Kaufman survivor becomes director of 'Caring Place'

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Nancy Jensen, a one-time resident of the Kaufman House in Newton, is now an author and director of The Caring Place.

Editor's Note: This story was edited to correct the name of New Creation Fellowship Church, and to clarify a quotation from Nancy Jensen.

Nancy Jensen sees simple elegance in her becoming the director of The Caring Place on West Sixth. She believes her taking leadership of the organization is a full circle moment. 

"It has been overwhelming good, and overwhelming hard," Jensen said. "... It is kind of unbelievable."

The Caring Place nearly closed earlier this year — financial troubles, the need of a new director part of the struggles the place was enduring. 

"I have always been a part of Caring Place through the years," Jensen said. "Their previous director had retired and it was hard to find another director. Their financials were going down the drain. I said 'is there anything I can do?'"

At one time she need the services within the organization — and more. It's a life story that is hard to tell. She has written one book, and has started a second. 

When she sits in the Caring Place on west Sixth, she is just paces away from where a major piece of her story unfolded. She calls herself a "Kaufman Survivor," having spent a year in one of the "Kauffman Houses" operated by Arlan and Linda Kaufman. 

"The Caring Place was one of the few places [the Kaufmans] would let us go," Jensen said. "When I was working for [WSU Center for Community Support and Research] we would come to Caring Place to do workshops and help with financial reports."

Arlan and Linda Kaufman ran the Kaufman House Residential Treatment Center in Newton. In 2005, they were convicted of forcing its residents to live and work naked and perform sexual acts, among other abuses, as well as illegally billing their families and the federal government for therapy.

Arlan was found guilty of 31 charges of conspiracy, involuntary servitude, and fraud that the couple faced. Ultimately he would spend the rest of his life in prison, as he passed away Jan. 19, 2021.   He was sentenced to 30 years. Linda was found guilty of 30 charges and originally sentenced to seven years, but after a government appeal, her sentence was increased to 15 years.

Jensen was the first person to sound the alarm about what was happening in the treatment houses — an experience she she documented in a book she co-authored with Dr. Nathan P. Swink titled "The Girl Who Cried 'Wolf!'"

"He did not break me, he made me stronger," Jensen said. "Nothing like that is ever going to happen again. He gave me my voice, gave me hope. Because of that hope, the mental health system would say I changed my behaviors. I changed my life."

In an email to the Kansan after print deadlines, Jensen clarified that she became a strong advocate for victims in spite of Kaufman — not because he personally inspired her. 

"I become this but in spite of him or because of the awfulness of what happened I had a voice, I become stronger —  he for sure did not give me hope," Jensen wrote. "... [I] do not want it to sound [like] or give him any credit for who I am now. Being believed after 18 years is what gave it to me."

That means she turned to advocacy — testifying in congressional hearings and spending time in the statehouse to get laws passed to prevent a Kaufman house situation from ever happening again. 

Jensen documents who she called, and how long it took get help for residents in the homes operated by the Kaufmans. 

"I was getting sicker and sicker because no one was believing me because of my mental illness," Jensen said. 

During her mental health journey she tried got some help from her church, New Life Creation Fellowship Church, Prairie View and SRS. 

She, and others, were concerned how returning to Newton would affect her — it was Newton where she was mentally the sickest and she was abused. But she has been fine.

"My closure would be if they would tear that house down,"  Jensen said. "Build another house, or put a little park there. Tear that house down."

Caring Place is an organization for people who identify as consumers of mental health services. As a Consumer Run Organization, it is also governed and lead by people who identify as consumers of mental health services

Caring Place is a consumer-run organization of former and current mental health consumers dedicated to fostering independence and recovery through employment, friendship, socialization, wellness and public awareness. It is run for and by peers with mental illness.

For more information on Caring Place, visit the organization’s page on Facebook or call 316-284-2935. Hours of operation are 6:30 to 9 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday and 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday.