Kinship looks back, ahead

The Kinship team in Fairmont. Back row, from left: Char Kahler, Greg Brolsma, Jane Wolverton. Front: Katy Gonzalez, Tyler Kettwich, Anna Garbers.

There’s a saying about time healing all wounds. But time also can be a positive force, allowing us to see the fruition of hopes and dreams that, at the time, may have seemed unobtainable. Such is the case for Jane Wolverton and Fairmont Area Kinship, which has now grown to include the whole of Martin County.

Wolverton, along with former Kinship director Char Kahler, sat down with current director Anna Garbers, assistant director Katy Gonzalez, associate director Greg Brolsma, and former mentee Tyler Kettwich to reminisce about the program’s origins and discuss the future.

“I worked out of my car,” said Wolverton, the first director of the program when it began in 2000. “It was every weekend, every night, and I was knocking on doors. We started the program, Greg and I had gone to Blandin, along with several others in the community, and I wanted to do something to help kids.

“I had worked corrections, I worked in the court system as an advocate, and what I saw was that kids were just not having fun. There was so much sadness that I saw as a guardian ad litem, and that’s why I thought we need a mentoring program, and others in the community thought that way too.

“I have always firmly believed that there is a genius in every single kid in this world, and if you can get the right person matched with a kid, you can bring out that genius,” she continued. “And you just have to have fun with them, because as soon as they relax that genius starts to come out and they have better self-esteem, they become creative. Then they start to have fun and become productive.”

Wolverton said the first big challenge was financial.

“We had everything in order, we had all the studies and everything, but there was no money,” she said. “I said ‘I’ll do it for free.’ I wasn’t going to sit back and watch kids not get matched with mentors because of a simple dollar.

“So then I said, I’ll be the executive director, I’ll get the books together, do the research, go to meetings and workshops, and so I did all that, and what a blessing it is now to see all these young people in here doing this.”

Wolverton later resigned due to health issues, but said it was great to see Kahler, a board member at the time, help out and take over.

“It was kind of the same thing,” Kahler said. “We didn’t have any money, and we wondered what we were going to do, and I just said I think I can fill in until we get our feet on the ground. Then filling in turned out to be longer than I thought,” she stated with a smile, noting she served as director for about nine years.

“I remember the stories over and over from Jane,” Kahler continued. “As a mentor, you’re not required to be a teacher or a counselor, or a tutor, or a coach, you’re just supposed to have fun with them.”

Kettwich, whose mentor was former Fairmont City Council member Jim Smith attested to the helpfulness of the program.

“I learned a lot from him [Jim],” he said. “There’s good in everyone, even though you don’t see it right away.”

Kettwich shared fond memories of road trips and baseball games, stating he realizes now the positive impact that having a mentor has had in his life.

Kettwich also shared that the Kinship house, which has been utilized by the program since 2003, almost didn’t happen.

“I go to the church next door here (St. John’s United Church of Christ), and the pastor had his own farm and didn’t need the house, so they were going to demolish it,” he said. “But when we heard [Kinship was] looking for an office, we talked about it and now here it still is today.”

“The use of this house is a blessing,” Kahler said. “Not all programs have that.”

Garbers, Gonzalez and Brolsma also expressed their appreciation for the house, noting the number of activities they have been able to host and the storage space that is available, as well as how nice it is for conducting interviews with parents.

The group then moved on to discussing the importance of community involvement, noting it was and has been a crucial part of making Kinship as successful as it is today.

“It’s been fun to talk about some of the things that were started 17 years ago,” Brolsma said. “One of those is our PERKs club, which is still a very important part of our work.”

PERKs stands for Professionals Encouraging Relationships with Kids.

“I went out and got organizations and businesses to offer something to one of the mentees that the mentor had to be along with to experience that relationship,” Wolverton said. “So like the high school offered something for athletic events that if the mentor brought the child to the athletic event, they got in free. Or if they go to the Dairy Freeze, they get to each have an ice cream cone, and that’s that business encouraging that relationship.”

As far as current events go, the program is preparing for the departure of Garbers from the director’s role, although she plans to stay on as a board member and a mentor.

Another ongoing effort of the program now that it is countywide is to make sure communities outside of Fairmont are included equally.

“We’ve just finished up visiting every city council to let them know that we’re here for them, we’re not just isolated in Fairmont,” Gonzalez said. “We’re also trying to spread out activities as well, we did a park day at Sherburn, we did the Ceylon Parade, and we did a survival skills day at the Cedar Point Boy Scout camp, and there will be a Nerf-gun capture the flag in Sherburn in November. We’re really trying to make sure that everyone feels that we’re here for the whole county.”

To find out how to get involved by becoming a mentor or a volunteer, or to make a donation or get more information about the program, contact Garbers, Gonzalez or Brolsma by phone at (507) 238-4440 (office) or email

Kinship has a Facebook page at