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Submitted photo Janene Lang with her mentee, Nicole Moenkedick, at age 7, holds her baby granddaughter, Dannika. Janene and Nicole first met when Nicole was just five; she's now 18.

13 years and still strong; Mentor, mentee enjoy long-lasting friendship

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Editor's note: This is the fourth in a four-part series featuring local mentorships, in recognition of National Mentoring Month. Starting Feb. 28, we will be publishing information on local children waiting to be mentored. Called "Kinship Corner," the new feature will run on a monthly basis, focusing on one child per month, for as long as the need is there.

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Sometimes becoming a child's mentor really means becoming something infinitely more - a lifelong friend.

When Janene Lang first met Nicole Moenkedick, Nicole was just a young girl of five. Spunky and smiley, she had a natural love for animals, music and dancing - all things Janene could relate to.

The two spent a few hours together every week, doing "girly" things like playing beauty shop, and simple, domestic things like getting groceries and making dinner together.

Nicole quickly bonded with Janene and her husband, Denny, as well as their dog, Reno. The Perham couple would spend time with Nicole at their home on Big Pine Lake, swimming and boating. They even went fishing once.

"It was an impromptu thing," Janene recalled during an interview last week of their one spontaneous fishing trip. "And she just caught fish after fish after fish."

Another time, the two girls took a road trip to McGregor, Minn. to visit some of Janene's family and see their new pony. Nicole loved the young horse and got along well with her mentor's granddaughters. She had a blast.

Times in the car were especially fun for the pair, said Janene, as they both loved to sing and dance along with the radio - particularly to their favorite band, Styx.

Over the years, Janene and Nicole's relationship evolved. As Nicole got older and busier with school, friends and other activities, she and Janene cut their time together down to twice a month, and started going to more special events rather than hanging out at home.

Today, Nicole is an 18-year-old senior at Frazee High School - and she and Janene are still close.

Though the two no longer meet as regularly as before, they still get together at holidays, birthdays and whenever else possible. Nicole still considers her mentor a major influence in her life.

"I love Janene and Denny," she said in a telephone interview Monday. "I've been with them since I was five. We've had so many great memories."

Having a mentor meant Nicole, "had somebody other than my grandparents and my mom to help me grow up and become the person I am today," she said. "Having a mentor is the best thing that anyone could ever have. They do so much for you, helping you and everything. It's so great and wonderful."

It's been great for Janene, too. She and Denny were new to Perham when they first met Nicole, and their kids were already grown and out of the house. She was working at United Community Bank, where she saw a flyer for Kinship of the Perham Area and thought mentoring would be something she'd enjoy.

"I figured I'd just get into it and see how it went," she said. Required to make a one-year commitment to the program, she had no idea that, 13 years later, she'd still have a friend in her mentee.

Watching Nicole become so comfortable with her and her family is one of Janene's favorite memories of mentoring.

"She became like a member of our family," Janene said. "So at ease with us and our dog."

And when Nicole talks about things they did together a long time ago, Janene said: "That means a lot to me, that they were good memories for her, too."

Though they see each other less frequently now, both Janene and Nicole say they don't picture their friendship going away any time soon.

"I'm sure that we'll always be in touch," Janene said.

For more information about mentoring in the Perham area, visit www.kinshipperham.com.

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