The Kinship program is rolling out a new fundraiser to help assure the community will have funding for mentoring area youth.

Mari Jo Lohmeier is executive director of Kinship of the Park Rapids Area. She said the organization had already made the decision not to do the Amazing Chase fundraiser or the mini golf tournament and try this new fundraiser before the pandemic hit.

The “Champions for Change” fundraiser was initially planned to be a rotating display with envelopes numbered 1-200 that would be brought to community events.

“Each envelope has a number that corresponds to the dollar amount of the donation,” Lohmeier said. “When all the envelopes are gone, the organization will have raised $20,100. Businesses are also sponsoring the board. We had hoped to have it at the fair, 2nd Street Stage and other places around the community. Obviously, we can’t do that now, so we’re trying to do the fundraising through social media on our website, Facebook page and by email.”

Money can be donated online or brought to the drop box at Kinship. Lohmeier will also fill out the envelopes for anyone who calls the Kinship office at 732-0058 to donate.

“I’ve had people call and say they want to donate $78 because that’s how old my grandma is,” she said. “In a week and a half on social media, we have made around $1,200 towards our goal.”

Friends of the Kinship programs also provide support with their ongoing donations.

“Every time I go to the post office box, there is at least one donation there,” Lohmeier said. “I’m amazed at how many people support Kinship in this community. It’s just wonderful. I’m hoping with the Champions for Change catches on and will be a yearly fundraiser. Because the board starts at $1, kids can also afford to donate. Almost 100 percent of our Kinship budget is from donations.”

Anyone who wants to donate needs to contact Lohmeier first and request the numbered envelope they want. “If they want to donate $25, I will see if envelope #25 is available,” she said. “If it isn't, maybe #24 or #26 would be available instead. It is really important to get rid of our higher number envelopes. I would encourage you to possibly team up with another family member, work colleague or neighbor to sponsor a higher numbered envelope.I would like to encourage each of you to become a Champion for Change. It can be done as a donation online.”

Donations of any amount are also welcome and may be sent to Kinship of the Park Rapids Area, PO Box 282, Park Rapids, MN 56470.

Lohmeier said fundraising has been difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were not able to do our May fish fry or our Kinship raffle,” she said. “We’re waiting to see what’s going to happen with our spaghetti dinner fundraiser in August.”

Creative ways to support youth

Lohmeier said mentors have done a really good job of finding creative ways to stay in touch when the stay-at-home orders were in effect. “Our mentors have had to get creative,” she said. “Several helped with distance learning by having Zoom gatherings where they can see the child’s book to assist with homework. Some of our mentors have taken their Kinship Kids on virtual tours of state parks or state zoos and others are having Netflix parties and watching movies together. Many are using various apps to play boardgames or put puzzles together, and yes, some have resorted to the old-fashioned letter writing and are teaching these kids the premise of being a pen pal. Our mentors are such dedicated, caring people that have a huge heart for kids.”

Kinship typically offers a group activity once a month for the mentors and mentees to attend together. This could not happen during the stay-at home orders, so the Kinship organization has been doing extra things to help kids in the program get through this stressful time, including providing rock painting kits, journals and pens and two big pots and soil for pizza gardens with tomatoes, peppers and herbs.

“The kids have been asked to share pictures of their gardens and we are sharing recipes that these ingredients can be used in,” Lohmeier said.

Mentors make a difference

Lohmeier said there is only one boy on the Kinship waiting list. ”Kayden needs either a male mentor or a couple that would be willing to mentor him,” she said. “He likes fishing, hunting, riding bike, swimming, helping with yard work, football, baseball, basketball, tinkering with things by taking them apart and trying to put them back together and playing video games. He is high energy, but being outdoors helps calm him down. Kayden has the heart of gold and likes to help those he can. He is a hands-on 14-year-old that needs structure and reassurance that he’s doing a good job.”

Five Kinship Kids graduated in May, leaving 17 youth involved in the one-on-one mentoring program. “The “Reading Buddies” program also served 45 kids during the past school year.”

Two women are waiting for girls to mentor. “We need to get referrals for some female youth that would benefit from the kinship program,” she said. “People can make referrals by calling our office at 218-732-0058 or by heading to our website and filling out a referral form.”

Lohmeier is exploring options for “e-mentoring” to strengthen the bonds between youth and their adult mentors. She said mentoring makes a real difference in the community.

“It’s such a preventative program,” she said. “If we can get these kids on the straight and narrow, it’s much less expensive than to pay for kids to be in the foster system. We have so many success stories.”

For more information call 218-732-0058, email kinshipparkrapids@gmail.com or go to kinshipparkrapids.org.