A Camp Fire leader gives children important lessons about the outdoors and themselves.
As a volunteer leader of Camp Fire clubs in Lecompton for nearly 20 years, Vicki Leochner has shaped the lives of countless children.
Leochner enjoys seeing them around town and hearing their success stories. She recently bumped into one of her former students at the grocery store.
"She came up and gave me a hug and thanked me for being her leader in Camp Fire," Leochner said. "She stood and told everyone in the store that I was her Camp Fire leader.
"She can't wait for her kids to get old enough to be in the group, and thanked me for just being there for her. I just love that feeling that you've made a difference in somebody's life."
Camp Fire Boys and Girls is a national organization aimed at helping youths, ages 5 to 18, develop life skills, social responsibility, health and leadership skills through clubs and outdoor and self-reliance courses. Leochner volunteers with the Shawnee Council of Camp Fire Boys and Girls, which encompasses Lecompton and the greater Topeka area.
Leochner, 48, is co-leader of a large after-school club of children that meets two hours each week. The group is active with community projects, arts and crafts, guest speakers and discussion groups. Leochner has also served on the day camp planning committee for many years. Her co-leader, Elaine Cox, was a member of the first Camp Fire club formed in Lecompton, and went on to earn Camp Fire's highest youth award, the Wohelo Medallion.
Leochner, whose five children participated in the Camp Fire program, enjoys watching the progress of Camp Fire members.
"It's an opportunity to help the young people grow up and to become, hopefully, better human beings," Leochner said. "We want them to learn to think for themselves, to be prepared for the world. We kind of give them just a little boost or a little help if they need it -- kind of point them in the right direction."
Leochner stresses community service and encourages children to honor the Camp Fire slogan --"Give Service." The children clean around town, make cookies and valentines for patients at the Colmery-O'Neil Veterans Administration Hospital, and collect items to give to residents at nursing homes. Leochner said many of the residents don't have any family and appreciate "something extra," such as a hair brush, cologne, posters or a bouquet of flowers.
Leochner and the children look forward to assisting with Camp Fire's Santa's Warehouse each November, where individuals donate items for the needy.
"I like for the kids to know that they don't have to get paid for everything," she said. "They can donate a little bit of time to help somebody else and they'll get rewarded in other ways, like that good feeling you get in your heart when somebody says `Thank you' or gives you that little acknowledgement."
Leochner is also instrumental in coordinating the community tree lighting in December, when Lecompton residents can visit Santa Claus at city hall. The event is sponsored by the area's Camp Fire clubs.
Leochner has learned a lot about patience from Camp Fire and how to get along with people.
"They're a great bunch of kids," Leochner said. "These kids, they need a little hug. They need reassurance that somebody is there if they need to talk.
"Sometimes they just don't get that because of all the things that people get involved with. However, we have a great bunch of parents who step up when needed and help out. The kids love it and so do us leaders."
Steve Halbett, executive director of Shawnee Council of Camp Fire Inc., said Leochner has been a role model to the hundreds of children she has worked with for nearly 20 years.
"Vicki is vigorous and creative at developing new service opportunities for Camp Fire children in Lecompton," Halbett said. "Most importantly, she can be counted on for a smile, new ideas and love for children."
When Leochner is not volunteering or spending time with her children, she is busy working as a tour guide at the Kansas Territorial Capital Museum.
Leochner has been honored for her contributions to Camp Fire with the Sebago and Waken awards. She treasures the hugs and the friendships that she has made with the children over the years, and looks forward to building new and lasting relationships.
"I like for the kids to ride by my house and say, 'Hi Vicki, how are you?'" Leochner said. "I've even had some of them call me because mom and dad are running late and they're home by themselves. In the wintertime, when it starts to get dark and they hear a funny noise, they know I'm here."
-- The Volunteer Profile is provided by the Roger Hill Volunteer Center.