Kinship eyes trio of goals

Katy Gonzalez

FAIRMONT — Kinship of Martin County is starting 2019 with some fresh goals.

Having just finished up National Mentoring Month in January, the group is focusing on promoting three key areas of the program.

Director Katy Gonzalez, along with Jen Kahler and Greg Brolsma, recently sat down to share more.

“We’ve got our Sparks program, and what that’s about is helping kids discover what they’re truly passionate about, what sparks them,” Gonzalez said. “Then we work with the parents and the mentor to help fan that spark into a flame.

“Another focus area is our waiting list. We have a lot of kids that have been waiting [for a mentor match] over nine months, and we want drop that down to nine months or less over the next year. Finally, we want to strengthen partnerships with businesses throughout the county.”

The team then broke down each of those focus areas, explaining how they will work and adapt to meet their goals.

“So with Sparks, we ask the kids about things their interested in or want to try doing but sometimes we don’t know what they’re passionate about,” Gonzalez said. “But if they already know, then what better way to help them than by connecting them with another person in the community who’s passionate about the same thing? Sometimes the kids will list a lot different things, and we can help them try to find that.”

Kahler weighed in on how the Sparks program helps kids finds other mentors in their life.

“Even if the mentor and mentee have a good connection over some things, they’re not necessarily going to match on everything,” she said. “So this helps to get them connected to other people and the community as a whole as they seek out different things that have to do with their passion, whether its CER courses, finding a job, or getting involved volunteer-wise or social justice-wise.”

Brolsma explained how and why the Kinship program would like to strengthen its partnership with local businesses.

“We’re reading information about mentorship and businesses and how businesses thrive on that to grow and the impact their own employees have in the company,” he said. “So if businesses are wanting to institute mentor practices in their own business, let’s also encourage them and be connected so that they think about ways to help us expand the number of adults who are mentoring kids.

“The younger that kids start getting excited about being mentored, the better they do in school and the better connected they are to other people. Then when they get to the business, they thrive a little bit more. So we want to be reaching out to more employers around the community to be thinking about the employees that they have, because it benefits the kids, the community, and potentially their business.”

Brolsma shared some statistics from the National Research Mentoring Network on how mentoring also positively impacts mentors and mentees.

“Young adults who were at risk of falling off track but had a mentor are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college,” he said. “Ninety percent are interested in becoming a mentor themselves, and 130 percent are more likely to hold leadership positions. Those are big numbers, so when you think about the impact mentoring has on adults and kids, this is the kind of thing that results from that.”

“It’s also good for the mentors,” Gonzalez added. “We’ve seen in our mentors’ lives and they talk about it. They talk about what they’ve learned from the mentees.”

As far as improving the wait time for kids who need a mentor, Gonzalez says the issue isn’t just about getting kids and mentors together, but rather about finding personalities that are going to mesh, in order to provide the most benefit to the children.

“We currently have 31 kids on the waiting list spread throughout the county,” she said. “Our youngest is age 5 and our oldest is 15. We have some who have been waiting over two years.

“Our goal of nine months means that we have to match all of these 31 mentees in the next nine months, and we’re going to need the help of everyone in the community to do that. When these kids sign up for the program there’s a reason why they signed up, and if they have to wait two years think of all the time that’s been lost. So now they wonder why they’re still waiting.

“We’re trying to form a solid friendship, and you’re just not a close friend with every person that you know. So we look for mentors and mentees that are based on life circumstances and different interests and passions that are the same. We ask for a one-year commitment and we do not want matches to end early, because if the match ends early it’s actually worse for the kids then if we never would have matched them.”

Those interested in contacting Martin County Kinship may do so by phone at (507) 238-4440 (office) or by email at

The program can also be found on Facebook.