June 2024

Operation Breakthrough

While giving back to the community is at the heart and soul of the culture at JE Dunn Construction, if there’s one nonprofit in the Kansas City area closer to Bill Dunn Sr.’s heart than any other, it’s likely Operation Breakthrough.

A champion of Operation Breakthrough, which provides a safe, loving and educational environment for children in poverty, Bill Dunn Sr. helped introduce the organization to Kansas City’s philanthropic community, garnering support and making an impact far greater than he imagined.

He began inviting leaders and executives from other Kansas City businesses to hear about Operation Breakthrough and the impact the organization was making on the lives of children in the community. This was the beginning of a strong relationship between Bill and Operation Breakthrough.

JE Dunn became Operation Breakthrough’s building partner, with multiple employees participating in several projects. Bill became chair of the nonprofit’s first-ever capital campaign in 2002 and served as honorary co-chair for Operation Breakthrough’s 2018 annual fundraiser with his wife, Jean.

A recent building project, The Ignition Lab, powered by 87 & Running with Operation Breakthrough and Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs tight end, expanded the nonprofit’s services to students in grades 8-12, advancing their skills in STEM fields. The Ignition Lab also gives students industry and work experience, helping them in their post-graduation careers or through college admissions processes.

“Our employees love working and serving with Operation Breakthrough, because their mission truly is inspiring,” said Nancy Phelps, director of JE Dunn’s Community Impact department.

Through the years, JE Dunn employees have been engaged and involved with the organization through volunteering opportunities and board service. Operation Breakthrough president and CEO Mary Esselman’s son, Michael Esselman, works at JE Dunn. Michael has held mashed potato drives for the past several years with JE Dunn employees to feed Operation Breakthrough families at Thanksgiving. As a company, JE Dunn gathered 1,000 boxes of mashed potatoes for Operation Breakthrough’s Thanksgiving drive in 2023.

Beth Soukup, JE Dunn’s CFO, serves on Operation Breakthrough’s board of directors, most recently as Board Chair.

“The mission of Operation Breakthrough is to provide a safe, loving, and educational environment for children in poverty and to empower their families through advocacy, emergency aid and education,” Soukup said. “More than 70% of the families we serve live below the federal poverty guidelines.”

In honor of Bill Dunn Sr.’s 100th birthday, Operation Breakthrough was one of four nonprofits to receive a donation from JE Dunn. In addition, in honor of the late Jean Dunn, another donation was made, and the pavilion was dedicated as the Dorothy Jean Dunn Pavilion.

JE Dunn’s ongoing partnership with Operation Breakthrough has been rewarding for the company and its employees. It’s the type of giving that John Ernest Dunn Sr., founder of JE Dunn, envisioned when he established the company 100 years ago.