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Kinship program works around social limitations

FAIRMONT — From sea to shining sea, one cannot get away from the current news cycle when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. Disrupting business, schools, and family gatherings, there is seemingly no area of life left untouched. Social distancing is the name of the game, but how do you offer services to children who need more interaction rather than less?

This is the question faced by Kinship Martin County as the program continues to try and match children and mentors in a mutually beneficial relationship. Representatives of the program are trying to answer the call even in the middle of some internal changes.

Director Jen Kahler has taken the lead, with former director Katy Gonzalez stepping back into her previous role of associate director, along with Sarah Caballero. On top of that, Kahler notes that the program is trying to get some small group mentoring programs off the ground.

The group programs would accomplish two goals. First, they would allow kids to get involved immediately, even if they’re waiting to be matched with a mentor. Second, teenagers ages 14 and up may not do well in a one on one setting because they have more particular wants and needs. Those children may have a harder time forming a relationship with an adult.

“It’s had a lot of fits and starts,” Kahler said. “In trying to roll it out this month, we’ve gained a greater awareness of some of the things that we take for granted in our one-on-one matches. We’re realizing how heavily we rely on the mentors for transportation and communication for some of the mentees, and when there’s just two of us trying to work with an entire group of families, that dynamic changes a lot.

“So we haven’t actually started any group mentoring yet. We’re in the process of figuring out how we can use the framework that we’ve built and some of the curriculum ideas that we’ve come up within an at-home setting, and whether or not including parents and potential mentors in part of that group would be a way to resolve some of those issues.”

Kahler noted that there is an interest among kids in the program, but the trick is trying to make it sustainable. Caballero shared that it’s also difficult to work on any kind of group planning during a time when groups of any kind are being discouraged. Given the current situation, Gonzalez said it is difficult to look ahead to what those programs are going to look like while everything is on lockdown, but noted that they are keeping the needs of the kids they serve at the forefront.

“We are always looking for mentors, and especially more male mentors,” she said. “We’re also looking for any businesses that have a passion for mentoring and would be willing to have us talk with them or be spokespeople for our program. Right now we’re not doing any meetings or speaking arrangements, and we know it’s kind of a hard time for businesses as well.”

Kahler also shared that there are six female mentors on deck and waiting to get some things finalized or get matched with a child.

“That’s just another piece that we’re trying to figure out how to navigate. It’s a question of how or if we’re going to do first match meetings during this quarantine time.

“It’s one thing to do a video interview, that’s not a hard thing to do. But it’s also like blind-dating in a way, trying to make a match with two people who’ve never actually met each other in person.”

Gonzalez explained how matching normally works.

“Usually when we make matches, the future mentor and potential mentee are able to meet and hang out together until they both feel comfortable with it,” she said. “The parent has met this person, the child has met this person and feels comfortable, and the mentor feels comfortable. That way we’re getting off to a really strong start.

“Now, when that’s not encouraged, we have these six mentors and most of them are all the way through the process. We don’t know what to tell them because we’re still walking through what it’s going to look like and what the county decides, and what different things are going to get put in place before we can tell them.”

However, despite the difficulties, Gonzalez shared that the program is not at a standstill, as they continue to operate as best they can.

“We’re still willing to interviews and meetings over the internet. We’re still definitely looking for mentors and we can still get people started in the process. We want to make sure our mentors are properly screened and can have a strong connection with mentees when they do meet.”

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