Kinship mentors make a difference

Tristan Silbernagel enjoys making gingerbread houses and other activities with his Kinship mentors, Marie and Tom Hass, at the Kinship Christmas Party held at Eastside Christian Church in rural Park Rapids.
Contributed / Kinship of the Park Rapids Area.

Kinship mentors make a difference in the life of a child. They can also make a difference in the life of a family.

Kinship of the Park Rapids area matches mentors with kids who need extra support.

Shawna Walters signed her son Tristan up for a mentor when he was 10 years old.

“I found out about Kinship after both of his grandfathers passed,” she said. “Tristan said he felt like he was struggling and so I had gotten him into Group Works in Park Rapids and they recommended it. He missed doing the ‘man stuff’ he used to do with his grandfathers.”

At the same time she was signing Tristan up, Tom and Marie Hass, who live in the Nevis area, were signing up to be mentors.


“It worked out great,” Shawna said. “They met and hit it off. I knew right then and there that this was going to be a great match.”

Tristan’s favorite activities to do with his mentors are swimming, working at Tom’s airplane shop and doing other “man things.”

“When I was missing my grandpas they actually listened to me and gave me hugs when I needed it,” he said. “I really appreciate everything they do for me. They don’t have to do any of it, but they choose to spend their time on me and it makes me feel so special. I really love them and wish other kids could have people like that in their corner.”

He said his favorite activity was going to the Minnesota Vikings football game with Tom. “That was beyond fun,” he said.

He also enjoys doing projects in Tom’s shop, going out to eat with the couple and the treats Marie makes.

Shawna said Tristan has told her that sometimes when he tells other kids he’s in Kinship they think the program is just for kids who are in trouble.

“He wears his Kinship shirt to school and tells them Kinship is for everybody,” she said.

Support for kids and families

In addition to mentoring Tristan, Tom and Marie have offered extra support to Shawna as a single parent.


“Throughout this whole Kinship journey I’ve had a lot of health problems,” she said. “My dad Michael Walters was a Vietnam vet, so I got some of that Agent Orange exposure through him. I was born with spina bifida and had five back surgeries before the age of 13. I’ve had some other pretty scary health concerns.

“During times when I couldn’t get up and get out of bed, I was so thankful that Tom and Marie would show up and bring Tristan to activities or pick him up afterwards. They were there helping out with Tristan every step of the way.

“Marie was an outlet for me too. She was constantly checking to see how I was doing and if I needed anything. It is priceless having that support in my corner for both me and Tristan. To me that’s going above and beyond.”

Shawna said having mentors has given her son more confidence. “Getting to work on cars with Tom and gaining knowledge he will be able to use in the future,” she said. “The more support we can have for a kid, the more people cheering them on, the better. You can’t have too much love in a kids’ life. I have my mom, Vicki Walters, in the area and a couple of extended family, but the rest are farther away.”

While she was signing Tristan up for the program at the Kinship office, Shawna ran into a woman who was her mentor when she was young, Barb Martin.

“When I was in Head Start she would come to my house when I was having health challenges,” she said. “She would do a little home visit with me with her bag of toys and learning activities and went out of her way to make me feel special. Now Barb’s a Kinship mentor. Even to this day when I see her, I ask her to give me a hug. I don’t think that bond ever leaves.”

Shawna said she hopes mentors will step up to be there for the kids who are on the waiting list.

“You don’t need any special talents to spend time with a kid,” she said. “Kids just want to have fun. If you’ve got a little bit of extra time, a kid would appreciate it. And Kinship matches mentors to kids so it’s a good fit for both and they check in to make sure things are going well.”


Why being a mentor matters

Tom Hass said being a Kinship mentor has taught him to slow down and enjoy life. “I like showing Tristan new things, sharing my love of airplanes, having him help me fix cars, he said. “Being a mentor keeps me active and moving, doing things like going tubing and fishing. Sometimes Marie comes with us but other times it’s just the two of us. He’s a very polite kid and a lot of fun. It’s rewarding knowing I’m helping someone. I like being able to provide him with new opportunities and expose him to new things.”

Marie Hass said Tristan and Tom hit it off right away, and she enjoys hanging out with them once their projects are done and participating with them in Kinship activities.

“I’ve enjoyed watching Tristan grow and mature over the past two years,” she said. “We only have a granddaughter, so Tom never had a grandson to do things with. When our two kids were growing up I was so busy with activities and everything else I had to do. Now I can be in the life of someone younger without all those things pulling at me. I have more time now that I’m not so caught up in getting stuff crossed off my list.”

She said when they signed up as Kinship mentors in 2021, they were told they should plan to spend a minimum of six hours a month with Tristan, but it often ends up being more.

“I would encourage anybody who has the time and is looking for something to do that being a Kinship mentor is very rewarding, and you can really make a difference,” she said.

An application to become a mentor is available by calling the Kinship office at 218-732-0058 or going to


Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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