Fred and Karen Lundstrom of Nevis have been involved with Kinship of the Park Rapids Area for six years. This past June, they were matched with their mentee Mahala Dodge, 10, also from Nevis.
In 2001, the Lundstroms retired to the area after living in Fargo, where Fred worked as a dentist and Karen worked in the office. She was also involved on the school board and the alumni association at Concordia College.
"When we first came here we got involved with Living at Home, which is another great program in Park Rapids. It's not that we didn't like the program but we missed being around children," Karen said about how they got involved with Kinship. "We decided that if we were going to be in a volunteer situation then we should be working with kids because we just love being around children. It just made sense for us and then we heard about Kinship and what they were doing."
Mahala is the Lundstroms' second mentee. Prior to meeting her, they mentored a young boy by the name of Cameron. They had mentored him for a little over one year before he unfortunately got into some trouble with the law.
"We will continue to stay in his life," Karen added about the importance of staying in touch with their first mentee.
According to the Lundstroms, in order to become mentors they had to pass a background check, interviews were conducted and they had to receive lengthy training sessions with Kinship staff and experienced mentors.
"You want things to go well and you just don't know. There was some apprehension and it's a pretty big commitment so you want to make sure that you have the time to do it, and it's actually very flexible," Karen said about their choice to become mentors.
"Jennifer interviews the mentees and their parents or guardians, as well as the mentors and she talks about the different children that need mentors," Karen said about Kinship Executive Director Jennifer Therkilsen. "Jennifer knows us pretty well now, so she really felt that we and Mahala would be a really good match, so we just decided to trust her."
Fred and Karen then visited Mahala at her home and left the decision to becoming a match to Mahala and her mother.
"Her mom is pretty smart, too. She invited us to the VFW in Menahga to meet them and Mahala's grandparents," Fred said about Mahala's mom, Clarita. "So we got to meet her family and they got to meet us. I think that was her way of checking us out. That was smart."
It doesn't take long for a person to observe that Mahala is a spirited girl with a lot of excitement for life.
"She is a very delightful young lady," Fred said.
Mahala, who just turned 10 on Jan. 2, is in fourth grade at Nevis Public Schools. She has also been involved in dance at Just For Kix in Park Rapids for the last two years.
She loves to talk about her six pets, which include two cats, one dog, one guinea pig and two goats named Oreo and Loverboy.
Together, the trio has participated in a few Kinship activities. They swim at Fred and Karen's lake home on Lake Belle Taine, they enjoy the hot tub, gardening, baking cookies and bread, among other things.
According to Mahala, the hot tub is her favorite thing to do with Fred and Karen, along with getting donuts, jumping off their diving board and riding in the pontoon boat.
"They live by a lake and they have a hot tub. We can even go in it in the winter. It's awesome," she said.
Mahala lives 15 minutes from the Lundstroms' house, and as her mentors, they try to see her at least once each week.
"Lots of times you end up helping the kids with homework if they're struggling a bit in school," Karen said. "Mostly, you take them out and expose them to some things that they wouldn't otherwise be exposed to."
According to Mahala, it was the school social worker, Krista Platz, that suggested she sign up for the Kinship program.
"I'm happy that I did it because I got two amazing people," Mahala said resting her hands on both Fred and Karen's shoulders.
"Good, I was afraid what you were going to say about me," Fred teased her.
"But he's a fibber," she responded, explaining that she and Fred like to give each other a hard time. She calls Fred a fibber due to the fact that he likes to make up stories to tell her.
The Lundstroms have 10 grandchildren of their own that are all older than Mahala.
"We just really like being around kids; it seems natural for us," Karen said.
According to Fred, there have been some mentors who have been able to mentor a child until they are 18 and some stay in their lives until they go to college.
"If we could keep mentoring Mahala until she's 18 that would be really exciting for us and for her if it works out that way," Karen said.
"You have to sign an agreement to be a mentor for one year," Fred said. "But I don't know of any mentors that don't stick with it. You get attached to the child."
"Mahala is a very lucky girl. She has a very cool mother. We don't have to worry about dropping her off at home. We know she is going to be taken care of," he added.
"I think fairly frequently the kids come from difficult homes with little stability. So as a mentor you try to provide some of that stability," Karen said about the importance and the need for volunteers to become mentors and positive role models for those children.
Looking ahead, Mahala and the Lundstroms are looking forward to next summer so they can do some biking on the Heartland Trail and spend more time together on the pontoon.
"We haven't been together that long, so we'll have more and more stories as we go," Fred explained.
Mahala and the Lundstroms began a photo album with pictures of the memories they have made together as a trio.
"We still have a ton of pages to fill," Mahala said regarding all the fun they have yet to enjoy together.