Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Kinship mentors give affirmation to at-risk young people

All it takes is some time, focus, common sense and love

There are 150 children and teens, ages 5-15, awaiting mentors who could influence their lives in a positive way.

The job of matching up kids on a waiting list with adult mentors is the current challenge of Kinship of Greater Minn-eapolis. The program, with a more than 50-year track record, traces its roots to some activist students at Luther Seminary. The seminarians wanted to make a positive impact on the community.

They’ve clearly made one — in a big way.

Kinship currently has 400 mentors matched with 320 youngsters — both boys and girls. The need is for individuals, couples and families to become mentors for 150 kids whose parents have indicated a mentor could have a positive impact on those young lives.

All young people in the program come on a voluntary basis.
The main qualities Kinship looks for in potential mentors are:

* love for children;

* available time to spend with a child;

* reliability.

Dan Johnson, Executive Director of Kinship, says mentors should make a minimum one-year commitment. Some mentors develop long-term relationships with their charges.

Mentor-kid activities can be as simple as just hanging out together, working a puzzle, washing a car, tending a garden or attending an athletic event or movie. Activities need not be expensive. Just having an adult friend is important to these kids.

Kinship provides a careful screening for all potential mentors. The process helps assure healthy social, physical, spiritual and intellectual development of the child. Mentors are needed by children of immigrants and refugees who need a “bridge” to American culture, help in understanding the school system and activities to combat isolation. Most of all the young people need hope.

A newer area of emphasis by Kinship is that of creating options for some of the 7,500 children of prisoners in Minnesota. Johnson says that without intervention, 70% of the children of prisoners will enter the correctional system at some point in their lives. Just like other kids, they need love, guidance and support. A mentor can provide stability in a chaotic, stressful situation and open up the doors of opportunity.

Johnson joined Kinship’s staff in 1983. He likens its ministry to “faith in action” for engaged Christians. “These kids are starving for relationships,” he explained. “We’re looking for commitments that run an average of three years because good things take time. It’s important that the relationships last because the last thing many of these kids need is another broken promise.”

The youngsters who have been in the Kinship program are touched in various ways. Johnson said, “Personally, I was deeply touched by a phone call I received from Scott, one of the recipients of Kinship’s service from years ago. Both he and his brother had stellar Kinship friends for many years. Now, as young adults, they wanted to give back by teaming up and befriending one of the kids on the waiting list.”

A friend of Kinship, Dan Stenoien of Edina has personal experience as a mentor to two young boys. His first relationship, with Mike, lasted over two years and was ended when the boy’s mother remarried. Dan’s next boy, Tom, was nine years old when they met. Tom lived with his mother, grandmother and two sisters in a small house in south Minneapolis. His father was not involved with the family. Dan and Tom were weekly pals over 10 years until Tom went to the University of Minnesota where he graduated in computer science. Today he is a senior computer programmer for Northwest Airlines. Tom is married and, with his two boys and wife, has a solid Christian home. Dan and Tom keep in touch occasionally.

Dan says, “The mentoring experience gave me a great deal of satisfaction and, as most mentors know, the benefits are as much for the adult as the child.”

Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer and 9-year-old Sam from Kinship of Greater Minneapolis are currently featured in a promotional spot on television stations across the state of Minnesota. The promos are designed to show that children can achieve their goals and dreams by having an additional adult role model in their lives.

Mauer says, “There are lots of mentors that helped me along the way.”

What are the benefits to the children and youth?

* a developed sense of responsibility;

* increased respect toward others;

* improvement in social skills; and

* an increase in optimism.

Johnson points to St. Paul mayor George Latimer who, he believes, had a real appreciation of the impact mentoring can have.

Said Latimer, “The world’s most powerful economic tool is when a caring, competent adult spends time with a child.”

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Those interested in mentoring opportunities can learn more at the Web site, www.kin ship.org or by calling Kinship’s headquarters in north Minn-eapolis, 612-588-4655.

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If you decided to become a Kinship mentor, with what sort of youngster might you be paired? Here’s an example:

“Tyler” (not his real name) is a lively seven-year-old boy from Minneapolis. He has seen hardships that no youngster his age should experience. His father was physically abusive to his mother while Tyler was in the home. Due to the domestic abuse, child protection placed Tyler in a foster home. The foster parents were later suspected of physical abuse and neglect. Tyler’s dad was arrested and has been incarcerated for more than a year. He also has a restraining order which is effective for five years. Tyler is now back at home, living with his mother and older brother. He will enter second grade this fall and is looking for a male role model who is willing to share some positive experiences with him. He enjoys riding his bike, running, playing and going to the mall. Tyler said he would like a Kinship friend “who is “loud, funny, and happy!” If that sounds like you, call Merileigh at (612) 722-1621. Or, call to inquire about other youngsters waiting for mentors.