If not, a new Leavenworth program can help you find it
by Jessica Langdon
LEAVENWORTH — A family that needs help paying the rent would tell you in a heartbeat that the situation is an emergency.
But a solution for them — and so many people in need — is never as simple as dialing 911 and waiting for help to arrive.
Sometimes even figuring out the right place to call is an obstacle in itself.
That’s why Sister Vickie Perkins and the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth are launching Welcome Central — a program that will provide people in need in the Leavenworth community, longtime residents and newcomers alike, a road map of sorts to the services that could help them.
The “clearinghouse” is an initiative of the Sisters of Charity — with collaboration from many churches, agencies and volunteers from across the community.
Staffed by volunteers, it officially opened on Jan. 27, and provides individuals and families up-to-date and accurate information about social service resources available in the city, plus assistance in applying for those services. Job skills training will be available as well.
“While there are numerous local services for those living in poverty, many people don’t know what services are available or have difficulty accessing services,” said Sister Vickie. “Our goal with Welcome Central will be to help them understand what’s available, navigate challenging systems and make important connections.”
While the Leavenworth area, like so many communities, has people living in generational poverty, some other factors specific to the area also contribute to the need, said Sister Vickie.
First, the community has several prisons. Sometimes, people — even whole families — will move to the area to be close to a loved one in jail.
People might also move to the community with someone stationed at Fort Leavenworth. If that relationship ends or a deployment occurs, an individual or family might need resources to help them stay afloat.
So there’s no shortage of needs.
The seed for Welcome Central was planted in 2010, when the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth community converged — as it does every six years — to map out its course for the next six years.
“Over and over, people said, ‘Why don’t we look at Leavenworth?’” said Sister Vickie. “‘We’ve been here 155 years. Let’s take a look at Leavenworth.’”
And so a task force was assembled to examine the various needs of the community.
Another team reached out to the 70 churches listed in the Leavenworth area and asked what standing programs each was already involved with.
The networking paid off.
Help agencies entered the conversation, as did representatives of the target client base — individuals and families facing poverty.
“I’ve worked with those living in poverty most of my life, so I think I know,” said Sister Vickie. “But I wanted to hear it from them.”
What they discovered was sort of surprising.
Although there is no shortage of needs in the Leavenworth area, there is also no shortage of services to meet those needs.
“What really seems to be the case is a clearinghouse [is needed] so that people can find where to go — know where the agency is, what hours they’re open, what they need to take with them because agencies have different requirements,” said Sister Vickie.
Moreover, Leavenworth doesn’t have a public transportation system, so even a trip to the grocery store can be difficult to arrange.
So Welcome Central will also provide regularly scheduled weekly trips to grocery stores from the center.
The only requirement for people who come to Welcome Central — which shares office space with the Youth Achievement Center at 314 Delaware — is that they have a need, said Sister Vickie.
“If you have a need, let’s come in and see if there’s something we can do about it,” she said.
From there, a dedicated team of volunteers will try to find a way to address it.
Volunteers bring can-do attitude
One such volunteer — although here just for a few weeks — is Erin Carroll of Rochester, N.Y.
A recent graduate of Nazareth College in Rochester, she came to Kansas as a Heartland Charity Volunteer with the Sisters of Charity. She hoped to volunteer in a place she’d never been.
“Welcome to Kansas,” said Sister Vickie, excited that Carroll’s time in Kansas coincided perfectly with the launch of Welcome Central.
“I’m just really excited to learn more about the people in need and be of help in any way I can,” said Carroll.
And that’s just the attitude that has truly impressed Sister Vickie so far in all the volunteers.
In meetings and training, she took note of their good questions and willingness to work — especially because this isn’t necessarily your average volunteer role.
“It’s not ‘OK, well, you check this box and then you move on,’” said Sister Vickie, who explained that the volunteer staffers will communicate with one another and share ideas and resources they know of to try to help clients as much as they can.
“They’re really willing to do the hard work of figuring out how to make this happen,” she said. “They’re people who genuinely care.”
Sister Vickie knows there won’t be a perfect cookie-cutter answer for every circumstance. She’s sure they’ll run into questions they don’t know the answers to and situations they aren’t yet aware of.
Staff will carefully document new issues, as well as ways they were able to help clients.
Above all, they’ll provide a listening ear.
And Sister Vickie hopes that once the program gets settled, there will be opportunities for groups to come in and add some educational and fun activities for clients — such as knitting lessons from a group at the Episcopal church.
She is thrilled with the way the community has come together.
Sandy Simmons, a retired teacher and member of Leavenworth First United Methodist Church, is an active volunteer in the community.
As she helped ready the office for its opening, she looked forward to making a difference in a new way.
“We’ve had such a need for a clearinghouse for folks to access the services they need,” she said. “This should fit the bill.”
Want to volunteer?
There’s just one true qualification volunteers must meet to lend a hand at Welcome Central in Leavenworth.
They must be interested in and care about people living in poverty, said Sister Vickie Perkins, SCL, who is leading the program and directing its staff of volunteers.
Background checks will be conducted.
To find out more about volunteering, contact Sister Vickie by phone at (913) 530-4535, or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
What it is: A clearinghouse that will provide information to people in need about available services, assist them in applying for services, and offer training and activities to build skills to help people out of poverty. It will also offer regularly scheduled trips to the grocery store for those in need of transportation.
Hours: Welcome Central is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: 314 Delaware, Leavenworth (Welcome Central shares office space with the Youth Achievement Center.)
Additional information: Clients will sign in with a volunteer. Coffee and refreshments will be available. Volunteers will assist clients in order of arrival.
There is no fee for Welcome Central’s services.