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Great Bend delivers Christmas
Community engagement no problem for Vicki Richardson
comconn Vicki Richardson
Connie Cale, left and Vicki Richardson take a moment amid preparing donated Christmas gifts to client families for delivery from their office at the Kansas Children’s Service League at 3520 Lakin St. in Great Bend.
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I’ve heard people say that they never see me without a smile. That’s true, because you never know when somebody needs that smile.
— Vicki Richardson

Heading into her fifth year as a family engagement coordinator for the Great Bend office of the Kansas Children’s Service League, Vicki Richardson is content that her career path has come full circle. Her job puts her in contact with many families with children that are often in imminent need, even in the holiday season. 

“I thought I had my dream job years ago, but what I’m doing now is really fulfilling,” Richardson said.

Her employment and her off-time involvement puts her in proximity to many events and functions, making her connections in the community an invaluable part of the job. By her own admission, Richardson isn’t sure just how many organizations she has worked in and among within the county. “For sure, you would need all of your fingers and maybe even take off your shoes to count,” she said. Great Bend Pilot Club and the Central Kansas Partnership are among her many priorities.


Richardson’s family moved to Great Bend in 1969 from Winfield, when she was 11 years old. “I was born in Winfield; my cousins were about two or three blocks from Southwestern College. The campus was our playground,” she said.

Her father’s oilfield company relocated to Great Bend and “on the last day of sixth grade, my family packed up and we moved.”

After graduating from Great Bend High School in 1975, she spent a year at Barton County Community College then transferred to Wichita State University to major in physical education. A gymnastics accident while at WSU brought her back home for a couple of semesters and she returned to college at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Okla., earning a degree in Health, P.E. and Recreation. It was at OBU she had her first look at her career path.

“My last semester I did a therapeutic recreation practicum that focused on handicapped preschoolers,” she said. “I also helped the health department there with disabled persons. That’s what led me on my trajectory.”

Coming back to Barton County, she knew she wanted to be a teacher, but not necessarily in a classroom setting.

“I’ve worked with people with disabilities for many years,” she said, noting that she worked at the state security hospital (Dillon Building) in Larned through the 1980s. She expanded her education with a teaching degree in art through Kansas Newman University and BCC and taught art at USD 428 middle school and high school for a couple years, but “teaching wasn’t for me in that sense,” she said. “I’ve always felt I wanted to be known as a teacher, that maybe they’d put that on my headstone. But teaching isn’t always in a classroom. Everywhere there are people that you meet, you can teach them all kinds of things.”

Through state programs, she trained foster parents, advocated for foster children and foster youth. “I was always able to keep my home here, but for a time, there weren’t a lot of jobs with the skill set that I have to use, that paid well enough,” she said.

Meanwhile, her dream job was developing on the horizon.

“One of my best friends from Kansas City was working for Healthy Families there and she said that if I could hold on, there would be an opening in my area soon,” she said. A ribbon cutting for the Kansas Children’s Service League in Great Bend was held on Sept. 20, 2018, at 3520 Lakin St. Richardson was there.

“I knew that this office was coming, so I applied for the family engagement coordinator position,” she said. “That really fit into my skill set.”

Her role as engagement coordinator should read more like client quartermaster, she notes. “It’s why it seems like I’m everywhere, because I’m out looking for resources for our families. After getting referrals and doing the assessments, our families get a home visitor. In the meantime, they might need help with diapers or a car seat or something like that. My connections with organizations in the community helps me know how to connect people with those things.

“I do a lot of things in my off time, but many of those things I’m allowed to do as part of my job.”

At a recent organizational meeting, a fellow member told Richardson that she did a lot of things that aren’t in her job description, but really everything she does is her job. “That’s exactly it,” she said. “They may not be directly related, but because of those things, I can connect people to the resources that they need.”

At home

When she’s not at work or at one of her many functions, Richardson devotes her time caring for the animals that gravitate to her home in the country.

“There are a variety of cats that I feed, along with the occasional possum or raccoon,” she noted. She has opened her home to a cat that adopted her in March. “His name is Sam because I wasn’t sure in the beginning if it was Sam for Samuel or Samantha. The bags under my eyes are from him, because he wants to be fed throughout the night. He also wants outside at 2 o’clock in the morning to sit on the porch and watch the traffic going down the highway. When he first came, he was in rough shape and he eventually let me clip him some; he was pretty bald when I got done.”

In last July’s heat wave, Sam was allowed to be inside. “If he wants something, he usually yowls or swats at something to let me know,” she said. “He hasn’t had somebody around to teach him manners.”

She did have a dog, adopted from the Hoisington, that used to ride around with her in her many travels, but he has since passed. “I think about getting another dog, but I work so many hours and do so many things, I don’t think I could do that again,” she said.

She looks forward to occasional trips to watch the Kansas City Chiefs with her nephew. “I will have to say I’m a huge Chiefs fan, since 1968,” she said, referring to the 1980s and 1990s as “the lean years.” It’s a lot more fun, now, she said.

In the holiday season

This Christmas season turned out a lot better for the families in the community than Richardson expected.

“We do get a lot of families where one or both parents have been in foster care and they’ve had hard times,” she said. “This year, I don’t know why, I thought we were going to have a tough time finding help for our families. The community has really stepped up tremendously.”

Richardson is appreciative of the coworkers in her office and the organizations and businesses that have contributed donations for Christmas presents. The Great Bend Police Department helped out this year by doing the shopping for the presents currently being delivered out of her office.

“I think that the thing I’m most thankful for this Christmas is that we made it to Christmas. We are going to have families that are going to have Christmas for their children, now,” she said.

The Christmas season is a time also for reflection and Richardson is mindful of the ways in which her busy life has seemed to come full circle.

“When I was at Wichita State, I wanted to be a preschool P.E. teacher, but there’s not a lot of call for that. I enjoy working with young people, just being like a mentor to them. Mentoring them and not judging them. 

“I think I was placed in the right place at the right time,” she said. “There’s no logical reason for it; it just is.”

Richardson recalled being on the WMTA in Washington D.C. once and a man came onboard “that looked like he’d just had the worst day ever,” she said. “I made sure that I made eye contact and gave him a smile. I’ll never know if that made a difference, but I can hope that it did.

“I’ve heard people say that they never see me without a smile. That’s true, because you never know when somebody needs that smile.”

In keeping with the holiday season, however, Richardson was recently presented with a situation worthy of an O. Henry ending.

“There was a girl that I haven’t talked with for about 10-12 years, but she’s now living in Germany with her husband and kids,” Richardson said. “She called me and said she hated to bother me, because it was the holidays but she was wanting to apply for a scholarship and would I writer her a recommendation?

“I said of course I would,” Richardson noted. “After all these years and years, she couldn’t think of anybody else to call and she called me for a recommendation.

“I’d do that any time.” 

Community Connections is a regular feature of the Great Bend Tribune. We welcome readers to submit names of individuals who are active in the community that they would like to see featured in a future story. Send suggestions to and explain their “community connections.”