Thursday, July 30, 2009

Could the next community be virtual?

I’m realizing first hand the power of a virtual community by following a cousin’s blog who, with his wife, is adopting a child from Kiev, Ukraine. They are making daily posts with their progress along with pictures, even their young son gets to put his photographs on the web. This new virtual community hits even closer to home with my daughter, who must have a hundred “friends” on Facebook. She can keep in touch with these friends electronically 24/7.

So, what if anything is the role of our traditional community… that promotes service clubs, has parades, worship’s together, visits shut ins, plays sports, attends cultural events and yes, mentors kids too?

Somehow I don’t think that our electronic community, cool as it is, can ever replace a face to face community. A child will never learn to play the game of baseball simply by mastering a virtual game of “Backyard Baseball” in the apartment. He or she will need someone to play catch and retrieve hits. How can electronics ever replace the caring and warmth of real human interaction?

Virtural communities can provide a wonderful augmentation to communication with friends and family, but can never replace the quality of relationship only possible through face to face interaction.

Virtually yours,

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Corporate team building with kids

What could be a better gift for a kid than a new bike? Perhaps the only thing better could be to have the pride of assembling it yourself with the help of a caring adult. This is what a team of employees from eDocument Resources provided for 10 kids awaiting Kinship mentors on July 20th at Longfellow Park in south Minneapolis. Each of the kids were empowered to be the "project manager" for their bicycle's assembly. One of the girls receiving a bike shared how just within the past couple of days her bike was stolen. So, with haste, one of the eDocument employees purchased locks for all the bikes that were sent home with the kids.

The sponsor of this event, eDocumentResources, made it a team building activity for their employees. Ken Schempp, the company president, heard about Kinship's mentoring program through his church, Westwood Lutheran in St. Louis Park. He wanted to support kids and also engage his employees. It worked out to be a win-win event.

This event provided a fun and meaningful team building activity for the employees and a wonderful gift for the kids who are on Kinship's waiting list, eager to have a Kinship mentor. Kinship of Greater Minneapolis typically has a list of 150 kids, ages 5-15, primarily of single parent homes eager to have adult mentors. Often the kids wait over one year before an individual, couple or family is found that will be their Kinship friend. Mentors are encouraged to include their kids in everyday activities about once a week, for a minimum of one year. In addition to ongoing staff support, group events and ticket opportunities are also afforded throughout the year to support these relationships.

If you have a group that might be interested in sponsoring an event for Kinship kids please contact Gaylene Adams at 612-588-4655,

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Teen needs: connection, guidance and love

As teens begin their developmental stage of pushing away, and separating themselves from adults it is tempting for adults to simply want to let go, disconnect, and abdicate responsibility for these often less than loving youth. However a national expert, Dr. David Walsh, from the National Institute on Media and the Family declares is still tremendously important that adults continue to connect, provide guidance and love.

He noted that the largest protective factor for kids to prevent future drug abuse or teen pregnancy is connection with adults; parents, neighbors, teachers, mentors. As parents seemingly loose intellegence during this period, it is more important than ever that they have other adults in their lives to encourage positive development and decision making.

Teens still need adults to set limits and provide guidance. Research has discovered human brains don't fully develop until their early 20's, so the decision making is not going to be fully functional. Car rental companies know this, typically limiting rentals to people aged 25 and over.

Lastly, one of the core needs of all people is unconditional love. While teens can seem rather unlovable with their self focus and rejection of adults, they continue to need our love and support.

Dr. Walsh's website can be accessed at:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Amazing matches of kids and mentors

We had a blast last Saturday at our two annual summer Kinship picnics (one in Coon Rapids and another in S Mpls.). There were the popular gunny sack races, sponge relays and the most popular event of all, the water balloon toss. Kids matched with their mentors and kids waiting with their family members enjoyed traditional hot dogs, baked beans and watermelon, along with a whole range of potluck foods.
One of the things I was struck with was these two guys, Mike & Kenzie, who where having a great time together both wearing brown t-shirts. I discovered that they didn't plan their wardrobe, but simply seemed to share a common taste in t-shirts. Kinship makes matches between mentors and kids based primarily on interests and geography. Its fun to see just how common some of the interests appear to be!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Elders as mentors

One of our Kinship mentors, Bruce Westphal, soon to be 70, recently noted how much he and his wife have enjoyed starting up their friendship with a 7 year old boy from their community. He's discovered that it is a wonderful way for them to share of their wealth of wisdom and experience, supplementing the relationships they already have with grandchildren. They are encouraging others from their church, Westwood Lutheran in St. Louis Park, to befriend children from a couple of neighboring public elementary schools, Cedar Manor and Aquila.

You can read Pastor Bruce Westphal's story on page two of the Westwood Lutheran's Celebration publication.

Civic Ventures is an organization dedicated to actively engaging people in the second half of life in tackling serious social problems. Their studies of Americans age 50 to 70 indicate:
  • Most see retirement as a time to begin a new chapter in life by being active and involved, starting new activities, and setting new goals.

  • Two-thirds of those age 50 to 54 are interested in taking jobs now or in the future to help improve the quality of life in their communities.

  • More than three-quarters of those who say they'll work in retirement are interested in working to help the poor, the elderly, and people in need.

