Over more than three decades, WNY woman has made a difference in thousands of children’s lives

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LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB) — There’s a huge need for foster families right now in WNY. Over the past two years, Baker Victory Services has seen about 230 kids in its foster care program, and on BVS’s campus, there are two homes where kids live full-time until a foster family comes forward. Many times, that temporary housing is at capacity.

“I couldn’t believe that this was going on around here,” Jennifer Richards said, a clinical program coordinator for the emergency foster care program.

“It’s heartbreaking, but also amazing at how resilient these kids are who come having gone through the biggest trauma of their life,” Melanie Bandoh said, another clinical program coordinator for the emergency foster care program.

It’s important to create some sort of consistency for these kids. One way Baker Victory Services does that is by keeping them in the same school that they were in before coming there. A bus from that district will come pick them up and drop them off from Lackawanna every day.

Another way they do that is by having Halli Lavner around.

“I don’t think Halli ever goes home honestly,” Cindy Lee said, the chief executive officer of BVS. “Halli is here all the time.”

At any time of the day, and night, Lavner can be called. And she answers.

“I don’t have any children of my own, no, I think I have enough children here,” Lavner said, the director of foster care programs at BVS.

Lavner said one day while she was pumping gas a gentleman came up to her with his daughter. She quickly realized he was once a teenager in the foster care program at BVS, and thanked her for making such a huge difference on his life.

“As a teenager he really struggled… and I didn’t realize at the time really the impact that everyone was having on his life,” she said.

That moment has kept her at BVS for 34 years.

In the early 1900s, Nelson Henry Baker, or Father Baker, created the OLV Infant House in Lackawanna. It was a sanctuary for un-wed mothers and their babies. More than 100 years later, Halli Lavner is carrying on the tradition of creating a sanctuary space for those in need.

“It’s really all about the kids and the families,” she said.

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