Archive for Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Director wants to eliminate waiting list for Big Brothers Big Sisters

August 22, 2007

It's a shoulder to lean on when the world seems to be falling away; it's a friend when everyone else seems to have forgotten; and it's a role model when that inspiration is missing.

For the children who have found such a connection through the Leavenworth Big Brothers Big Sisters program, it's a life changing experience that prepares them for their future as the leaders of this county.

It's now been two years since the Leavenworth County chapter was started and more than 60 children have been paired with mentors. But there is still a long list of children waiting to be matched, and to make this possible the organization is undergoing a few changes.

In July, the county headquarters were moved from 509 Shawnee to 521-A N. Seventh St., Leavenworth. Meg Hooper, regional public relations specialist, said the new building was smaller and would allow the organization to save money.

Since it's beginning, Hooper said the organization has succeeded in getting the program off the ground and recruiting many volunteers, but the time has come to focus on the fundraising that would allow for expansion.

To carry that torch forward and take the program to the next step, Mona Kerns of Tonganoxie has left her position as chairwoman of the Leavenworth County Big Brothers Big Sisters board and has become the full-time development director.

Empty Nest Syndrome

Kerns' involvement in the Big Brother Big Sisters program started as the last of her three adult children turned 18 and left the home. It was a case of the "empty-nest syndrome" she said, and she knew she needed to find a way to fill that void.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program became the answer to keep her passion for children alive. In August 2005, Kerns became a "big" for the Douglas County chapter.

She enjoyed the time she spent as a big sister and said she worked hard to help her new little sister succeed and teach her to be responsible and that she was worthy of love.

When the regional director realized Kerns was a resident of Leavenworth County, she recruited Kerns in February 2006 to join the Leavenworth board and become a more influential partner in the program.

Since then, her desire to take her passion for helping children one step further increased. Kerns began to research foster parenting and later decided to become a licensed foster parent herself.

She has welcomed several foster children into her home and currently has a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old she is caring for.

"To see these kids wake up every morning with a smile on their face, ready to conquer the world, just makes me feel like I need to be stronger and push forward," she said.

A leader with drive

As the new development director of the Leavenworth organization and a former "big" herself, Kerns has seen her fair share of children's faces light up with true happiness as the first connection between a "big" and a "little" is made.

Her goal for her new position is simple: match the 46 children still on the waiting list with a mentor by the end of the school year.

It's a lofty goal she admits, but nothing could be more important in her mind.

"I see the need in Leavenworth County for good quality mentors, but I also believe that in Leavenworth County there are those good mentors out there," Kerns said.

Kerns recruits volunteers by talking to anyone she comes in contact with she said. Whether she speaks in front of a group at a high school or a business, or if she stops someone in passing, Kerns said she does whatever it takes to increase the awareness for the need of volunteers in the community.

She said many times people don't see how diverse Big Brothers Big Sisters actually is. The days of only matching one big brother with one little brother are over she said.

The Leavenworth program has several options that include matching teens with owners of a business the teen is interested in as well as matching a church member with the child of an incarcerated parent.

"Everyone has something to offer and everyone has a different need," Kerns said.

Hooper said that Kerns has already shown a great success rate in her service to the program. The fundraising and ideas she's brought to the table, Hooper said, will allow the program to develop and serve more children.

The future of the county

Kerns said she believed that many of the children who participate in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program will grow up to become the leaders of Leavenworth County. That's why it's so important now, she said, to make sure they are getting a stable childhood.

According to the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, children who participate in the program are 46 percent less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs, are 33 percent less likely to behave violently and are 52 percent less likely to skip school.

Kerns said the positive role model that a "big" can provide will help the "littles" succeed in the future, but added it takes the help of a community to make that possible.

Beyond the need for volunteers, especially males, Kerns said the only way the organization can survive is through the donations made to the program. From something as small as a ream of copy paper to writing out a check, Kerns said the organization relies on that help for its survival.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a big brother or a big sister to a child, contact Kerns at 913-651-2600 or visit the Web site

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