Kinship sets big goal: 100 new mentors in next three years

"One caring adult can change a kid from being considered ‘at-risk’ or having no hope for the future," said Stephanie Baker, coordinator for Lakes Area Kinship. "One caring adult can change all of that.”

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Lakes Area Kinship mentor Cindy Hendrickson, with her mentee, Kadie, at a 4-H farm visit. (Submitted Photo)

Lakes Area Kinship is gearing up for growth. Program leaders are creating new partnerships in the community and working to raise awareness of Kinship in hopes of meeting an ambitious goal: Getting 100 new mentors signed up within the next two to three years.

Right now, the Detroit Lakes-based mentoring program, which matches caring adults with kids ages 5 to 17, is overseeing 42 active mentorships. About 10 more kids are on a waiting list for a mentor.

Stephanie Baker, the coordinator of Lakes Area Kinship, said now’s a good time to be talking about the program, as COVID-19 rules relax and people start reentering the community and looking for new ways to reconnect after being cooped up for months.

“After quarantine, kids need their mentors more than ever,” Baker said. “Kinship’s a good way to bring some fun into your life.”


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Stephanie Baker, who is a mentor and the Lakes Area Kinship coordinator, poses with her mentee, Kinley, on the Kinship float during the Holiday Lights Parade. (Submitted Photo)

Goals for the program’s growth have been, “going slow during the COVID stay-at-home order,” she added. “But I’m hoping that it kicks back up now.”

To help push things along, Lakes Area Kinship has partnered with Becker County Energize and The HOPE Project to work toward shared goals (such as improving mental wellness and decreasing substance use in Becker County). In the process, Kinship is getting more exposure.

“I think a lot more people in our community are aware of Kinship now, and that we have this in our town,” Baker said. “Before, maybe, it really wasn’t that well known. But now these other agencies are helping to spread awareness.”

That partnership has also opened a door to some grant funding for Kinship and its local parent program, the Lakes Crisis and Resource Center. The grant funded improvements to the Lakes Crisis website, making it possible for Kinship to offer mentor applications online.

“That’s a new thing that started a few months ago, and I’ve already gotten several new applications through there,” Baker said. “It really makes signing up easy.”

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Mentor Adam Neuerburg, with his mentee, Josh, at a Kinship Christmas. (Submitted Photo)


Kinship has also been talking with local businesses about ways they can support the program, such as by spreading the word or encouraging volunteerism among their workers. Midwest Bank was the first to jump on board, said Baker, and now offers its employees an incentive for signing up to become mentors.

In the future, Baker hopes to form similar partnerships not only with other businesses in town, but also local churches and civic organizations.

“I think the more partners that we get, the bigger our program is going to grow,” she said.

That’s a big deal, because a program like Kinship can make a big impact. Studies have shown that kids with caring adults in their lives, beyond their parents, are more likely to join extracurricular activities and volunteer in their communities, and are less likely to do drugs and skip school, among many other benefits.

Baker likes to quote motivational speaker Josh Shipp: “Every kid is just one caring adult away from being a success story.”

“I think that summarizes Kinship as a whole,” Baker said. “One caring adult can change a kid’s life. One caring adult can change a kid from being considered ‘at-risk’ or having no hope for the future. One caring adult can change all of that.”

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DelRae Whitley and her mentee through Lakes Area Kinship, Josiah, at the annual Earth Day Kinship highway clean-up. (Submitted Photo)


Lakes Area Kinship primarily covers Detroit Lakes and the surrounding area, but extends into all corners of Becker County. An affiliate of Kinship Inc., which has a long history around the Midwest, the local Kinship program has been around for just over five years.

Kids in the program are often referred by teachers, school psychologists, social workers or their own parents. Some are considered “at-risk,” Baker said, “but Kinship is for any kid, not just those considered at-risk … Every single kid could use a mentor.”

Mentors are adult volunteers who spend time with their mentees at least twice a month, for an initial commitment of one year. That time could be spent taking a walk, baking cookies, going to a movie, watching a baseball game … whatever the pair enjoys doing together.

“The activities are endless,” Baker said. “It could just be something really simple … We like to focus more on the relationships being built than the activities being done.”

Mentors can be individuals, couples or even whole families.

“You don’t have to be trained as an educator or social worker or anything,” Baker said. “If you know how to be a friend, you know how to be a mentor.”

Many of the relationships continue on well beyond that initial first year, with the kids staying in touch with their mentors even as they move away for college or start their careers after high school -- proof of the close bonds that Kinship mentorships can create.

Baker said she makes her mentorship matches thoughtfully, pairing together kids and adults who share similar interests, so “everyone enjoys their time together.” She wants the experience to be fun for everybody involved, she said.


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Dave Spanjers and his mentee, Dominic, fishing after a 4-H tour of a fish hatchery. (Submitted Photo)

Get involved

Find more information about Lakes Area Kinship, and fill out the forms needed to become a mentor, at . Contact Stephanie Baker at, or 218-847-8572.

Kids who have a mentor are ...

  • 55% more likely to enroll in college
  • 78% more likely to volunteer in their community
  • 130% more likely to hold leadership positions in adulthood
  • 52% less likely to skip school
  • 46% less likely to use illegal drugs
  • 81% more likely to participate in extracurricular activities

Statistics provided by Lakes Area Kinship

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