When given the opportunity to nearly double a child’s likelihood of going to college, most of us would say we’d take it. But what if, in doing so, you ended up feeling you were the one who received the greater gift? It’s all possible with a program called Kinship. “Research makes it clear that youth mentoring programs enrich the lives of mentor and mentee alike,” says Jim Weinzetl, a resident of Plymouth for 22 years, “and oftentimes the reward is greatest for the volunteer.” Weinzetl has been a mentor for 37 years, an advocate and board member of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, which is the organization behind Kinship, a 51-year-old community-based mentorship program in the greater Minneapolis area. The organization is currently supervising approximately 175 mentor matches, with almost 200 youth waiting for a Kinship mentor.
While the national average for duration of a mentor-mentee relationship is 11 months, for Kinship it is more than four years. There are several reasons for this, Weinzetl says. Kinship provides intense counseling for volunteers and children, especially in the first year of mentorship. It is a faith-based organization (although church participation, while encouraged, is not mandated). Options exist for individuals or whole families to be mentors. Finally, says Weinzetl, Kinship is a small organization, and matches between adult and child are made very carefully and intentionally.
“The vetting process for volunteers is extensive,” says mentor Alec Hansen, who works in the legal field. Kinship takes excellent precautions to safeguard everyone involved. Hansen particularly appreciates the several home interviews and the training opportunities he had while becoming a volunteer.
As the child of a single mother himself, Hansen was disappointed when his mentor (in a different program) didn’t make time for him. “It was a poor match,” Hansen says, “that didn’t last six months.”
Hansen’s own Kinship mentor-relationship with 12-year-old Rowan* has reached almost a year and is growing. Hansen understands Rowan’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as he dealt with the diagnosis himself as a child. “I’m just there for Rowan,” he says, “whether there are things he’d like to talk about or if he just wants to play with Legos.” Hansen says he’s comfortable with the one- to two-hour-a-week (for a year) commitment that all volunteers are asked to provide, and he’s hopeful his relationship with Rowan will extend long beyond a year.
Jennifer Metzler is a single mother of two daughters and 8-year-old twin boys; three of her children have Kinship mentors. (One of her sons is waiting for a match.) Metzler, too, hopes for long relationships between her children and their Kinship mentors. She investigated Kinship because she “has always believed in pulling together as many positives as possible in a child’s life.” Boys, particularly, she says, are hard to place due to a shortage of male mentors.
The profiles of Kinship volunteers are as varied as the kids they mentor. Beverly Gillen works for the consulting company she founded, Partners in Parenting Consulting, and is author of Get Connected for College: The Savvy Student’s Guide to College Prep. She’s mentored 13-year-old Zintia* for a year. Gillen is an individual volunteer, but her husband and adult daughters living at home also regularly participate in activities with Zintia. “Zintia got a whole family and a dog, too,” Gillen says, adding she herself has received “friendship, fun, an excuse to go to the zoo and [to] get our nails done, too.”
For more information about volunteering for and/or financially supporting Kinship, contact Jerod Peterson at 612.588.4655 or visit the website for the local chapter. “And don’t forget,” says Jim Weinzetl, “you’ll not only honor and enhance the life of a child, you’ll improve your own, as well.”
Ways to Help
If you’d like to help, but just don’t have the time, consider a monetary donation that goes toward volunteer training, which is costly (about $1,500 per match to fund training, background checks, paperwork, etc.). Dean Haagenson of Re/Max real estate in Plymouth sponsors a Kinship match, as does Plymouth ABRA Auto Body’s Tim Adelmann.