NEW ULM - Scott Melick entered the Pro Kinship for Kids mentorship program with a similar mindset to a number of adults considering becoming a mentor - he would try it for a while, but wasn't committed to a long-term investment.
That was four years ago. Since Melick first met Pro Kinship for Kids Director Kari Beran and was paired up with his mentee, then nine-year-old Cory, his relationship with Cory has developed in ways that he never could have foreseen.
"I told [Beran] at that time, 'OK, I'll try it for six months, then we'll see what happens, then I'll probably be done after that,'" Melick said. "Well, now Cory and I have been together four years."
Photos courtesy of Pro Kinship for Kids
A sample of the vast number of activities that Pro Kinship for Kids mentors and mentees get up to during their time together.
At first Melick needed time to develop a trusting relationship with Cory, but now the bond between the two has become deeper than just a simple mentor-mentee relationship. Melick now considers it as a friendship, which is one of the many positive returns he has received for his decision to become a mentor.
"The mentor gets out of it a sense of accomplishment, just because you're doing something for a kid," Melick said. "The other thing is, with Cory and I anyway after four years, it's become a bond and a friendship. He's 13 now, and I sure as heck plan on watching him graduate from high school. Some of the things that we didn't have in common - he was a fisherman, and I wasn't - well, I fish now. He was not much of a golfer at all, hadn't played golf - he plays a little golf with me now. So we've both gained from it.
"I think if anyone is considering going into this, if you're going into it just to give, that's great. But watch out, because you're going to get back, too."
"I think if anyone is considering going into this, if you're going into it just to give, that's great...
... But watch out, because you're going to get back, too."
- Scott Melick, Pro Kinship for Kids mentor
The success story between Melick and Cory is just one of many that Pro Kinship for Kids has experienced since it was established in Brown County 24 years ago.
"Pro Kinship for Kids started back in 1988," Beran said. "We're a non-profit, we work with at-risk youth doing the matches of adult volunteer mentors to kids that need an extra support person in their life."
Despite the many benefits that the mentors receive from the program, of course the primary objective of Pro Kinship for Kids is to see positive impacts in the lives of the children in the program.
Children that are entered into the program often come from single-parent families, or other situations where they are in need of extra emotional support in their lives from an adult role model. Commonly the children have trust issues with adults due to having had adults constantly fluctuate in and out of their lives, or have grown up in situations where they haven't been afforded much one-on-one time with adults.
Beran has overseen the development of numerous mentor-mentee relationships during her nine years as director, during which time she has seen vast improvements in the disposition of the children involved.
"For me, being here nine years at Pro Kinship for Kids, seeing those kids over that nine years, it's drastic changes," Beran said. "It's subtle at first, but after you see them for a few years, you go, 'I remember when I first met you, you were the kid that hid behind the door and told me you didn't want to talk to me.' It's dramatic changes from the time they start to when they leave."
A sign of the program's success is that this past May, Pro Kinship for Kids had three mentees that had been with the program since kindergarten graduate from New Ulm High School. Two of the kids' mentors had been with them for eight years, and the other kid had been with the same mentor for six years.
Although the program is flourishing with the mentors it currently has, Beran notes that Pro Kinship is always in need of new mentors, in particular male mentors.
"We're doing well, but we always have a waiting list," Beran said. "There's constantly a waiting list for mentors - just when I match somebody, I get three more referrals I would say from the school. It's kind of the way it happens. Currently right now I have a waiting list of 10 little boys and one little girl... We currently have 14 active mentor-mentee pairs going in Brown County, but there's almost that many sitting on a waiting list."
Despite the need for new mentors, Beran has found in her experience that mentorship isn't a commitment that can be made on a whim.
"Mentoring isn't something that you hear once, and say, 'I'm going to go do that,'" Beran said. "It's got to sit there a while and you've got to think about it, it's not something that people jump into it. Honestly, if somebody jumped into it I'd be a little skeptical about it, because it is a commitment."
