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Pair builds 10-year friendship through Perham's Kinship program

Jill Link, right, has been Sydney Diksen’s mentor for the past decade. Marie Nitke/FOCUS

Mashed potatoes, pickles and Spaghettios.

That used to be Sydney Diksen’s favorite thing to eat. As a little girl, she loved to dip the pickles in the potatoes, take a nice big crunchy bite, and then dig into the Spaghettios, which she always asked to have served “on the side.”

“I would always have to run up to Service Foods and buy big cans of Spaghettios if I knew Sydney was coming over,” laughed Jill Link during an interview on Saturday.

Link is Diksen’s mentor. The two met almost 10 years ago through Perham’s Kinship program, when Diksen was just eight years old. Since being paired up, they’ve gotten together at least twice a month to play board games, go to the park, and just hang out at home, talking and watching shows like “American Idol.”

“The moments that were my favorite were the parts that were just normal,” said Diksen. “I didn’t have a lot of stability like that at my own home, like when my mom was in treatment... The things that a lot of kids take for granted, I didn’t have.”

Being able to go to Link’s house to spend time with her and her family gave Diksen an added sense of security, and was an outlet for fun. She was a very energetic young girl, she admitted with a laugh, and she enjoyed her play time there. Now that she’s older, a junior at Perham High School, she considers Link a good and influential friend, and the two love to just sit and talk.

They’ve always gotten along so well that it never occurred to them to stop spending time together, even though Kinship only asks mentors to commit to one year in the program.

“You need people like Jill in your life,” said Diksen. “And I didn’t have many of them, so I think that’s kept it going as long as it has.”

Link, who was blessed with a son but never had a daughter, said mentoring has provided her with an opportunity to have that “girl influence” in her life. It’s kept her feeling young, she said, while also giving her an added sense of responsibility. She’s also really enjoyed watching her mentee grow up into an admirable teenager.

“I am so proud of Sydney,” Link said. “She’s a fighter. She’s strong. ...Now, she wants to go to Bemidji State to become a social worker, and I thought, ‘If I have helped in any way to get her to that point, then wow, because that’s an awesome decision.’”

She has, in fact, helped get Diksen to that point. Diksen said she’s choosing to go into social work because she’s seen firsthand how it’s helped her, and she wants to be a part of that for someone else someday.

“Jill was one of the people that helped push me onto that path,” she said. “Because she helped me out so much.”

Even after Diksen leaves for college, she and Link plan to keep in touch and continue to get together whenever they can. They’ve gotten to be close, and they don’t see that changing.

Diksen would like to move back to the area after getting her degree, eventually settling down and starting a family of her own, and Link, she said, is the kind of person she’d like to invite to her wedding and introduce to her own children someday.

Both praise the Kinship program for enriching their lives and the lives of so many others around the Perham community.

This January marks the 13th annual National Mentoring Month, a time to reflect on and highlight the positive impact that mentors have on children across the country.

The Perham program currently provides mentors to 44 local children, according to Director Jill Shipman. About 30 more are waiting to be mentored.

“We’re always looking for mentors. It’s not a huge commitment; it’s two to four hours a month, and you make a huge difference in these kids’ lives,” Shipman said. “Sometimes it’s their only hope. It makes or breaks them sometimes.”

“It’s a wonderful program for both the mentor and the mentee,” said Link, who has been so impressed with Kinship that she joined the board of directors about a year ago.

“I wouldn’t have done it for a second if I didn’t fully believe in it,” she said. “It would be great if more people would mentor.”

“It’s really special for kids like me, who need those people in their lives,” said Diksen.

For more information about the Kinship program, or to become a mentor, call 346-7102, or visit

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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