‘We get silly sometimes’: Local mentorship pair love to laugh

When Judi Maddock retired from teaching after 34 years in the field, she wanted to find a way to keep working with kids. "My interests always draw me back to children," she said in an interview on Monday. "I thought, 'How can I incorporate my ret...

Marie Johnson/FOCUS Judi Maddock and her mentee, 7-year-old Bre Wouta, like to do all kinds of different things together, from roller skating to painting. They’re also making a picture book based on the time they spend together.

When Judi Maddock retired from teaching after 34 years in the field, she wanted to find a way to keep working with kids.

“My interests always draw me back to children,” she said in an interview on Monday. “I thought, ‘How can I incorporate my retirement in with my love of kids?’”

That’s when she met Jill Shipman, the executive director of Kinship of the Perham Area. Kinship is a nonprofit that arranges and supports mentorships between local youth and caring adult volunteers.

The meeting came at the perfect time; mentoring was just the sort of thing Judi was looking for. She learned more about the Kinship program, and soon signed up to become a mentor.

Before long, she was paired up with a local elementary school student, Bre Wouta. That was about a year and a half ago, and at least twice a month since then, the two have gotten together to make cookies, play board games, swim or skate at Judi’s lake home, and more.


“She pushes me,” said Judi of her spunky mentee. “She makes me go tubing, roller skating, race her up a hill... It’s good for me. There’s no reason I can’t do those things. I’ve always been an active person.”

Mentoring “fulfills needs for both of us,” she added. “So that’s nice.”

Judi’s past teaching experiences have equipped her to understand Bre’s needs, and the two work well together.

“I have enjoyed spending time with her and giving to her what I can,” said Judi. “I probably get more from her than she gives me. I’m probably like a grandma figure to her.”

Bre is an active, athletic 7-year-old girl, so Judi encourages her to use her coordination. With the full support of Bre’s mother, Judi helps the girl get to her dance classes, and hopes to help her get into a basketball program next year. The two regularly go roller skating at the Perham Area Community Center – one of Bre’s favorite activities – and they spend time together outdoors, or just listen to music and dance around the house. Once, they got dressed up in fancy clothes and went out to eat at Zorbaz.

“We get silly sometimes,” said Judi with a laugh.

When they want some down time, they’re equally good at just taking it easy. They sometimes choose to stay at Judi’s house to play board games, paint, draw or bake.

“I love to introduce Bre to new things,” said Judi. “To things she hasn’t done things she hasn’t seen. To see her eyes light up.”


Bre remembers everything she and Judi have done together, and she said she’s enjoyed it all. She likes spending time with her mentor, she said, and the smile she beams at Judi every time she looks at her is evidence of that.

Judi and Bre are one of 56 mentorship matches currently paired up by Kinship of the Perham Area – a good number, yet Jill Shipman said 32 more kids are sitting on a waiting list to be mentored. More volunteers are always needed.

“All of my mentors for the program are amazing,” Jill said. “It’s fun to see the joy that they get out of being a mentor, to see how both parties benefit from that relationship.”

She said both male and female mentors are needed, of all ages: “I’ve got one mentor who’s 24, and then I’ve got another guy who’s 84, and they’re both spunky and good. It’s amazing the age range of volunteers that we have.”

Mentors are asked to get together with their mentees an average of about twice a month, for an original time commitment of one year. However, most end up continuing their mentorships for many years, adapting a flexible schedule to make it work for both the child and adult.

In addition to the one-on-one mentoring program, Kinship also oversees Reading Buddies, which pairs local volunteers with kindergarten students. The volunteers read to the students for about an hour every other week during the school year, meeting them at the elementary school around lunch time.

Then there are GAP (Girls Are Powerful) and BRAG (Boys R Always Gifted), monthly group programs for local girls and boys that feature activities designed to build friendships and self-esteem, and to help kids find their natural talents.

Throughout the year, Kinship is involved in fundraisers that benefit local youth, such as the Kollecting for Kids clothing drive and Stuff the Bus school supply drive. The program also sponsors educational and social opportunities for their mentor pairs and GAP and BRAG kids, such as trips to Twins baseball games or swimming and fishing outings.



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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