Lutherans in the Twin Cities

South River mentors helping at-risk school kids succeed

Apple Valley project links adults, school students

Dakota County in the south suburban area of the Twin Cities might not seem like a place in need of mentors to serve as positive role models for kids ages 5-16. But, needs are often hidden in the suburbs, according to Jan Belmore, Executive Director of Kids ’n’ Kinship. Within a seemingly affluent area there are single parents who are stretched to the limit for time and resources. Meeting some of the needs of the children is the mission of Kids ’n’ Kinship.
It’s also appropriate to recognize Kids ’n’ Kinship this month. January is National Mentoring Month — and that’s what Kids ’n’ Kinship is all about.

Headquartered in Apple Valley, Kids ’n’ Kinship is a nonprofit organization that matches adult volunteers with children in need of a supportive relationship and positive attention. Volun-teers share time and activities with kids on a weekly basis, usually one to four hours per week. They serve kids in Apple Valley, Burnsville, Lakeville, Rose-mount, Eagan and Farmington.

The aim is to develop the child’s sense of self-worth, so essential to successful functioning in school, in healthy relationships and eventually on the job.

While most of the activities are one-on-one, Kids ’n’ Kinship was recently the beneficiary of a seventh annual Bowl-a-thon sponsored by the Northern Dakota County chapter of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. Members of the Kids ’n’ Kinship program participate by collecting pledges in the Thrivent-sponsored event.

While activities are im-portant in the program, the most important thing is friendships that are established between volunteers and students (volunteers can be individuals, couples or even families). Jan Belmore says that currently 83 kids are in mentoring relationships and that there are 72 on the waiting list.

So, there’s a need for volunteers who will make a one-year commitment to the program. Typical activities might include just hanging out together, playing games, attending sporting events, sharing hobbies, cooking, taking walks or going to movies. The average mentor in the program serves about two and one-half years. In some cases the friendships established have extended beyond the 16-year age, with kids and their mentors continuing to exchange mail, calls and e-mail.

Adult mentors go through a careful screening process before being matched with a child. There are orientation and training sessions for adult volunteers. Kids participating in the program are referred by school social workers, school nurses, pastors and, in some cases, the parent themselves. The local chapter is part of a national organization founded 34 years ago and abides by the national organization’s standards for quality of program.

Belmore has been with the Dakota County program for 14 years. She has been involved on the board of the Burnsville Lutheran Broth-erhood fraternal unit and, in the first year of the transition to Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, on the Southern Dakota Chapter. Thrivent has been a sponsor of a number of events for Kids ’n’ Kinship, the spring volunteer appreciation event and summer camp, as well as the annual fall Bowl-a-thon fund-raiser.

The Northern Dakota County Chapter of Thrivent Financial has partnered with Kids ’n’ Kinship for many years, providing volunteers and financial support through the Care Abounds in Communities® program. Through the Care Abounds in Communities® chapter program, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans provides funding when the activity involves at least six Thrivent Financial for Lutheran members from different households.

“This year, about $50,000 will be given back to our local community,” said Melissa Notch-Kneisl, 2006 President of the Northern Dakota County Chapter.

Thrivent support also extends to the corporate level. “Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation made a grant to Kids ’n Kinship in recognition of the fine work they are doing,” said David Jones, Grants Program Manager for Thrivent. “The needs for youth mentoring are so great and an organization that does good work is worthy of support. We are very pleased to support Kids ’n Kinship.”
The Burnsville branch of Thrivent has also had an employee presentation on Kids ’n’ Kinship as a means of spreading the word about the program.

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Those interested in knowing more about Kids ’n’ Kinship or becoming a mentor may contact Jan Belmore at 952/892-6368 or by e-mail at jbkinship@ aol.com. More information is also available at: www.kidsn kinship.org.