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Meeting kicks off push for mentoring program

MORRIS – Last year, nearly 41,000 adults in Minnesota helped to mentor almost 200,000 kids across the state of Minnesota, the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota concluded in their 2013 state of mentoring report.

“Mentoring is really at the core of being able to make a brighter future for our community,” added David Downing, executive director of Kinship Partners of Brainerd, at a community meeting on Monday.

Downing was in Morris to discuss the benefits of a mentoring program and share what works for Kinship Partners as part of a broader effort led by Commissioner Jeanne Ennen to start a mentoring program in Stevens County.

In December 2013, Ennen was named a 2013 Bush Fellow and awarded an $80,000 to grant to help develop a nonprofit program that will connect individuals and mentors throughout Stevens County.

“I want to develop a nonprofit organization ... that will be a vehicle to connect people that need help to the ones that want to help,” said Ennen. “I want it to be a vehicle for people to mentor through their passions because that’s where we’ll be most effective.”

One model  that can provide support for a rural mentorship program is Kinship Partners, a program that serves youth and families in rural towns in the upper Midwest.

Downing explained that Kinship is similar to programs like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, but is more focused on rural communities. There are currently 22 affiliates with the program in Minnesota, as well as several in other Midwestern states.

The Brainerd affiliate, the largest in Minnesota, focuses specifically on connecting youth with adult mentors.

“We feel that mentoring is important because every child deserves a responsible and concerned adult who will provide guidance and support, help to set and accomplish goals, and act as a positive role model,” said Downing.

In Brainerd, and across the state, there are more female mentors than male mentors, which means young men can be on a waiting list for a year or more before being connected with a mentor.

Mentors, mentees and families who participate in Kinship Partners are asked to sign a contract to sent the goals and boundaries of the relationship.

Monday’s meeting was the second of five meetings across the county designed to generate ideas and needs for a mentorship program in Stevens County.

In the next month, Ennen plans to hold smaller meetings in Alberta, Chokio and Donnelly to gather input. Ennen said her goal is to have a nonprofit in place to run a mentoring program by the end of 2015. This means the bylaws and other paperwork will need to be completed by the end of 2014.

The next county wide meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 8 in the Morris Area Elementary School cafeteria. Joanne Mooney of the Minnesota Department of Health will talk about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their affect on children.

Individuals or groups interested in learning more about the mentorship program should contact Ennen by phone at 320-246-3316 or by e-mail at