When she was a sophomore in high school, Laura Harris found her calling in life.
After a 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit Managua, Nicaragua, in 1972, Harris was able to travel to the Central American country with a group from her Pennsylvania high school.
“I had that experience and I just saw a lot of devastating situations and how it impacted people’s lives,” Harris said. “I think that probably kept me going in the direction I always thought about.
“Growing up, I always wanted to help people. I think that was always kind of my nature.”
Harris, 59, Ottawa, is now a social work supervisor at the Kansas Department of Children and Families office in Ottawa, 2231 S. Elm St. She said she oversees seven social workers — who investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect and other family issues — and two human service assistants in two offices, one in Ottawa and the other in Osawatomie in Miami County.
“I enjoy the job I have,” Harris said. “I like assisting the social workers and developing their skills and helping them process their interactions with families and looking at options and resources for families with the ultimate goal of trying to prevent the removal of children. Unfortunately, that does happen at times.”
Before Harris started at the DCF office, she came from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to Ottawa University to attend school.
“I thought my mother was trying to get rid of me out of state,” Harris said with a laugh. “I threw the brochure back at her and said, ‘What are you trying to do? Get me out of state?’ and the next thing I can remember is I was out here.”
During her time at Ottawa University, she did her field placement at the Ottawa Social and Rehabilitation Services office, now DCF, she said. The day after she graduated in 1979, she started her career in social work at the same office.
“I have a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge and I think my initial supervisor, Carol Sandstrom — she was from this community and she passed away unexpectedly in 1992 — was a real mentor to me and taught me a lot,” Harris said of why she has stayed for nearly 40 years. “I guess it was something I wanted to continue on.”
When she’s not helping families in the community, Harris enjoys doing work around the house and especially outside, including picking up leaves and similar tasks, she said. She also hopes to pick back up an old hobby — decorating Pysanky eggs, also called Ukrainian Easter eggs — when she retires, she said.
The process is a lengthy one, lasting anywhere from two to 20 hours, she said. The process begins with penciling a design on the full or drained chicken, goose or ostrich egg, she said. Once the design is finished, all the areas remaining white or the color of the egg are then coated in beeswax, where it’s then dipped in dye starting with lighter colors. To preserve the color, the egg is dipped in one color, then coated in beeswax in the areas which are to remain that color. The process is repeated until the design and colors are achieved, she said. The beeswax is then melted off and the egg is covered in polyurethane.
Harris said she really enjoys working on the goose eggs and has sold many eggs in the past at craft shows and other places in the area. She hopes to work on an ostrich egg, which would take a substantial amount of time, after she retires.
“They’re beautiful, really.”
Kate Shelton is a Herald staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter at @kshelton323