By VICTORIA CALDERON
• Leader & Times
Whether someone is a high school student looking for community service hours, wanting to make a difference or simply bored, there are a wide variety of volunteer opportunities available to begin diving into this summer.
One organization that could always use extra help is the Stepping Stone Shelter.
The shelter is not only a home for those in need of free housing, but also a place that serves free meals to anyone, acts as a satellite for the food bank of Wichita and provides a free garage sale every Saturday morning.
“Every Monday and Thursday, we pick up donated items from grocery stores. Because we’re a satellite for the food bank out of Wichita, we are required to weigh everything, record temperatures and keep records,” Stepping Stone director Pat Allsbury said. “We take what we want out because we serve meals, and the rest of it is given away to other agencies in town that do food cupboards, food boxes, food baskets, that kind of thing. And so, it’s quite a project. Between 3,000 and 3,500 pounds of food a week are processed through here. So I could have help carrying boxes, helping sort what we need and helping carry out for some of these other agencies.”
They also have to sort through all the clothing donated to the shelter. They leave clothing and other donated items, such as furniture, home appliances and more in their basement for residents who leave the shelter. Whatever they cannot use is put inside their fenced area on Saturday morning for their Sharing Saturday, when anybody and everybody can pick up items for free.
“We have a rather large operation, a lot larger than people in Liberal realize. We can house, depending on how many kids you put in a bed, around 32 to 35 people,” Allsbury said. “And we serve meals to anybody who comes in to eat. We serve meals three times a day, 7 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. We serve about 1,800 meals a month.”
After meals, volunteers could also help clean up and wash dishes. Other tasks for volunteers include laundry, putting together bed packs for incoming residents, shampooing carpets and other cleaning duties. At the moment, the shelter could use about five consistent volunteers a week.
“The problem, I think, with volunteerism in Liberal is not that we don’t get volunteers so much as we don’t get consistent volunteers,” Allsbury explained. “By the time somebody comes in and volunteers one time for an hour, and you’ve spent an hour training them, they never come back to do it again.
“If we had volunteers who would come in every week, every two weeks, once a month, whenever their schedule allows, and they are consistent... that would be excellent.”
Of course, volunteering at the shelter is not without reward.
“Lots of people call around the holidays, and they tell me ‘The kids are not coming in this year for Christmas or Thanksgiving, so we thought maybe we can come over and help you serve,’” Allsbury said. “So what I discovered is, when people need to volunteer, they have a need for socialization. We have pictures of lots of volunteers sitting around, just visiting. But that’s okay, because that’s what they needed. I think they come away from it with a feeling of fulfillment.”
Stepping Stone Shelter is located at 1015 N. Washington Avenue. They can be reached by phone at 626-6024.
For those who prefer working with kids, Big Brothers Big Sisters is the perfect organization. The mission of BBBS is to match children in need of a friend to an older mentor. Mentoring changes the lives of everyone involved for the better.
According to statistics provided by BBBS, 90 percent of Littles said their mentor made them feel better about themselves, 86 percent reported their mentors helped them make better choices throughout their lives and 76 percent said they learned right from wrong from their mentors.
“I cannot say enough that 30 minutes once a week can make an impact on a child,” BBBS director Kerry Seibel said. “Just to know that somebody’s there to talk to them boosts their confidence.”
The impact on children facing adversity and trauma is huge, but the Littles are not the only ones influenced positively.
“I think volunteers learn from the program just as well as Littles,” Seibel said. “It helps with their people skills and kid skills, especially if they are looking at going into a field that requires them to work with children.
“There are health benefits to mentoring. It leads to a healthier, happier life by giving back and seeing a young person thrive and do well in school and the community.”
To become a mentor, BBBS requires all Bigs be at least 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. Most high schoolers become involved with the Bigs in Schools program, where the Big goes to the Little’s school to eat lunch with them, help them with homework, etc. However, mentors are not limited to high school students; they are accepted from all over the community.
“Right now is a really good time for our high school kids to start applying if they have an interest in being Bigs, that way come August, we can match them up with kids in the school system,” Seibel said.
The application process to become a Big includes several background checks. BBBS checks the sex offender registry, abuse and neglect registry through SRS, driving background, city and county diversion and references. References can be an applicant’s employer, teacher, relative, spouse, etc.
“We currently have about 27 kids on the waiting list, and our matches range anywhere from 30 to 60. So we always need volunteers,” Seibel said. “We have a huge need for male mentors. We always have a lot of boys on our waiting list. Boys are referred more often.”
Other ways to get involved with BBBS is by participating in their summer community activities, such as the Color Run on Saturday, or by helping around the office. Seibel is the only person working in the office currently, so she said she could use help with answering phones and other office duties.
The BBBS office is located at 505 N. Kansas Avenue, and they can be reached at 624-9000.