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Area residents give back to others through Kinship Partners

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Laugh more. Eat healthy foods. Stop biting the fingernails. Get a better job.

In January many of us make resolutions to guide our actions into the new year. However, over the years resolutions have become more superficial and appearance-oriented than in previous times. A typical New Year’s resolution in the late 19th century was based on good works — to become focused on others, a more giving person or a more industrious worker — and less on body image or possessions.

Three area individuals are living testimony to those old-time resolutions of giving back to others. Each has befriended a child in need of another caring adult and positive role model in their lives. Ann Bergin (East Gull Lake), Paul Nelson (Crosslake) and Liz Blowers (Nisswa) began mentoring three of Cheryl Hilgers’ six children during the past year through Kinship Partners.

Hilgers is a single parent living with six children, and she works as a home health aide. She grew up around Pequot Lakes and graduated from high school with honors in 1990. She maintains full custody of her children, while her former husband and father of the children lives out of state and has minimal contact.

Currently, the family receives no financial assistance, but does receive fuel and medical assistance, as well as food stamps. Hilgers uses the local Lakes Area Food Shelf regularly and calls them “awesome people.”

Hilger sought help from Kinship Partners so her children would get to know what other families are like and to expand their opportunities.

“My extra time is spent cleaning,” she joked, “and money is tight. Having a Kinship mentor is that extra positive thing I can give my kids.”

Bergin, a mentor to third-grader Olivia and vice president of the Kinship Advisory Board, is a Kinship Partner because she likes children and believes her own youth could have benefited from a mentor. Before meeting Olivia, Bergin mentored another girl for more than seven years who now attends college in the Twin Cities. They continue to stay in touch with one another.

“So many kids don’t get to experience how other people live,” Bergin said. “I share with her that hard work pays off ... to stay off drugs. I give her the same little talks in the car that I had with my own daughter about teen issues.”

Olivia’s favorite activities with Bergin include baking sweet treats to later share with her family, attending Kinship activities and going swimming with Bergin’s grandsons. With the help of Bergin’s encouraging words, Olivia is brimming with confidence and ready to conquer her dreams.

“I constantly tell Olivia how smart she is and how she can grow up to be anything she wants,” Bergin said. “I know I needed to hear those encouraging words. You can hang on to that forever.”

Nelson, who mentors the only Hilgers boy, second-grader John, does so because he sees mentoring as a positive for the community and fondly recalls his own informal mentor as a young boy. But the new friendship doesn’t come without some frustrations.

“It’s hard coming up with creative, fun and educational activities for an 8-year-old,” Nelson said. “But I model some of our activities on what Cub Scouts get to do. We built a birdhouse and I’ve given him an introduction to tools and technology. Hopefully it will give him a jump on what he’s going to learn and need down the road.”

Another area Nelson is reinforcing is gratitude. Nelson laughs when saying that he might be overdoing it a bit by using “please” and “thank you” in almost every sentence.

Nelson enjoys showing John what he does in his daily life, and the partners have worked together to wash and wax fire department equipment. Through this combination of work and play, Nelson hopes it leads John toward becoming an “ethically moral adult that works hard and has success in his life.”

John’s favorite experience has been riding the snowmobile for his first time. He also recalled walks in the woods and eating lots of pizza and ice cream. But even during those fun times John admits that Nelson has him “adding up sugar packets or counting money.”

With a smile, John added, “I like him. He likes me. He tells me so.”

Blowers and sixth-grader Erin have coined the term “Marvelous Mondays” to explain their time together. Blowers said Erin was at first hesitant to try new things but now “is game for anything.” Together, and often including Blowers’ husband, Drew, they enjoy shooting pool, fishing and playing card games. They also kept Erin reading over the summer and they continue to read aloud and discuss books over a meal. Blowers has acquainted Erin with her home business and they enjoy decorating for the seasons.

“Adults have lots of life experiences to offer a child,” Blowers said. “Mentors are there to listen. You don’t need to be full of advice or ready with a lecture. Mentors give them someone in their corner. Everyone wants that.”

What does Blowers hope for Erin? Indeed, Blowers has hopes for Erin and said they have even discussed them. Erin has made a promise to Liz and Drew that she will never smoke or use alcohol in high school. They work on showing gratitude. Good grades are expected. Participation in extracurricular school activities is encouraged. Conversation is shared about college and careers.

But to Erin, it’s all about having fun and trying new things.

“We both got to see our first 3D movie,” said Erin, “and I caught some pretty big bass.”

She thinks Liz is funny, but more important, a very caring person. It is also evident that having a male role model like Drew has been influential.

“He (Drew) said I have good eye-hand coordination and maybe I should try basketball,” said Erin. That’s still on the bucket list.

Bergin, Nelson and Blowers all believe that the No. 1 objection most people give for not becoming a mentor is time. Nelson said there is always time. It just needs to become a priority. Blowers agrees that the weekly commitment to the child might be scary and puts off some people, but it can be managed.

Bergin sums it up well. “It doesn’t take a lot of time. The time equivalent figures to being about two TV shows out of the week. You can do that.”

For more information about Kinship Partners in Crow Wing or southern Cass counties, call 218-454-8016 or email Visit the website at

Mentoring — Make it your New Year’s resolution!

(Jean Kraft is the lake country program coordinator for Kinship Partners.)