Laura Ehrlich, Customer Service Representative II

Laura Ehrlich, Customer Service Representative II
Posted on 02/25/2022
Laura Ehrlich (pronounced Ur-lick) is a familiar face and voice for Lenexa Parks & Recreation. For 15 years, she’s been a customer service representative — answering questions, helping people reserve facilities, signing up patrons for programs or classes and doing odds and ends to keep things humming along.  

Laura could give you a list of things she’s responsible for but it’s working with people, especially seniors, that makes her love her job — a passion she found in school.

“In college, our instructor took us to three different nursing homes,” she said. “At the first one, the walls were white, there was little color and hardly any activities. The people were all in wheelchairs because that was easier for the staff. It was a very depressing place. Then he took us to one that was better. There was some color. They had a few activities. Some [people] in wheelchairs, some walking around with walkers. There was improvement. Then, he took us to a third one. There was so much going on — music, activities, announcements. The people were encouraged to walk independently, to engage with one another and to enjoy programs. They were happy. When we went back to class, he said, ‘I wanted you to see the impact recreation can have.’ I saw the difference it made to have interaction and to have something to do. That changed me.”  

After taking that class, Laura pursued and earned a degree in Parks & Recreation with Special Populations and Recreation Administration from Kansas State University.  

“To be happy and healthy, people need to socialize, be productive in some way and to have physical exercise," she said. “Lenexa Parks & Rec offers all those things.” 

Today, Laura divides her work time between the Parks & Rec desk at the Lenexa Community Center and the Lenexa Rec Center. Being a customer service representative is not just about answering questions. Sometimes it’s getting to the bottom of a problem, being a good listener or even a friend. 

Laura Ehrlich headshot photo “A while back, Lenexa Parks and Recreation staff had a seminar where the speaker told us ‘People don’t always come [to the Lenexa Rec Center] because they want to join a fitness center. Sometimes they want to see a smiling face and feel like they belong somewhere. That is part of your job. A lot of times people just need someone to talk to.’” 

Interacting with the senior population comes easy to Laura. She genuinely enjoys being in their presence and making them feel welcome. It’s no surprise senior patrons feel comfortable sharing life stories with Laura and even befriending her.

“People, no matter what age, need to know they are valued, and that they still matter,” she said. “Seniors have wisdom, and you can learn so much from them.” 

When Joe, a longtime visitor of the Lenexa Community Center who was also part of the senior men’s basketball program, needed a home for his dog Charlie, he asked Laura. Joe knew his life was coming to an end and he thought Laura would take good care of his four-legged friend who had been his companion for eight years. And she did. The timing was just right because Laura had recently lost one of her own dogs. 

Lenexa senior men's basketball program members taking a group photo

When another patron was hospitalized and no longer able to join his friends at the community center, Laura gathered a group photo of the guys holding letters that spelled “Miss you.”  

And when Laura’s mom, Jeanine, was diagnosed with mouth cancer, Laura became her caretaker.

“Mouth cancer is one of the worst things you can go through, and my mom had no other children who could help her,” Laura said. “My one sister lives in Africa. It was just me. I tell you that because the City was wonderful to me and let me be there for my parents.  I felt very fortunate. I had so much on my plate. My dad was in and out of the hospital too. My bosses and co-workers were all amazing.” 

Jeanine was sad she wouldn’t live to see Christmas, but Laura reminded her that the annual senior Christmas banquet at the community center was coming up and she could attend. Laura brought her blender to work and blended the banquet food so her mom could eat. Jeanine wore her new Christmas outfit and enjoyed her last Christmas celebration with her daughters, friends and the community. The senior banquet was on a Monday that year. Jeanine passed away that Friday.  

“I got to both work at that very special event and to see my mom be happy,” Laura said. 

Be it Lenexa history or tips for how to stay healthy, hone a craft, or even a dance, Laura gleans wisdom from the many faces, young and old, that she sees and interacts with daily.  

“People are usually happy when they come to our facilities,” she said. “They are coming for a class or getting ready to celebrate an event or birthday.”

However, it’s not always easy. Sometimes people are dishonest or try to cheat the system. Laura says that’s the hardest part of her job.

“We have rules, and we have to follow them,” she said. When I started, it was difficult to confront people. Now, I’m not afraid to address issues and to tell people "no”.”

Laura says to be in customer service you need to be a multi-tasker who cares a lot about people.  

“When dealing with conflict, it helps to let people know you want to help them and to really listen to their concerns,” she said.

At the end of the day, it's all about community; giving people a place to build community and simply being community. Laura said it's an attitude of acceptance –– knowing every person has value. Laura feels very fortunate to work for the City of Lenexa, because there is a common desire among the staff to provide a great experience for the community.

Laura has been a Lenexa resident for 23 years and resides with her husband, Ben. A former college tennis player, she enjoys staying active (and competitive) – be it camping, crocheting, playing cards, corn hole or teaching a class at the Lenexa Rec Center on brewing Kombucha.  
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Published Feb. 25, 2022