Many Duluth children in need of mentorsTen-year-old Star Mishler, the youngest of 10 children, lives in a single- parent household. When some of her older siblings started being paired with mentors through the YMCA’s Mentor Duluth program, she wanted in, too.
Ten-year-old Star Mishler, the youngest of 10 children, lives in a single- parent household. When some of her older siblings started being paired with mentors through the YMCA’s Mentor Duluth program, she wanted in, too.
She got her wish when she was paired with Kris Cook just before Christmas in 2011.
“Things are going great,” Star, a fourth-grader at Nettleton Elementary School, said. “I love doing stuff with her and getting out of the house.”
Cook, who works as a family employment advocate at Community Action Duluth, has a 17-year-old daughter, but she says having a mentee allows her to keep doing “kid things.”
“We meet sporadically because I’m so busy at times,” she said. “It depends what’s going on, but we always find time to get together.”
Star and Cook are just one of about 300 pairs in the Mentor Duluth program, according to program advocate Cassie Flynn. But there are still nearly 250 on the waiting list for a mentor, she said, and volunteers are desperately needed.
To promote the need for mentors, Mentor Duluth representatives launched a “75 Mentors in 75 Days” campaign last month to coincide with the organization’s 75th anniversary. However, even 75 new mentors just scratches the surface, Flynn said.
“If we get to 75, that doesn’t even cover half of it,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to raise awareness.”
The campaign kicked off on March 1 and continues until May 14. As of early this week, about 30 new mentors had signed on during the campaign, Flynn reported.
That may be due in part to the organization’s “flamingo strategy,” by which Mentor Duluth staffers fill the front yards of friends and colleagues with plastic, pink flamingos, a practice known as “flamingoing.”
The friendly form of bribery is commonly used by groups and organizations for fundraising. But the mentor Duluth staffers have put their own spin on it: The “flamingoed” homeowners must turn over three names of possible mentors before the lawn ornaments will be removed.
“We’ve gotten a few new mentors out of it and heard from others who have just seen them around town,” Flynn said. “It’s a visibility thing.”
Requirements for mentors are minimal. They must be at least 18 years old and have graduated from high school, have access to reliable transportation and pass a criminal-background check.
There is a one-year commitment for mentors, and they are expected to spend approximately 8-12 hours a month with a mentee.
Most of the children in the program come from single-parent households and are in need of more support, Flynn said.
“Kids that don’t get one-on-one time,” she said. “Their parents are working to make ends meet, and they need extra support. We’re looking for someone they can hang out with and try new activities and just get out of the house. Go to the lake or play basketball. It can be anything.”
For Star and Cook, going to the movies, bowling and sharing hot chocolate at coffee shops are common activities. But they’ve also visited Bentleyville, gone to the circus, watched a University of Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey game, and they’re thinking about making a trip to the state fair this summer.
“There are a lot of things we can do that don’t cost a lot,” Cook said.
For Star, it’s an opportunity to do some activities that aren’t always possible with a large family and single mother.
“I like having a mentor because
I get to do fun stuff,” she said.
Star’s older sister, Amanda, 21, also had a mentor growing up. But the relationship didn’t end when she turned 18 and had to leave the program.
“I’ve known my mentor for 10 years now,” she said. “We still stay in contact and we still hook up sometimes.”
If you are interested in mentoring, visit mentorduluth.org or call (218)722-4745, ext. 120.