It isn’t always easy for single parents to give their children the opportunity to fully explore their interests — especially if it is something that is outside of the parents’ area of knowledge. That is something Michelle Hoover of Little Falls knows first-hand.
Her son, Dylan, a sixth grade student at the Little Falls Community Middle School, is passionate about fishing and hunting.
“I don’t fish or hunt and nobody in my family is hunting anymore,” she said. “But if he really wanted to, I would have stepped up, but since I don’t fish or hunt, I don’t know a whole lot about it.”
Michelle said when Dylan struggled with the absence of his father about a year ago, the school social worker encouraged his mom to consider the mentorship program that Kinship of Morrison County offers.
Initially, she thought the program was only meant for children who had little to no support system, which didn’t describe their situation, as Dylan has a strong support system on her side of the family.
“I think a lot of people have that misconception that it’s for families that are broken. But after talking to the school social worker, I thought, ‘It can’t hurt to look into it,’” she said. “I am a single parent, so any help I can get from a trusted adult, I am going to take it.”
Dylan was matched to Kinship Mentor Kurt Kneeland about a year ago. Mentors and KinKids are matched based on gender and mutual interests.
“I think they matched us because I like to hunt and fish and Dylan likes that, too,” Kneeland said.
At first, both were nervous to meet as they didn’t know each other and were both new to the program.
“I didn’t know what to think because I had no idea, but it went well. Becoming a Kinship mentor was the best thing I ever did,” Kneeland said.
Since then, the two have participated in a variety of activities together, including hunting and fishing. Kneeland said after Kinship of Morrison County gives out its newsletter, they look at the different activities Kinship has to offer, such as canoeing, fishing, baking Christmas cookies and going to a baseball game and plan their time around that.
It’s also an opportunity for those who are matched, unmatched and volunteers to interact and have a fun time.
“It’s a lot of fun. You get to meet a lot of people, too,” Dylan said.
Other times, they get together for different activities outside of those Kinship offers.
Last year, Kneeland and Michelle’s father helped and supported Dylan as he went through gun safety training. It was not only a fun and a great experience for Dylan to learn how to handle firearms safely and more, but also meant a lot to Michelle that her son has that extra support and people to show him how.
“I probably wouldn’t have shot guns with him because I don’t do that. Kinship gives Dylan the opportunity to explore different things and it is important for kids to know gun safety,” Michelle said.
As Kneeland has a property in Cushing he hunts on, he brought Dylan there last year. However, despite their efforts, they did not spot one deer.
“I learned that you don’t always see deer. It got a little boring not to see any, but I had fun anyway,” Dylan said.
This year, the two will explore hunting through archery, which is what Kneeland usually does and it is something Dylan is looking forward to. They are also considering participating in the youth hunt at Camp Ripley.
Kneeland and Dylan also went fishing several times, including on the ice. Dylan had the opportunity to learn how to read a depth-finder, various fishing tips and more. Their fishing trips were also more fruitful than their hunting experience as they caught several fish.
“It was a lot of fun,” Dylan said.
Kneeland became a mentor for Kinship about two years ago. As he is a member of the Little Falls Knights of Columbus and the organization donates to Kinship, he said Kinship Executive Director Aaron Olson visited one of their meetings and spoke about the difference mentors can make and that they have several children who are waiting to be matched with a mentor.
“I had been thinking about becoming a mentor for a long time, but just didn’t get around to doing it. But when he told me there were still kids waiting to be matched, I decided I better do something,” he said.
Kneeland said mentors are volunteers whose role is that of a friend to the KinKid, as well as a role model for him or her. Individuals, who are 18 and older, married couples and families can apply to become mentors.
Once the applicant has attended an orientation meeting and has gone through the application process, which includes a background check, a reference check and an interview with Kinship staff, the search for a “match” begins.
Mentors commit to spending a minimum of four hours per month with their “KinKid,” engaging in activities that cost little to nothing. The commitment lasts for a year at a time, but can be renewed annually.
Sometimes finding the time to invest can be difficult, Kneeland said, but it is a sacrifice he gladly makes. Being a mentor has not only had a positive impact on Dylan, but also on Kneeland.
“Just being able to take him and do different things has been great. I never had a son, I just had a daughter, so it’s been great to show him what I know about hunting and fishing. He is also very easy to get along with. I couldn’t ask for anybody better to be matched with,” he said.
Dylan said Kneeland is someone he looks up to and has learned a lot from.
“It’s like having an older brother,” he said.
Kneeland is also someone he can go to for advice on topics he may not necessarily be comfortable talking to his mom about, he said.
Michelle and Kneeland said one key element that has made the match between him and her son successful is the open communication she and Kneeland have. They are able to coordinate the activities directly rather than needing to have someone else do it for them.
The mentorship between Kneeland and Dylan continues to thrive and they are looking forward to another year of adventures.