Friday, October 30, 2009

MInnesota Kinship Alliance

The fall meeting of the Minnnesota Kinship Alliance was hosted by Kinship Partners in Brainerd Minnesota. Thirteen state affiliates were represented as best practices were discussed around areas like mentor orientations, fund raising and mentor recruitment. A special appearance was made by Gary Walters and his wife Lisa, who recently rollerbladed from Brainerd to Washington DC to support Kinship Partner mentoring.

There was interest a possible combined bike fund raiser this next summer, with a special emphasis on tandems (people working together as pairs). A sub committee is being developed to begin planning.

Interested in a bike ride to support Kinship, please let me know!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The pearl of great price and mentoring?

"Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a merchant seeking fine pearls, who having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it." - Matthew 13:45-46

The pearl of great price… always been a mystery to me. I’m not into jewelry and expensive things. My jewelry consists of a watch and a ring. I think of myself as pretty practical and conservative. What in the world would a pearl have to do with God’s Kingdom? This seems mighty irrational to me. What’s a pearl got to do with Jesus’ ministry of healing and redeeming lives?

In further review I found a few aspects of the story that make sense for me regarding how God operates in the world, and pointers for Kinship’s ministry.

Quality over quantity

This is a story about investing it all for just one pearl. Isn’t that risky business? What if the merchant loses the one pearl, or if it turns out to be a fake? What we chose to invest in might seem like folly to others. At Kinship I’m sometimes frustrated with how costly it can be to recruit, screen, match, and provide follow-up support to mentors and their kids. There are plenty of programs that serve thousands of youth for considerably less. However I’m reminded of a camp director that wanted to pair up with Kinship, because so often those programs can provide a brief, perhaps mountaintop experience, but then kids return home and have little reinforcement of their experience.

We need to be willing to invest big in things of great value

Such as the kingdom of God and our kids. We need to be shrewd investors, like this merchant. Small investments have the potential for small yields. I’m reminded of the biblical story about Mary and Martha, and the Martha's lavish use of expensive perfume on Jesus' feet. I’m one of those conservative guys that wouldn’t want to spend money on things like perfume and pearls. Yet, Jesus reminds us, the Kingdom work is to be done now… building relationships with kids is welcoming Jesus. And just like Martha, we shouldn’t be frugal with those relationships and our resources.

Pearls are formed out of a difficult environment

Pearls are grains of sand which find themselves inside of an oyster. The oyster builds the pearl because of the irritation it feels from the sand. I think that there are plenty of adults who consider kids, and especially those who might be lacking social skills, nothing but irritation. However with support despite their adversity, or perhaps because of their adversity, when given guidance and support, they become pearls. That growth is not without pain however. A kid from a single parent home living in an apartment in a rough part of town of lacks social courtesies. Sadly, that too often is a throw away kid, not someone who we might think of as a pearl, and worth a great investment of our time and financial resource.

God’s kingdom shouldn’t be contained within a shell

Sometimes people have confused church buildings with God’s kingdom. However if our work is confined to within the building walls we are a lot like a pearl that never sees the light of day. Efforts like Kinship seek to redefine the mentality of the church and God’s Kingdom from being a fortress to being manifest when we are in caring and supportive relationship with others, especially in their times of need.

Kingdom work is relationship building, across the divides, between rich and poor. Throughout Jesus’ preaching he was always hammering on caring for the poor, and orphans. He even said pure ministry undefiled is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. James 1:27

A pearl of great price and mentoring kids... perhaps not such a stretch after all?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Children need adults who are crazy about them

“In order to develop normally, a child requires progressively more complex joint activity with one or more adults who have an irrational emotional relationship with the child. Somebody's got to be crazy about that kid. That's number one. First, last and always.” -Urie Bronfenbrenner, Developmental Psychologist

I believe the greatest strength of mentoring is that it provides kids with adults in their lives who are irrationally crazy about them. People who are not being paid, yet care enough to be a dependable friends, even when things aren’t always going smoothly.

I’m grateful for the multitude of people who have decided to give unconditionally of themselves and their time, much like extended family members, to provide supportive mentoring relationships. They are making a world of difference in the healthy development of kids!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Youth violence down in Minneapolis

Kinship of Greater Minneapolis has been an active participant with the city of Minneapolis to prevent youth crime through our work in mentoring. Following is a press release from the city indicating the success of this collaborative effort.

Oct. 14, 2009 (MINNEAPOLIS) The City of Minneapolis this week received national recognition for its “Blueprint for Action” plan that works to address the root causes of violence and significantly reduce youth violence in Minneapolis. In its report, The State of City Leadership, the National League of Cities applauded Minneapolis for its efforts and calls this program one of the nation’s three most innovative city models for preventing youth violence.

The report also states that “Minneapolis has successfully reframed youth violence as a public health issue through an extensive process of planning and community engagement which has united and galvanized community leaders and residents around a broader vision of youth violence prevention.”

“Reducing youth violence requires a strategic, holistic and multi-faceted response,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak. “This recognition is a testament to our efforts and the efforts of our partners in reducing youth violence in Minneapolis. But we can’t stop here. We need to keep working on finding new and creative ways to educate children and their families on the importance of violence prevention.”

“Government can’t eliminate violence from our community on its own,” said City Council Member Cam Gordon, Youth Violence Prevention Steering Committee member,. “We need the great work of so many people in the community who help us surround our youth and their families with support, opportunity and hope. Thanks to the leadership and cooperation of more than 80 stakeholders, we are headed in the right direction.”

In 2008, the Blueprint for Action was launched with the following goals: connect every youth with a trusted adult; intervene at the first sign that youth are at risk for violence; restore youth who have gone down the wrong path; and, unlearn the culture of violence in our community.

