areas and toys throughout the day; and
  • Deep cleaning the center on a regular basis.

Upper Room has had no positive COVID-19 tests at our facility, and we are doing everything possible to continue not to have any. Our goal is to keep the lines of communication open to everyone. Please remember that if your child is not feeling well, do not bring them to school. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to call us anytime.

Thank you,
Kris Collins
Director, Educational Programs
Upper Room KC

Hogan Preparatory Academy in The Mary Kelly Center

Collaboration Among Education Organizations Results in Win for All Parties

November 1, 2018 (Kansas City, Mo.) – In a strategic partnership that benefits local education organizations, Hogan Preparatory Academy will begin leasing The Mary Kelly Center from Upper Room in 2019.

“We are pleased to be returning to our primary service area,” said Dr. Tanya Shippy, Interim Superintendent of the HPA school district. “This will better enable us to serve our students and families,” added Shippy.

“Through this collaborative process, we quickly realized our communities are stronger and healthier when we work together. We began referring to our partnership as a win for our organizations and above all, the children and families we serve. When we unite our vision, we serve our communities more effectively and efficiently and that’s a win-win-win,” said Dr. Alexis Petri, HPA’s School Board President.

Hogan Preparatory Academy, the K-12 public charter school district, grew out of the former Bishop Hogan private Catholic high school. When Bishop Hogan High School closed, a group of parents and teachers founded Hogan Preparatory Academy in 1999. Wanting to make a difference for younger students, HPA opened its middle school in 2011 and its elementary school in 2013.

The third beneficiary of this collaboration is Upper Room, a not-for-profit providing early childcare, after-school and summer academic programs. HPA will lease the Mary L. Kelly Center building, located at 2803 E. 51st Street, and will partner with Upper Room to deliver programming outside of the school day and year.

“Having Hogan Prep Elementary utilize our space for its instructional needs is a perfect complement to our offerings and it enables us to share resources that will greatly benefit both organizations,” said Tonia Gilbert, executive director of Upper Room.

The HPA elementary school will continue operating in this location through the end of the 2018-2019 school year. During the summer of 2019.

“This is a great example of area charter schools working together to benefit the children and families they serve,” said Dana Cutler, education lawyer and recognized advocate of quality public education. “We should look for more such collaborations among our public schools, both charter, and district, to increase opportunities for access to quality education for all children” added Cutler.

About Upper Room 

Upper Room provides high quality, out-of-school educational programs while actively engaging and challenging a diverse population to enjoy learning from cradle to college.


About Hogan Preparatory Academy 

Hogan Preparatory Academy is a premier college prep district developing educated, compassionate, self-motivated leaders who prepare for lifelong career options and give back to their community.


Staff Spotlight – Lee Barnes, Jr.

Lee Barnes

Lee Barnes, Jr.

Director of Operations at Upper Room/Upper Room, Inc.

Tell us a little about your family and where you are from.
I am from Kansas City, MO. I have a wife, Terri Barnes, and a son, Lee Barnes, III.

How long have you been at the Upper Room and in what roles/capacity?
I have been here for 13 years; started as Director of Operations and been here ever since. In June of 2016, I began as Interim Executive Director.

What made you desire to work for the Upper Room?
I guess I had been working with the DuBois Learning Center and the director there asked me if I would help them run their summer program and that got me in touch with the Upper Room and that was the start. I was kind of asked if I could help them.

What is your favorite program that the Upper Room provides, and why? (I know people aren’t supposed to have favorites, but everyone does!)
Probably the music program, because I am a musician myself and understand how music helps children enhance other skills.

What hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?
I enjoy music and play the drums in a band called “Ground Level.” I like sports, I used to play baseball through high school and college, and now enjoy watching all sports.

Former Student Writes a Letter

It isn’t very often that we get to read something that a former student has written about their experience with the Upper Room. However, we have been lucky enough to receive a letter written by a junior at University Academy, Safiya M., who was part of our Summer Academic Program for about 7 years. When her younger sisters were enrolled in the summer program this past year, Safiya returned as a volunteer because she wanted to help out. “When I attended the program I enjoyed it and always wanted to come back and volunteer,” Safiya said.

Her former teacher in the program, Pamela Peppers was the one who showed us this letter. “She is so special. She started in the program years ago and was very involved in her studies,” Ms. Peppers said. Upper Room has been so touched by Safiya’s letter, that we decided to share it. We believe that all of our teachers, volunteers and supporters should read it and see the impact that they have made on our students.

“My name is Safiya and I am 17-year-old junior attending University Academy. I’ve attended the Upper Room program for about 7 years and I have gained a lot from it. Through the Upper Room program I’ve gained an even greater interest in reading and doing my best to succeed. Now, I am an Honor Roll student and a part of National Honor’s Society. I was also chosen amongst other candidates to travel to Tanzania for 5 weeks. Through my journey to get to where I am today, the Upper Room and many other accelerating programs have played a huge part.”

Thanks, Safiya for letting us share your letter! We love seeing how the Upper Room has shaped the next generation of young leaders.

Skip to content