Barb Martin of Park Rapids has been mentoring Mary Zimmerman since 2014.
“She was 11 when I started being her mentor and this year she’ll be graduating from high school,” she said.
After Martin retired from working with the Head Start program for 32 years, she wanted to find a new way to connect with youth and thought Kinship would be a good place to do that.
The two share many common interests. “We both like reading, animals, being in the water, making stuff, cooking and just being together doing nothing,” she said.
“Her first goal was to learn how to swim. I had granddaughters who would come along with us, and before you know it, Mary was swimming! Every year she sets goals to work on. I taught her how to sew and she made a blanket. We also cook together at my house.”
Every year the duo makes a book with pictures Martin has taken throughout the year. “I make one copy for her and one for me,” she said. “She helps pick out the pictures and what she wants to say.”
This year, one of Martin’s granddaughters took Mary’s senior pictures. “We put those in the book and it was so much fun,” she said. “Even though she will be done with the Kinship program, I’ll see her all the time. I’m Grandma Barb to her.”
Martin said one of the things Kinship emphasizes is having youth volunteer. “Through volunteering at a daycare and Head Start, Mary discovered she’s good with little kids,” she said. “Now she’s thinking she would like to learn to work with people who have disabilities. She realizes she has options.”
The bond the two share grew through time spent together. “We met once a week at the beginning,” she said. “It often was just a simple thing, going to Dorset to get ice cream and talking. And once a month Kinship provided an activity for us. We’ve had so many special times together.”
One of Mary’s favorite activities was the recent cooking challenge. “Mary had an orange, coffee and cocoa on her list of ingredients and she found a recipe for an orange coffee bundt cake,” she said. “This month, we’re doing an escape room through Zoom.”
Martin said the biggest benefit of being a mentor has been having fun. “We both learned more about all the fun things there are to do in the Park Rapids community,” she said. “I’d go to her choir concerts. I totally have enjoyed watching her become a young adult. I am not going to take another child to mentor. I know Mary will continue to connect with me. Anybody who is thinking about being a mentor should know they won’t be in it by themselves. Kinship provides training and support to the mentors.”
Now that Mary is older, they meet twice a month. “Mary will text me and let me know she wants to see me and we’ll plan a time to meet,” she said.
Hobson’s ‘day a little brighter’
Leslie Hobson has been mentoring teenager Kaitie Rautio since February of 2020. She said she was a strong supporter of the Kinship program in the Brainerd area when she lived there. “I was working full time at a church with youth, so I didn’t mentor at that time,” she said.
When she moved to the Park Rapids area to run Northern Pines Camp and Retreat Center, she started thinking about becoming a mentor. When the Kinship director approached her and said they had a young lady who needed a mentor, she said “yes.”
“She had been one of our campers, so I’d known her that way and from when we hosted the Kinship Christmas parties,” she said. “Being as she was older, I figured we could do things here at the camp. We did a couple of things together before COVID hit.”
Hobson said being a mentor allowed her and Rautio to develop a closer relationship, even when they couldn’t have face-to-face interactions.
Being in communication with a young person is the thing she enjoys most about mentoring. “We’ll talk about makeup or books she’s reading, fun stuff she’s doing,” she said. “She’ll send me a Snapchat picture. It makes the day a little brighter. I am her friend, but I also want to be that adult in her life who can give guidance, another voice to hear as she’s trying to navigate life.”
Hobson said building a relationship together is the most important thing. “This summer, we went downtown window shopping,” she said. “It’s fun to have someone to do that kind of thing with since I don’t have family here.”
She said mentors can make a difference by sharing just a few hours of their time each month.
“People should realize it isn’t as big of a time commitment as you might think,” she said. “It might be getting together for an hour a week. It’s easy to carve that out and do things you are already doing together, like going hiking or working on projects. It can be just a phone conversation. It’s what you make it. It’s the connection you build that’s the most important, the time you spend together and being a listening ear.”
As a former teacher, she also helped her mentee with school work, which was especially important during distance learning. “I wanted to be part of having school go well for her,” she said. “I encouraged her and told her she could do this.”