Since 2007, juvenile crime has declined by 29 percent throughout the City, and 37 percent since 2006, according to a “Blueprint for Action” report. What’s more, in four of the five target neighborhoods, youth violence was down by an average of 39 percent since 2007 and 43 percent since 2006.

In addition to “Blueprint for Action,” Mayor Rybak’s Minneapolis Promise college-preparation initiative , the City-County Commission to End Homelessness, and Minneapolis’ Bridge Center for homeless youth, were also highlighted in the State of City Leadership report. The report was released in Boston at the 2009 National Summit on Your City’s Families and is available at

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nation's Points of Light still shining

Recently President Barack Obama joined President H.W. Bush to recognize the 20th anniversary of the "thousand points of light" program to promote and recognize service. President Obama observed during the ceremony, "In the end, service binds us to each other and to our community and to our country in a way that nothing else can". The present goal of the Points of Light Institute is to make service central to our nation’s priorities.

On October 9th, 1992 Kinship of Greater Minneapolis was the nation’s 917th daily Point of Light. Thanks to the over 1,600 volunteers who as mentors have been points of light to kids through Kinship of Greater Minneapolis. Isn't it stunning how impactful light can be, especially in a dark room? Let's continue to let our lights shine in a world that so desperately needs light and hope!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Best practices in mentoring

I’m sometimes amused when I hear from someone who asks me in amazement… you mean you get paid for working with a mentoring program? It’s as if they thought that since mentors were volunteers these relationships should simply happen without any paid staff or the necessary infrastructure. I’m quick to reply that much like operating an adoption agency, to do quality mentoring is not quick, easy or free.

Recently MENTOR released their third edition of Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring. Some of the key practices include recruitment, screening, orientation, training, matching, follow-up support, recognition and closure of relationships. To do all of these practices commonly require professional staff, which in turn requires funding.

The backbone of mentoring relies on the kindness of volunteers to befriend kids in need. However without a strong infrastructure even the most enthusiastic efforts are likely to fail. Kinship’s had over 50 years to evolve its programming, and it continues to evolve. Having matches that last on average well over three years is an indicator of the value of our effective practices.

I'm proud that Kinship models the elements of effective practice. Thanks to all who provide funding and volunteer support to make this possible!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Blessed to be a blessing

It came as a surprise to see one of our long time Kinship mentors, Tim Wilberding, highlighted in the business section of the StarTribune this week. As a successful businessman he was recognized for both his growing business and also his interesting background. In addition to having an MBA he also earned a bachelors degree in Christian ministry. Another interesting aspect of Tim's background is that he was in the rodeo while in college and continued riding for few years afterwards on the professional circuit.

Tim's business is Loan Analytics Inc., an Apple Valley company that provides loan-portfolio analysis software to banks in the farm credit system.

In addition to being a faithful Kinship mentor to an 11 year-old boy, Tim also volunteers once-a-week at an Apple Valley nursing home, and does some periodic street evangelizing to share the scripture.

Tim described his motivation for these activities: "Those who are blessed should share their blessings with others."

My hats off to Tim Wilberding for putting his faith into action on behalf of others in need!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Chicago's $60 million dollar investment to stop youth violence

The city of Chicago is going to be investing sixty million dollars over two years on 10,000 kids they have identified as being most likely targets of violence (Article printed in Star Tribune). They will be giving these teens additional adult attention, jobs and a local advocate that will be on call for them 24 hours a day.

This action is being taken with hopes of impacting the rampant violence among Chicago's youth. There have been 67 deaths since 2007 from youth violence while hundreds of others have survived shootings and beatings on their way home from school.

The city of Minneapolis has its own plan to quell youth violence, entitled the Blueprint for Action: Preventing Youth Violence in Minneapolis. The four key areas of focus for this plan are as follows:

*Connect every youth with a trusted adult,
*Intervene at the first sign that youth are at risk for violence,
*Restore youth who have gone down the wrong path, and
*Unlearn the culture of violence in our community.

Kinship has an active role with this plan in helping connect youth with trusted adults. When we match up kids with adults who will be a positive, steady influence in their lives, they are much more likely to get headed toward successful lives and less likely to end up as victims or perpetrators of violence. Kinship's also got a special focus on mentoring children of prisoners, who without intervention are seven times more likley than their peers to enter the correctional system.

If you're looking to stop the violence, please consider becoming a mentor to one of the more that 140 kids on our waiting list who are all eager to have an adult friend.

Friday, October 2, 2009

KIDS COUNT: Children’s Defense Fund Study

There was both good news and bad news mixed in the most recent study of children’s welfare in the state of Minnesota. First the good news:

• Students dropping out of school has declined 57 percent since 2000.
• 6,277 children were abused and neglected, a 33 percent decrease from 2002.
• 10,895 children were arrested for a serious crime, down from 15,398 in 2000.

The bad news:

• 11 percent of Minnesota’s children lived in poverty in 2008.
• 24 percent of Asian children in Minnesota live below the poverty level in 2007, the worst among all 32 states participating in KIDS COUNT with enough Asian children to produce reliable estimates.
• 88,000 Minnesota children did not have health care coverage in 2008, an increase from 2007.
• 270,247 (33 percent) Minnesota children received free/reduced price lunch during the 2008-2009 school year.

Among other concerning statistics, the study noted single parent households have risen 27% from 2000-07. We know that these families are more likely to struggle financially and less likley to afford adequate child care, safe housing, and proper health care.

The Children's Defense Fund estimates the annual costs to the state of Minnesota resulting from children growing up in poverty is 5.7 billion dollars.

The full report "The Building Blocks for Successful Children: Minnesota Kids Count Databook 2009" is available for download in a PDF format.