A Way To Give BackPublished 12:42pm Monday, February 10, 2014 Updated 10:41am Monday, March 31, 2014
ARTICLE & PHOTOS BY PAULA WOJCIK
Shipman is the Director of Kinship of Perham Area. With a background in sales and marketing as well as nursing and social work, Shipman has guided the program to the success it is today – helping youth in three communities with satellite programs in Parkers Prairie and Fergus Falls. For the past twelve years Shipman has invested herself wholeheartedly in this career that has grown to be a family affair. Shipman’s husband Haden and three grown children – Megan, Matthew and Mark – have been on board with everything she has done for the program as well as all her fundraising efforts.
“Everything from putting stickers on mailers to jumping into a frozen lake and participating in triathlon, they have done it,” said Shipman. Although, she admits, there have been a couple times where her family may have been a little less than enthusiastic about her fervor. “There was one fundraiser my husband wasn’t so happy with me about,” said Shipman about her decision to raise money by sitting on top of the Perham water tower. “We needed money, and we needed it quick,” she explained. The gamble worked as Shipman raised $15,000 in only four hours.
“The key to raising money is to be unique,” shared Shipman, which is where her background in sales and marketing comes into play. Shipman has tried numerous different tactics in her fundraising efforts such as getting local organizations like the Dent Lions to sponsor kids, the annual polar plunge called Freezin’ For a Reason, the Average Joe Triathlon, and even organizing a “float” in effort to not only raise money, but draw awareness to the cause by breaking the world record for the biggest organized group floating on a body of water at one time.
“Unfortunately, we got rained out this past year,” said Shipman, “but the float’s not dead! We haven’t given up. We are planning to try again in 2016 on a different lake.”
So what is all this fundraising for anyway?
It’s for the kids. Kinship of Perham Area has been helping youth through its mentoring program by providing positive role models since 1996, as well as more recently in Parkers Prairie and Fergus Falls. “Being a kid these days is hard,” said Jill Fazio, director of the Fergus Falls program. “Becoming a mentor is a very rewarding way for a person to give back and become a leader and make an investment on improving a life in their community.”
And giving back is just what many local community members are doing. Currently, Kinship of Perham Area has 75 mentor/child connections for children age 5-17. Connections are made through a careful application process for the mentors and close relationships and referrals from school personnel, child protection services and clergy.
“We find out the interests of both the mentors and the children,” explained Shipman. “We get to know the mentors well so we can pair them with the right kid. We don’t rush the application process.” Shipman also gets to know the needs of the children as well. This process takes a lot of time, but Shipman says it is worth it.
“Many of the children in the program are ‘at risk’ kids,” said Shipman. “It is important to pair them with mentors that will have a positive impact on their lives.”
Although the process is meticulous, it is not difficult to become or to be a mentor, and Shipman admits the program really relies on community members. Senior citizens, United Community Bank employees, ACS employees – all these people have given a few hours of their time each month to spend time reading, hanging out and/or doing activities with children in need of attention, and each road began by filling out a simple application. For many of them, that first step has resulted in building long-lasting relationships.
“Each year we try to compatibly match mentors with children,” explained Shipman. “Sometimes mentors are paired with a new child each school year, and sometimes mentors stay with the same child over the years because they have bonded, and it works for them.”
Many of the mentors are Reading Buddies in which they help kindergarten students during class time by reading to them. Often times, by spring those students are reading to their mentors! Other ways to be involved as mentors include spending time with students during lunch, hanging out after school or even going to the Perham Area Community Center.
“It’s important to stay active,” said Shipman. “Many ‘at risk’ kids don’t have the same opportunities as other kids. Thanks to a grant, mentors and their kids can go to the PACC for free.” At the PACC kids and mentors can play various sports, work out and even go swimming. “It’s a great way to stay active, especially in the cold winter months,” said Shipman. The premise for the mentorship program is to guide the kids towards making good choices and raise their self-esteem, resulting in renewed enthusiasm and often an increase in grades.
Of course, as Shipman is well aware, it’s not always easy. “We are always in need of more mentors and volunteers,” she said. “And there are times that I get burned out.” Fortunately, when that happens, somebody always comes along with a good story to reenergize her drive. “It’s always reassuring when we see the positive effects like an improvement in grades and motivation in the kids that wasn’t there before.”
Other mentorship programs include GAP (Girls Are Powerful) and BRAG (Boys aRe Always Gifted). These groups meet at least once a month and focus on nutrition, arts and crafts, knitting, physical activity, etc., while providing a safe environment for the students to just be themselves. “We started out with GAP for the girls in grades 5-12,” said Shipman. “We mostly just sit around knitting and chatting. It was so wonderful to see how these girls interacted – both in helping each other and in their conversations! Then the boys were wanting their own group, so we started BRAG. Their activities tend to be more physical, but they do their own nutrition and arts and crafts as well. They even made spice racks for their families for Christmas presents.” Shipman has also enlisted the help of Marilyn Hofland from the U of M Extension service to lend her expertise, rounding out the groups’ experiences. There are also times when combined events with the two groups are held.
“All these kids are so nice,” said Shipman. “We have a very diverse group, and the interaction between older students and younger is amazing. It’s nice to see older students relate and help out the younger ones regardless of their personal story/situation.”
Every child deserves a chance, and Kinship of Perham Area, as well as Fergus Falls and Parkers Prairie, provides the opportunity for that chance to exist. Kinship mentoring is not about telling a child what to do, it is about guiding the child to discover his/her own strengths, offering emotional support, just being there for each other, and standing by him/her through joys and challenges.
“Passion. I think that is what it’s all about,” said Shipman. “What started as a job has turned into passion.”
For more information about Kinship of Perham Area or to become a mentor, log onto http://www.kinshipperham.com or check out their Facebook pages.