A "buddy system" with theological underpinnings
The Kingship program marks 50 years of ministry during 2004
Matching children from at-risk homes with mentors is the goal of Kinship of Greater Minneapolis. As it has evolved over 50 years, Kinship has shifted its emphasis from matching mentors to inmates in correctional institutions to mentoring for the prevention of incarceration.
As it marks the golden anniversary of its founding, Dan Johnson, Executive Director, says two new areas of emphasis are being added. They are working with children of prisoners and children of immigrants and refugees. “If we stay true to our mission, the need for good role models will never go away,” Johnson said. The program was originally called “Kinsmen” and was organized by Luther Seminary students.
Johnson, who has been with Kinship 21 years, says that the organization works with congregations throughout the Twin Cities in recruiting mentors and mentor families who want to put their faith into action by working with young people who come from single parent households without a male role model. “Our mission also helps churches fulfill this mission of service to the community,” he added.
With a staff of about a dozen, Kinship is headquartered at Christ English Lutheran Church (ELCA) at Lowry and Oliver in north Minneapolis. Other key congregations in the Kinship outreach ministry are Minnehaha Communion Lu-theran Church (ELCA) in south Minneapolis and Olive Branch Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Coon Rapids.
About 270 children are currently matched with a mentor and 125 youths are on the waiting list — awaiting additional mentors in the program. The latter is a responsibility of Lisse Regehr, Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator at Kinship. That’s a new position for the organization.
While much of the Kinship activity is one-on-one or focused on participating families, there are also program events for the entire Kinship extended family. That includes roller skating and bowling parties, fishing events (see photo, page 1) and an adopt-a-family Christmas party.
Johnson said that, while the program’s focus is on the children, “entire families feel supported by the Kinship program.” Most of the youngsters come to the program through word-of-mouth communication, counselors and social workers.
To put a “face” on the program, there’s “Alex” (his mom requested that his real name not be used), age 8, and Jeff, an adult Kinship volunteer. Alex and Jeff have been Kinship friends since November of 2003.
Alex’s dad has been incarcerated since January of 2001, and he’s had no contact with him since. Alex lives with his mom and wanted a Kinship friend with whom to hang out and go fishing — to just do “guy stuff.”
Alex’s mom says Jeff has shown Alex that not all men are like his father. Alex has found that he can count on Jeff to be there and follow through on what he says.
There are plenty of youngsters still waiting for a Kinship mentor. Dustin (also not the real name) is an example. He turned 9 in late October. He lives with his grandmother because his dad is in jail and his mom was accused of child abuse when he was younger. Dustin is “a sweet boy” who needs one-on-one male attention. Dustin loves pickles, McDonalds and Famous Dave’s ribs. He wants to be a fireman when he grows up. Because he “likes to joke around,” Dustin would love to have an adult male friend who has a good sense of humor and who would play outside with him.
Kinship of Greater Minn-eapolis is the “flagship” organization in a network of 46 affiliates in smaller communities, mainly in the Upper Midwest. Johnson said, “Smaller communities are no longer immune to some of the problems we face in the Twin Cities.” The Minneapolis organization acts as a resource to those affiliates.
Kinship has a long-term relationship with Plymouth Christian Youth Center and, at one time, received funding from the former American Lutheran Church. It became a volunteer-based program when support was dropped by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
Since there are no fees for Kinship program participants, the organization relies on volunteer mentors and contributions from interested congregations and individuals. Johnson commented that, as long as there is “a famine of spirit and relationships,” there will be a need for Kinship’s program of optimism, social skills, respect and responsibility.
* * *
Those interested in knowing more about Kinship may call Dan Johnson at 612/588-4655, ext. 202. Or visit www.kin ship.org.