By definition, Kinship of the Park Rapids Area is a community-based preventive and proactive mentoring program for youth ages 6 to 18.  That’s the grown-up version. Kids will tell you, it’s just darn good fun, opening opportunities previously unimaginable.  Carol Ford was serving on Kinship’s board of directors when the mentor match for Chris Edwardson, now 11 and a fifth grader at Century, had come to a close.  

“I hope you find a mentor for him soon,” she told Kinship director Jennifer Therkilsen.  “You can be that mentor,” Therkilsen told her a year and a half ago.  She headed home to Northern Pines Camp, husband Bob the director, Carol assisting. Up until then, they had not considered becoming mentors.  “Our lives were very busy,” she said. “The camp was a 24-7 job. We weren’t looking to take on anything else. Our schedule was more than full.”  But that outlook would soon change.  “Chris needed a positive male role model in his life,” Carol said. “Bob has a heart for kids. He supported the idea.  “It’s not hard to make time, especially when you know it makes a difference,” she would come to learn, their roles as mentors beginning in the fall of 2014.  

Chris, a gregarious fellow who “loves trying new things,” would step into “a whole new world” at the camp. Tether ball, swimming, fishing, pontoon rides and games of ping pong were soon on his agenda.  Chris would be among the children heading to camp (at Northern Pines)  through Kinship’s new send-a-kid-to-camp program. He was introduced to archery, his prowess with the bow and arrow earning “champion of the week.”  “I matched the camp record,” Chris said proudly. His photo is now in next year’s camp brochure. He’d return for a second week later in the summer.  “I slept in a treehouse,” Chris said. “I’d never slept in a treehouse. And I learned how to ride a horse,” although he was nearly bucked off by a horse named Buckshot. “I thought that made sense,” he said of the horse’s name.  “When kids are at camp, they can be themselves,” Carol said.  “It’s often a first real experience with independence, with making friends on their own,”  said Bob, who began coming to camp as a child, later working as a counselor and subsequently named director of  Northern Pines in 1999.

 “Camp kids relate to each other as kids. It’s a time of discovery. It opens windows.”  Bob recalls a young camper who was “totally enthralled” by the water on Fish Hook Lake. “He’d stand on the shore, mesmerized.”  “Like camp,” Carol said, “Kinship kids are given the opportunity to explore,” citing trips to the theater, a dinner at the Hilltop Inn as examples. “Park Rapids has been a very supportive community.”  

She attributes this to Kinship’s leadership, Jennifer Therkilsen the director.  Time spent with Chris is often conversation about school, impromptu piano lessons, ice fishing and science projects. “We haven’t blown anything – yet,” Chris interjects.  The studious middle school student sums up the program as “getting to have fun with mentors.” And he looks forward to activities with all the mentors and kids, including a sledding party and cooking class coming up in February.  

Meanwhile, a strong bond has formed, Chris calling to volunteer for raking and other duties, “just to be around Bob.”  “It’s given us a new insight,” said Bob, who retired as camp director in November, “and an opportunity to be connected to a  young person’s life.”  Chris’s mother, Linda Holmquist, is “open and supportive and appreciative of Kinship,” Carol said. “She sees the value.”  “It’s a very loving family,” Bob agrees. Chris’s sister, Abby, is also paired with a Kinship mentor. “They get by on a meager income and resources, but it goes back to relationship with family. The kids love their home.  We’re here to support and complement and provide other opportunities.”  

Kinship currently has 37 matches, with four new mentors who are ready to be matched with a child. Seven new matches were made in 2015.