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Kinship celebrates 20 years

Therese Hauber, right, earned Kinship's Mentor of the Year distinction during her role as volunteer with Susie Luth Adams, now 26. It's a relationship that has now spanned nearly two decades. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

An old African proverb advises, "It takes a village to raise a child."

A child does not grow up simply in a home - where there may be a single parent - but in a community, where a social network shapes their world through positive experiences and role modeling.

Kinship embodies this spirit.

For 20 years, volunteers have come forward to lend hands and hugs to children, enhancing their ability to overcome barriers to healthy development.

The program evolved in Park Rapids in 1992, spurred by a rise in teen pregnancy.

Intervention with children was found to be productive. Teens' outlooks improved with a positive role model as their mentor.

Kinship was an offshoot of the teen pregnancy prevention initiative, Barb Thomason putting the wheels in motion. Carolyn Spangler came on board as director in 1994, and Therese Hauber's phone rang.

The single mom of four grown children was about to open her heart to another child.

A few days later, third grader Susie Luth answered a knock at her door.

The daughter of a single mom, with grandparents living in California, agreed to the partnership.

A "very shy, very quiet" 9-year-old was soon baking and cooking. "Little Smokies and mashed potatoes were our agreed upon meal," Susie recalled.

Once or twice a week, Therese would be waiting when the last school bell rang. Walking home, "slowly" along the river they discussed schoolwork and other issues of import.

"You guys clicked," Thomason recalled.

Susie learned to sew - "she gave me my first sewing machine" - and fish - with the assistance of Therese's grandson, Tony Boyd, also 9.

"I needed someone to untangle my line," Susie quipped.

They drove around town, "talking on our cruises," stopping at Therese's friends' homes for a game of cards, shopping on Main.

Bike rides down the Heartland are a fond memory.

Their relationship fostered Susie's self-confidence through socialization while gaining basic skills.

"It was the only time I went out," Susie said. "My mother" who's legally blind, "had no car."

Therese assisted with homework, shared craft expertise and advice.

When "an ugly kitty followed us home," Therese's "don't-take-it-home" counsel went unheeded.

"I should have listened. But I learn by doing. I have to screw it up myself," she said.

"Instill by example," Therese advises.

Fabulous February

After six years, their paths would part when Susie, a sophomore, and her family moved to Menahga, and on to Missouri. But their communication continued, via cards and letters.

"I look at kids who've made it through," Thomason said of long-term Kinship relationships.

"They've done well - with the extra push. Kinship shows them a different life. Sewing. Sitting down to eat. The way things can be.

"Kinship mentors can't change lives," Thomason said. "But they can show other ways of living life."

Susie, now 26, married to Josh Adams, and the mother of two, Tyse, 5, and Reece, 2, resides in Perham.

And in February, she was "dancing a whole week. February was my lucky month."

At 17, having earned her GED, Susie started college at the Wentworth Military Academy in Missouri. She began taking courses online, her frequent moves precluding traditional classroom instruction.

She had started work in early February this year as a snack bar worker at Thumper Pond, a resort and golf course in Ottertail.

When the resort's pool attendant quit, she volunteered to work as an attendant, gaining lifeguard and CPR certification.

She started her new position Feb. 23, three days later graduating with a degree in business administration.

"I saw an opportunity there. I wanted it," she said.

In April, she was promoted to supervisor of the water park, 20 teens under her direction.

The timid, diffident child had blossomed, "Now I'm telling them what to do. I've gained the confidence to lead others.

"But I'm a working supervisor," she stresses. "I clean the bathrooms too."

Amazing Chase Saturday Saturday, Aug. 25, Kinship of the Park Rapids Area will celebrate its 20th anniversary. An Amazing Chase, teams competing in challenges throughout the city, coincides.

A Kinship picnic, sponsored by the Rotary Club, will take place at Heartland Park, preceded by the final leg of the Chase.

Raffle drawings for the Amish built clubhouse, 42-inch carved bear, 100 Evergreen Fun Park tickets and a $200 T&M Express gift card begin at 5:30 p.m.

This year, with Jennifer Therkilsen at the helm, saw the 180th mentor match since the program's inception. The Reading Buddies program served 30 students in Park Rapids and 14 Nevis first graders each read to a captive audience of one weekly.