Big need for ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’
Although Vicky Leitnaker works in Lawrence and lives in Olathe, from time to time she makes an important stop in Eudora.
Leitnaker and her family are paired with a 6-year-old Eudora girl through the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program.
Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Douglas County has 45 children on its waiting list, which is larger than usual, said case manager and director Amy Knight.
Drawing volunteers away from Lawrence may pose a little bit more of a difficulty, Knight said, but getting volunteers in the first place isn't necessarily easy.
"We have opened a Baldwin branch within the last year," Knight said. "That really helps because that far away is to the point where it was a little inconvenient for people to get to Lawrence, and it's a long-distance phone call."
The close proximity of Kansas University's campus makes recruitment easier in Lawrence, Knight said.
"We have a lot more to draw from in Lawrence than in Eudora or Baldwin," Knight said.
But that doesn't mean volunteers aren't needed. Knight said the agency serves several Eudora families, and is especially in need of male volunteers.
Although Leitnaker neither works nor lives in Eudora, getting together with her sibling is easier than it may seem.
"It works out well for me to pick her up on my way home," she said. "She spends the evening with us. During the school year, she's at a sitter in Lawrence."
Big Brothers and Big Sisters asks for a year commitment to seeing the child once a week for a three- to four-hour visit. Individuals can become big brothers or sisters, but the agency also has programs for couples and families.
Leitnaker, who works for the agency as a Partnership With Youth case manager, said her family had been paired with the Eudora girl for about eight months. Although people aren't usually as aware of the family program, Leitnaker said working with a "sibling" as a family has definite benefits.
"For our family, it has been a terrific way for our family to do something together," she said. "It's a great way to teach (her teenage children) about commitments."
Her children know that when their "sibling" comes over they can't make other plans to go out with friends.
"It's taught them a lot about other lifestyles and the way other people live."
Working with a 6-year-old allows the family to participate in activities the children have outgrown.
"When they get matched with a family, they have more people to bond with," Leitnaker said.
Potential matches can't just step into the shoes of a sibling. They must first go through rigorous background checks and be prepared for the time commitment.
"We have a pretty thorough screening process," Knight said. "We do three background checks KBI (Kansas Bureau of Investigation), driver control and the Child Abuse Registry."
They then visit the child at home for one-on-one time.
"We like to match kids with volunteers with similar interests, and we want the match to last," Knight said. "We really do try to get to know them quite a bit, and just match them to our best ability."
Making matches that last and provide some continuity are paramount to the organization, Knight said.
From Leitnaker's perspective, being matched with a child is one of the most rewarding types of volunteer work.
"You are with a child, and you can really see the progress," she said. "You get back as much as you give."