Archive for Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Basehor school volunteers earn national honors

August 29, 2001

Two Basehor women, known for their extensive volunteer work, will travel in October to St. Petersburg, Fla., to accept an award in the Eckerd 100 Salute to Women program.

Mary Leonard and Tammy Potts are being honored because of their successful efforts in setting up a YouthFriends program of school volunteers at the Basehor-Linwood schools.

The two women were nominated by Marilyn McGown, the district's faculty adviser for YouthFriends.

McGown, who is elementary school counselor at Glenwood Ridge, said Leonard and Potts deserve the award.

"They have volunteered so much time and done such a wonderful job of coordinating the YouthFriends program across the whole district," McGown said. "It's really touched the lives of many children and adults."

But McGown's application was nearly discarded because two names, not one, were submitted, Leonard said.

"When Eckerd realized it, they almost threw out this nomination because of the two names," Leonard said. "But then they decided it had so much merit that they went ahead and honored it."

Because technically, only one name was allowed, Leonard is included in all of the Oct. 3-5 events, but Potts will join her for the awards ceremony.

Potts said she's thrilled that their YouthFriends project has gained recognition.

YouthFriends strives to put caring adult volunteers in schools where they mentor students.

The mentoring may consist of just talking, or of helping with school work.

Since YouthFriends began in 1995 in six Kansas City-area school districts, it has expanded to include hundreds of schools in eastern Kansas and western Missouri.

Most YouthFriends groups are operated by people who are paid. This one, however, has been strictly volunteer.

The women estimate they put in a total of about 1,000 hours of volunteer labor into the project during its first year at Basehor-Linwood.

Leonard and Potts emphasize that prior to last year's start up of YouthFriends, the Basehor-Linwood schools already had a good resource of volunteers.

But in order to switch over to YouthFriends and keep the volunteers they had, as well as recruit new ones, everyone had to go through screening, which includes a Kansas Bureau of Investigation background check, as well as training.

Currently, the district has 114 YouthFriends volunteers working in the district. And, they always welcome more.

When Leonard first approached Potts about starting a YouthFriends program, Potts said if Leonard could get the school board's approval, she would work with her. At that time, Potts was the coordinator of the volunteers at Basehor Elementary.

The women started this school year with a poster contest in which children made posters that showed what YouthFriends are. A winner from each school in the district will receive Kansas City Chiefs autographed memorabilia. And, posters will be used across the district to help promote YouthFriends.

The women are also planning this year's speaker circuit in which celebrity-type figures whom the students admire will visit the schools, giving motivational speeches.

The women have the year lined out, and in order to comply with YouthFriends, have to keep track of all of the volunteer work that is done. Much time, they said, is spent entering data on a computer.

Potts said the results of their work make it worthwhile.

"I do it for the smiles that you see on little children's faces, who, for whatever reason, need that little extra encouragement that caring adults provide," Potts said.

"Also, it connects the community with the school district and we desperately need our children to grow up in a very positive and encouraging environment."

Leonard said she sees YouthFriends as a way to help youth.

"I have a burden for what young people have to deal with today," Leonard said. "Because I think with working parents and the time constraints that they have on them that young people have so many more pressures than I had when I was a child."

Potts is quick to say that Leonard's volunteer activities have extended outside of school.

"She's active in her church and in other areas of the community," Potts said. "And, she was named Basehor's citizen of the year in July."

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