Melick had bounced around the idea of becoming a mentor with his wife for five years before finally deciding to follow through with it. Four years ago, Melick heard Beran give a presentation with her mentee at the time, Heather, and with both of his daughters out of the house and with him nearing retirement age, he decided it was the right time to get involved.
Melick's case is common among mentors in the program, with most mentors beginning at a similar age.
"I would say our mentors come for a variety of different reasons," Beran said. "For some of our mentors, their children are grown and out of the area, so they come to us at that point wanting to come in and still have contact with some kids and impact some youth's lives. We have some that are grandparents that are mentors for us, because their grandchildren are way away and they decide, 'I would really like to still work with kids.' We have some younger mentors that come that haven't been married, that have just an interest in kids and want to be a big brother or big sister to another kid, so they come for a variety of reasons."
Trista Glover represents an example of a younger person deciding to become a mentor.
Glover also encountered Beran while she was giving a presentation alongside a current mentee, and after having worked with kids her entire life - including baby-sitting, mentoring at camps and starting a mentor program for kids in a domestic abuse shelter in her hometown of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. - Glover decided that she had enough extra time to become involved with Pro Kinship for Kids.
"I've always loved working with children, and this is actually the first time I've only had one job, so I had a little extra time on my hands," Glover said. "I'm pretty new to the area, I've been in New Ulm for a year and a half approximately, so just having something to fill that time with was really what I was looking for. When [Beran] said she had 14 kids on the waiting list, I was like, 'That's not OK - can I take them all?' Kari's like, 'Maybe you should start with one first.'"
Glover has now been with her mentee, Mackenzie, for four months. Glover has already found that Mackenzie is willing to open up to her, whether during their in-person meetings or through other forms of communication.
"Our preferred communication right now is Yahoo IM, because she's on that all the time and she just loves to chat it up," Glover said. "She'll come home and say, 'Today was a bad day at school, this is what happened,' or, ' Hey, you want to get together this weekend?'"
The activities that Glover and Mackenzie have done together include swimming, watching movies, taking walks or just eating meals together. The pair recently bonded over the movie "Titanic" - which Glover was a fan of when it first came out during her teenage years, with Mackenzie having latched onto it during its re-release this year - and they are currently making plans to have a movie marathon together.
"It's been very interesting to kind of get to know her," Glover said. "There are ways I think that we interact very well, where we have a lot in common, and then there are things that we have absolutely not in common. But it's great to build off of, so now I get to see the world through her eyes, and that's a really neat aspect."
"I think just feeling needed is a really nice aspect for me, because I have that extra time," Glover added. "I don't know a lot of people in town, being fairly new to it. It's nice to have that connection, even in a younger person. That was where my background was, was working with children - I don't necessarily work with children one-on-one anymore, but now I still get that experience, which is really where a lot of my passion lies."
Although Melick and Glover are examples of individuals deciding to become mentors, Pro Kinship for Kids also allows couples to sign on to mentor together, and even has had whole families sign on to mentor a single child.
Mentors are asked to spend at least four hours with their mentees over the course of a month, but both Melick and Glover have found that the amount of time spent together can vary drastically.
The most important aspect of being a mentor is being able to remain in consistent contact with your mentee, since time is the most precious gift a mentor can give.
"They just need somebody that says, 'Hey, you know what? For the next three hours, I'm yours, we're going to have fun,'" Melick said.
For anyone who feels they have the time to give and are up to the task of becoming a mentor, you can find out more about Pro Kinship for Kids at www.prokinship.org.
"Mentoring is a lifestyle choice," Beran said. "Giving back to kids, giving back to your community and making that commitment to helping some of these kids that really need that extra person in their life - somebody they can pick up the phone, call and say, 'I really had a bad day today,' and they're willing to listen to it and give them their ear. Time is what these kids want, and don't have a lot at their home potentially."