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A little help from a friend

Spend an hour with the Kinship mentors and kids and you'll spend it laughing and smiling. If that's not reason enough to sign up and become a mentor, than what is? Perhaps, the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a young person in the...

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Mentor Therese Perro supervises while brother and sister Rebecca and Gunner Lillis measure and stir the ingredients for the their pizza crust during the Kinship pizza and game night. The mentoring program has organized group activities each month for mentors and the the kids they are paired with. (Kim Brasel/FOCUS)

Spend an hour with the Kinship mentors and kids and you'll spend it laughing and smiling. If that's not reason enough to sign up and become a mentor, than what is? Perhaps, the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a young person in the community and your own.

January is National Mentoring Month, and Perham's Kinship Program could use a few mentors. It has about 30 kids on its waiting list, so if you've been thinking about it, now is the time.

Kinship Director Jill Shipman said the nonprofit has been in the Perham area for 26 years and mentors over 60 kids. It covers all of Otter Tail and Wadena counties.

"Groupwise we work with over 200 kids because of the different programs we offer, such as reading buddies, Lego club and sewing club," Shipman said.

Kinship is a nonprofit organization with a mission to pair adult mentors with kids for the purpose of providing a quality relationship with an adult that promotes stability and friendship.

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Mentors and mentees get together twice a month for two to four hours. If folks are unsure of what activities to do on their own, Shipman arranges monthly activities, such as making pizza from scratch and board games.

Mentors go through background checks and training and are required to sign up for one year.

"When they get together outside of the activities I arrange, they might go to the mentor's house and play board games. We pay for them to go to the PACC. We like to encourage physical activity. Just being a friend is great," Shipman said.

She added that many of the boys in Kinship love to go fishing and that if any of the mentors hunt, they will pay for the gun safety course after it's been completed. The Perham Sportsman Club will then put the mentor and their Kinship kid in a deer stand. If they get a deer, after the meat is processed, it's given to the family.

Shipman said one mentor took a group to build kayaks, and now those kayaks are available for use by Kinship.

Mentor Chuck Johnson, Economic Development director for the city of Perham, said building the kayaks was a great experience for the kids.

The mentor, who is a woodworker, completed what a woodworker needed to do, and assigned the aspects of the project that the kids could take part in to them.

"He did a great job letting them assist and be a part of the process of building a kayak and the kids had a huge degree of satisfaction and a deep pride of ownership in getting to work on a project like that," Johnson said.

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Johnson has been a part of Kinship since last summer, and he feels his journey is probably pretty typical. Both his kids are out of the house and have been for quite a while, so he and his wife have more time. But, he said if someone with kids at home is interested, that could be beneficial for the Kinship kids.

"It could be a lot of fun because your own kids can team up with the Kinship kids," he said.

Johnson has known about the program for awhile and has seen Shipman give presentations numerous times over the years. He admits he often thought to himself, "I should do that."

"In the last few years, I felt that tug even more," Johnson said. "Finally, I said to Jill, 'get me moving. I want to do it. I know I should.' "

He added that Shipman is a gem for the program and puts a lot of effort into it.

"She and Kinship are good for so many kids. The program does such significant things for kids in the area," Johnson said.

Activities that Johnson and his Kinship kid, Calvin, who is 14, do together are pretty low key, he said. They might involve woodworking projects or outdoors activities, or he said it might just be coming out to his house to have supper with him and his wife, Darla, and play with their two dogs.

One project they have worked on is an American flag made out of galvanized wire, barbed wire and wood.

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"We have two dogs. He just loves the dogs and the dogs love him," Johnson said smiling. "When he comes, the first thing that happens is he goes down on the floor and there's a big wrestling match. When he's out there, it's fun for all of them."

For someone who might be interested in signing up for the mentoring program and is on the fence, Johnson would tell them to convert that "should do" mentality to "I will do." Or tell Shipman and she will gladly move you along.

He said his favorite part so far has been developing a relationship with someone in a different world than himself and venturing into that world.

"Both as a kid and as a Native American, Calvin is in a different place than I am, and it's been fun to find out who he is and to do things with him that are new and to introduce him to stuff that is new in his life," Johnson said.

Shipman does a great job pairing mentors with kids and she takes into consideration special circumstances, Johnson said, such as his hearing.

He describes his hearing as really bad. He wears hearing aids but still has difficulty clearly hearing and understanding the tone of a younger child's voice, which meant it was important he was paired with an older child so that his hearing wouldn't be a barrier.

Johnson feels that at the end of the day, both the mentor and the mentee are winners when it comes to the Kinship program.

"The Kinships kids gain something from the things they get to do, but you can be proud too because you are doing something good for somebody else and there is a satisfaction that comes with that," Johnson said.

Working with the kids for the last 16 years has also been rewarding for Shipman.

"I like working with the kids. It's great to see them when they are older and see they are the first one to graduate from high school or they are the first one to graduate from college," she said. "Seeing those positive results from the program and then also having some come back and be mentors is great."

Upcoming fundraisers include a polar plunge and 18-hole golf range at Otter Tail on Ice, February 3, and another Polar Plunge and Bean Bag Tournament at Zorbaz on Little Pine Lake, February 10.

For more information on the Perham Kinship program, go to kinshipperham.com.

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