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'The biggest heart': Wendy Billie and the young girl she mentors, Josie Leitch, have a mutual admiration for each other, new experiences

Wendy Billie and her mentee, Josie Leitch, pose for a quick picture after grabbing drinks at Nest in Perham Monday. One of the things the two have in common is that they both like to color their hair; when they first met, Wendy's hair was a similar color to what Josie's is now. They affectionately describe Josie's latest 'do as "mermaid-style" because of the aquatic blue-green colors. Marie Johnson/FOCUS1 / 3
When Wendy and Josie first met, they got to know each other by talking and drumming inside a teepee at Wendy's home on Otter Tail Lake. Wendy uses the teepee for yoga retreats and workshops. Josie is pictured here with Wendy's dog, Nina, who quickly became Josie's favorite animal. Submitted photo2 / 3
Josie's favorite memory with Wendy is from when they took a hike near a farm in Vergas. Josie says some farm animals caught sight of her and wound up following her along the fence line; a cow, bull, donkey, sheep, llama, goats and more all joined the parade. She had never seen anything like it. Submitted photo3 / 3

Eleven-year-old Josie Leitch hugs with her whole heart.

Her mentor, Wendy Billie, says that's one of her favorite things about Josie. When she goes in for a hug, she opens her arms, tucks her chin down into her chest, and really leans into it, giving a nice, warm snuggle.

"She has the biggest heart," Wendy says. "She's kind to everyone."

The admiration is mutual. Josie enthusiastically describes her mentor as, "Awesome!" and "Totally 'the bomb!'"—quite complimentary lingo that young girls reserve for only their very best friends and most favorite things.

Josie also describes Wendy as "creative," and the two have certainly done some creative things together. When the pair first met in October of 2015, they got to know each other by talking and drumming inside a teepee that Wendy has outside her home on Otter Tail Lake. A Master Yoga Teacher and Energy and Spirit Coach, Wendy uses the tent for drumming circles, workshops and retreats.

"It seemed like a safe place to get together and get to know each other," she says of the teepee. "I saw Josie and felt like she would love it."

She was right; Josie says she had a lot of fun drumming and talking with Wendy that day. The two clicked, and the fun hasn't stopped since.

For the past year and a half, Wendy and Josie have gotten together at least twice a month to share all sorts of experiences. They've been swimming, roller skating and hiking, and they've baked cookies, gone out for Chinese food (which Josie thought was "really, really good"), watched movies, taken a pontoon ride and gotten their nails done. Josie loves getting her nails done; she says one day she might even become a nail technician herself.

Wendy says her favorite things to do usually involve getting out into nature somehow. For Josie, it's all about trying and learning new things. On Monday evening, in fact, right after their interview for this story, the pair headed to Battle Lake to lead one of Wendy's yoga classes. It was going to be Josie's first time doing yoga, and she was really excited to try it.

"I like that she teaches yoga," Josie said of her mentor, "because it's like she's famous. She always knows everyone, anywhere we go."

That means Josie gets to meet a lot of new people through Wendy, and she enjoys that.

Wendy's background in yoga and spiritual guidance helps her to be a balancing, calming role model. Her practice is focused on mind, body and spirit, and she helps people get connected to themselves and nature. She said her conversations with Josie often focus on nature and dealing with emotions.

Wendy believes her mentorship with Josie was "meant to be." She had wanted to volunteer as a mentor for years, she says, but until recently she was never in one place long enough to commit to it. When she signed up for the local Kinship mentoring program, she felt the timing was right, and when she met Josie, she knew it was a good match.

Kinship of the Perham Area is a non-profit organization that serves more than 250 kids in Otter Tail County through one-on-one mentorships, group mentoring programs and group activities. Its goal is to improve the lives of kids "by establishing and nurturing quality relationships with caring adult volunteers to promote stability, support, friendship and community."

The program is perhaps best known for its big annual fundraiser, the Freezin' for a Reason Polar Plunge. This year's plunge will be held on Saturday, Feb. 11 at Zorbaz on Little Pine Lake in Perham.

"I think it's an incredible program for kids to be linked with adults who have something to share," says Wendy. "There are so many kids out there that have their own life struggles, and to be exposed to something different... I think there are a lot of kids out there who need that kind of support."

The benefits aren't only extended to the kids. Mentors, too, repeatedly report getting a lot of out of the experience. For Wendy, who says she adores kids, being a mentor gives her the opportunity to help a child see "a bigger part of the world," to have deep conversations and experiences that go beyond the day-to-day.

"I like to expose her (Josie) to different things," she says. "There's shared attention with parenting, but when she's with me, she gets all my attention. And she loves her 'Josie time.'"

Josie is a sixth-grade student at Prairie Wind Middle School in Perham.

For more information about Kinship, visit kinshipperham.com.

SIDEBAR

If you go

WHAT: Freezin' for a Reason Polar Plunge

WHERE: Zorbaz on Little Pine Lake in Perham

WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 11. Party specials start at 11 a.m., plunge registration at noon. The plunge begins at 1 p.m. A bean bag tournament—new this year—will start at 2 p.m.

MORE: Raffle prizes; cash prizes for best plunge costumes. Beer, brats and pizza free to those with wristbands. For more information, call 346-7102. Fundraiser for Kinship of the Perham Area. For more information about Kinship, visit kinshipperham.com.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 3-year-old son and baby daughter, and their yellow Lab.

(218) 844-1452
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