BLUE EARTH - A lot of kids need a caring adult to help them navigate growing up, says Katy Gonzalez, coordinator of Blue Earth Area Mentors (BEAM).
If anyone is interested, there's no better time than January, which is National Mentor Month.
The non-profit BEAM matches adult mentors with at-risk youth.
"The hope is that by catching it early and connecting them to someone, it's just one more reason for them to say no to those negative choices," Gonzalez said.
These aren't kids in trouble with the law, just kids who need a positive adult role model in their lives.
BEAM takes kids ages 7-17, with exceptions for special circumstances. There are 32 mentees and 33 mentors, but some are married couples who work in pairs.
"We always are needing more mentors," Gonzalez said.
The more mentors, the more kids served.
"Most of our referrals come from Human Services, schools, parents," Gonzalez said.
Referrals are for kids struggling through issues such as divorce; death of a loved one; problems in school.
"Any situation where they are at risk for making negative choices in life," Gonzalez said.
Mentors don't need special skills or to plan elaborate activities, just spend time with the child.
"Mentors will bring them into their home and teach them how to cook, swim, snowmobile," Gonzalez said. "It doesn't have to be expensive; it's more about spending one-on-one time."
Both mentors and mentees have to go through an interview process so Gonzalez can best match them. She usually tries to put together a pair with similar backgrounds and interests, but not always. Sometimes a parent is worried their kid is spending too much time playing video games and wants them paired up with a more physically active adult, Gonzalez said.
She also tries to match mentors to a mentee of the same gender, but again there are exceptions, usually at the request of the child's parent or guardian.
Those interested in becoming mentors may call Gonzalez at (507) 526-5219. Potential mentors have to fill out an application and undergo a background check.
"Not that they have to have a perfect past," Gonzalez said. "A lot of mentees have really rough backgrounds and need someone to relate to."
An example she used is underage drinking. What's more important than what you did, Gonzalez said, was did you learn from it, and can you counsel youngsters about the dangers?
If people want to help, but aren't sure they can make the year-long commitment to one child, Gonzalez can still use volunteers for a wide variety of things. BEAM has a monthly activity set up by the mentee advisory board. These have included rock climbing, paintball, arts and crafts, archery, horseback riding, swimming, fishing and a day at the beach.
The board, which has two ninth-graders, one seventh-grader and one sixth-grader, does a great job, Gonzalez said, but sometimes chaperones and extra hands are needed on excursions.
She wants to set up more opportunities for the kids, and would like someone with camping skills to show the kids how to set up a tent or make a fire.
Since BEAM is solely funded by community support, fund-raising is important. Tour of Tables during the Holiday Sampler is the main one. It needs people to serve on the committee and design table settings. BEAM tried a root beer fund-raiser at Giant Days for the first time and Gonzalez wants volunteers to come up with more ideas.
"So nice to have a wide variety of options," she said.