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Volunteer program in Perham teaches kids how to build skills, confidence and kayaks

A new volunteer program that teaches kids how to handcraft kayaks is about so much more than just building boats. It's about building skills. Building connections. Building confidence. So far, three local boys are learning the craft, and more are...

Joe Goodman, center, and Florensio Mejia, to his immediate right, are two of the three local boys who are handcraft-ing kayaks for use by Kinship of the Perham Area. They are pictured here with adult mentors Ray Minge, John Minge and Gary Foss, left to right. Not pictured is Andrew Schlosser.
Joe Goodman, center, and Florensio Mejia, to his immediate right, are two of the three local boys who are handcraft-ing kayaks for use by Kinship of the Perham Area. They are pictured here with adult mentors Ray Minge, John Minge and Gary Foss, left to right. Not pictured is Andrew Schlosser.

A new volunteer program that teaches kids how to handcraft kayaks is about so much more than just building boats.

It's about building skills. Building connections. Building confidence.

So far, three local boys are learning the craft, and more are expected to take part in the future.

Once complete, each of the boys' kayaks will be donated to Kinship of the Perham Area, for use by kids during Kinship's summer get-togethers and on field trips.

Three kayaks will be donated this fall, and project leaders hope several more will be built and donated by the end of next summer.

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"This year's been a learning year, so we're only doing three boats," said John Minge, a Kinship mentor and leading organizer behind the kayak project. "Next year, I would like to do more like six. There are a lot of kids that would like to do this, I think."

This year's group of builders has been getting together at Minge's workshop just outside of Perham to build the kayaks, meeting up for about a few hours at a time on occasional weekends throughout the summer, as their schedules allow.

The three boys involved, Andrew Schlosser, age 13, Joe Goodman, 13, and Florensio Mejia, 12, are being coached through the build process by adult mentors Minge and Gary Foss, along with Minge's college-student son, Ray.

As of last week, the boys were nearly finished with their kayaks' wood and laminate frames, and were looking ahead to installing canvas-style polyester outer coverings. They were also shaping and sanding the ends of their paddles.

The boys are building one boat each for Kinship, while Minge and his son construct boats of their own and instruct the kids alongside Foss.

Minge is a long-time woodworker who has previous experience building kayaks. Foss, who works in a cabinet shop, has woodworking experience but has never built a kayak before. In fact, he's never ridden in a kayak, either.

"I'm excited to actually use one of these," he said, looking out at the boats-to-be at the workshop last week. "It'll be my first time in a kayak."

Foss said he's been enjoying his time with the kids this summer.

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"I think the world would be a better place if more people did things like this," he said of the volunteer program. "I love kids; they're the ones who are going to be taking over here soon, so it's a good thing that we're teaching them some skills."

The kids say they've been enjoying it, as well.

Mejia, who used to help his grandfather build boats in Guatemala before his family moved to Perham, said he likes being outdoors and working with his hands. Not the sort of kid who's happy to sit on the couch and play video games, the kayak-building project has given Mejia a good excuse to get out of the house, work outside and socialize with other kids and adults.

He said he's "learned a lot of new things" through the program.

Things like "how to bend wood, and how it can break," Goodman added with a smile.

More than once this summer, the builders have had to deal with the challenges that can come with making a wood-framed kayak, such as boards cracking and splitting, requiring replacement and setting the build schedule back.

But they don't worry too much about delays or mistakes, as the experience is intended to be fun and educational. Of course the kayaks need to be usable and safe in the end, they say, but this project is more about the journey than the destination.

"I was looking at doing this from the point of view of the kids having the chance to learn something," said Minge. "Who knows which kid will say they like doing this, and then this becomes a bigger thing in their life? ...It's the idea of building something. People don't build things as much anymore."

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More adult volunteers willing to commit to future kayak-building projects will be needed, Minge said. To volunteer for this or other Kinship programs, contact Kinship Director Jill Shipman at 346-7102.

Kinship is a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring relationships and service projects to underprivileged youth in the Perham area.

A writer, editor and mom of four (two kids, two dogs), Marie's been in the newspaper business for over 20 years. She started at the Detroit Lakes Tribune in 2017 after working just down the road at the Perham Focus for several years. Before that, she was at the Herald-Review in Grand Rapids, Minn.
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