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Friends find match for the ages

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Jim Braun isn't trying to change the world by volunteering.

He's just swapping fish stories and spending time with Cordell Day, his Youth Friend.

Youth Friends is a school-based mentoring program for students pre-K through 12th grade. Adult volunteers are triple screened for safety.

Since they were matched four years ago, Braun has spent more than 100 hours with Cordell, a Wilson Elementary School fifth-grader and the son of Candie Davis, said Rae Smith, Youth Friends coordinator.

The buddies spend their time, about an hour a week, at school eating lunch, reading books, playing games on the playground or just talking -- sometimes comparing notes about the fish they caught.

"Jim is one more caring adult in his life," Smith said.

"I have the spare time," Braun said. "A lot of people try to impact the world. I look at it if I can change the world just a little bit, have a little impact on somebody, that's a good thing. ... It's impacted me too. I've learned to play four square. I play sharks and minnows. I gain as much from it as Cordell does."

Braun retired in 2011, but when the two first were matched four years ago, he was still the chief of police in Hays.

Cordell admits to being a little awed the first time they met.

"To hear my name being called by the chief of police was pretty scary," Cordell said.

Now Cordell's buddy is "just a regular grandpa," said Braun, who has five grandchildren.

"If you ever want a youth friend -- a good friend -- ask for Mr. Braun," Cordell said.

The Youth Friends organization started in Hays in 2000.

"Each year my goal is for the volunteers to give 1,000 hours. We have three different types of matches -- one-to-one, reading and knitting," Smith said.

One-to-one matches spend time at school like Braun and Cordell -- eating lunch, working on homework or playing at recess. The read-to-me group meets at Washington Elementary School and the knitting group at Lincoln or Wilson elementary schools.

The program usually has approximately 70 volunteers, including some high school students, but the number is down to approximately 40 this year. No high school students are volunteering because of a schedule change, Smith said.

Volunteers are always welcome, and anyone interested can call Smith at (785) 623-2400.

Smith has two youth friends herself. One match has lasted for eight years.

"I still always get a hug. I've kind of grown up with her," Smith said of her longtime youth friend.

The Learning Tree/Youth Friends was one of nine organizations that received money from Volunteer Generation Fund, a grant program through the Corporation for National and Community Service to support development and expand the capacity of volunteer-connector organizations in local communities.

The Learning Tree Institute/Youth Friends has programs in five communities -- Hays, Pittsburg, Basehor, Anthony-Harper and Emporia.