Nationally MENTOR has just produced a study guide "The wisdom of age" for mentoring programs utilizing older Americans as mentors, and is available for download at the following website,

Kinship mentoring is an outstanding opportunity to enjoy the benefits of grandparenting without having to go through the much more challenging role of parenting. As our mentors can attest, it also keeps you young!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Unrealistic expectations of the nuclear family

Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we've put it in an impossible situation. - Margaret Mead

During our staff team time today we discussed what the Bible had to say about Kinship. It turns out plenty. In days of old the Hebrew families were much larger than our nuclear ones. The Old Testament references the tribe of Judah, the house of David and the sons of Abraham. Even within these large families outsiders could be adopted, thus resulting in very large groups number into the hundreds. When people were in need they looked to their Kinsman/redeemer to help them out. It is this concept of family upon which Kinship is founded; extending ourselves and our families to look after others in times of need, especially children.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus took these large families up a notch, and challenged all to be "Kinspeople" to others in their time of need, not just those of a similar lineage. He challenged us to put our faith into action though caring about others. Jesus says, Whatsoever you do for these the least of my children, who are members of my family, that you do unto me. (Matthew 25:40)

In those olden days, before unemployment or health insurance or social security, large extended families were vital for looking out for those in their time of need. With this challenging environment it is more important than ever for us to extend ourselves and families. Government support can't do it alone, Uncle Sam is a poor provider of what most of us need most of all, unconditional love. There is a growing demand for the extended family. Thanks to all who are reaching out beyond their nuclear families and becoming “kin” to children and families in need. May you be richly blessed.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A small taste of single parenting

My wife went out of town for a couple of weeks to visit family. This leaves me with my full-time job and parenting responsibilities for our 14 year old daughter. Thankfully our daughter is responsible and capable of taking care of herself during the day.

During this time as a single parent my discretionary time simply disappeared. It has been difficult to find time to take care of the lawn and garden, read the newspaper, check in with friends and family, wash the car, or even walk the dog. I must also confess that our meals haven’t been quite as well balanced as before.

I’m reminded that my small inconvenience pales in comparison to the additional challenges of single parenting when there are financial stressors, young children, neighborhood safety concerns, or perhaps unreliable/no transportation.

For those who are in a position to reach out, I would invite you to consider how you might do something to support a single parent family. Kinship of Greater Minneapolis has 125 kids, ages 5-15, on our waiting list, all eager to have Kinship friends.

One of the great things about volunteering is that by giving you also receive, often more than you’re able to give. It is an awesome feeling to know that you can significantly impact the life of a child and his/her family by simply sharing your time and interests. I know that the single parents, who are often doing a heroic job, would greatly appreciate your support.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kinship kids gardening

Kinship recently partnered with the Minnesota State Horticultural Society to set up a few of our mentors and kids with a garden in a box,

This is an opportunity for Kinship friends to grow plants that they can later harvest; both vegetables and herbs. We are experimenting with a few of our matches this year with hopes that perhaps next year it might be something we want to replicate on a larger scale.

Thanks to the Minnesota State Horticultural Society for extending this opportunity to Kinship! Please let me know if you might be interested in supporting this effort in the coming year.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Homicides down in Minneapolis

A recent StarTribune article noted that homicides were down a third from the previous year. This is great news! Kinship of Greater Minneapolis is partnering with one of the organizations cited as a possible factor in this decline, The Peace Foundation, In addition to their community outreach the Peace Foundation has also promoted volunteering on the northside, including Kinship mentoring.

When kids have a sense of hope for the future they're far less likely to join gangs, or be engage in violent and life threatening behaviors. Mentoring is one important vehicle for helping young people to envision a brighter future for themselves.

A link to the StarTribune article, "6 months in, and only 6 homicides" follows,

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Guns on the Northside

Thursdays I deliver meals on wheels in North Minneapolis. It's a great opportunity for me to put my faith into action on behalf of others. Today while wishing Ora a happy fourth of July I inquired if she was going to see fireworks. She said they already get fireworks in her neighborhood, just across from North High School, but they just don't have the lights. Sadly, gunfire is not uncommon.

A couple of stops later I delivered meals to a stooped Cicero. He comment on how I was dressed nicely. Then he surprised me by noting that I wasn't carrying a gun. I thanked him and wished him a wonderful fourth of July.

This holiday I'm looking forward to fireworks over a lake, the kind with the lights that go with them. I will be reminded however of Ora and Cicero, hoping and trusting that they too will enjoy the fourth.

To learn about volunteering with North Minneapolis Meals on Wheels, visit their website to learn more,

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cabin privilege

Fourth of July is coming and I’m eager to be heading to my brother and sister-in-law’s cabin. It is a tradition for our family to head over to Wisconsin and enjoy time together with friends and family, while having fun fishing and boating. It’s the highlight of our daughter’s year.

Working in Kinship I’ve become painfully aware that many of the wonderful experiences that I’ve been privileged to enjoy are not things which many kids from disadvantaged circumstances even dare to dream… owning a home, going to college, traveling overseas, the list goes on.

I was reminded about how Kinship can help kids build dream when I heard a story about one of our relationships from years back. A Kinship mentor had a knock on her door from a mom with a young girl in tow. Turns out the mom was the girl she and her husband had mentored years ago, and had just stopped by to give an update on her progress. She told about how when she went to visit her Kinship friends all those years ago she began to dream about owning a home of her own one day. Then she proudly proclaimed, just yesterday, my husband and I closed on a house. Her dream had been realized.

Living in one of the world’s most resourceful nations many of us have had a great deal of privilege. It’s our great duty and opportunity to share that privilege with others who have not had the same kinds of opportunities and encouragement. And who knows, someday we too might have a knock at the door by someone who was blessed by our friendship.