Posts Tagged: winneshiek county

Mentoring: Thanks for Being A Friend

Northeast Iowa Youth Mentoring program celebrates 20 years of services

By Aryn Henning Nichols

Kathy Schwartzhoff sits in an office in Helping Services for Youth and Family, a stack of papers neatly piled in front of her – details and history at the ready as she shares stories from her two decades working as mentoring coordinator in Northeast Iowa. The office is situated in a cozy house on a corner lot in Decorah, but Kathy’s not “home” there often. She’s more likely traveling around the region playing – but really, working – matchmaker.

It’s not matchmaking like you might think. Kathy is a friendship matchmaker. She makes mentor matches for kids looking for time with an adult, or a fun reason to get out and explore, or kids simply wanting to make another friend.

“Lasting relationships,” Kathy says. “That’s the life force of mentoring.”

“One man – every time I see him, he gives me an update like, ‘My guy called to talk about college with me,’” she continues. “They’re still in each others’ lives. And that’s just one person sharing his story. I hear the same kinds of stories from people who have only done mentoring for a year.”

The concept behind mentoring is really pretty simple: Connect a youth with a responsible adult, and build a healthy friendship. Mentors are not parents, psychologists, or social workers. Rather, they’re role models, sharing their time and experiences with a young person.

Winneshiek County celebrated 20 years of providing kids mentors in January of 2018, and the two-decade anniversary for Howard and Allamakee was November 2018. Delaware County began in 2009.

Kathy has led the Winneshiek program from the start, and she’s been in charge of all three of the Northeast Iowa county programs for the last 15 years.

But it all started at a meeting amongst various local non-profits and agencies.

“Someone said, ‘We’ve been hearing about mentoring programs. Is anyone interested?’” Kathy says. “Eight or 10 people raised their hands, and we were off.”

“It took two years to get it going. We built it from scratch,” she continues. “We looked at a lot of programs across the country – pamphlets, information… I mean this was before the Internet. We gathered everything and picked what we thought would best suit the program we wanted to build.”

Everyone took little portions, and slowly, they put together criteria and training, and launched the program with just 10 mentors and mentees.

“We had no money. No other volunteers. No staff. Now try doing that,” Kathy says with a laugh.

The process for mentors goes like this: After potential mentors fill out an application, they complete an interview with Kathy and a two-hour training. Once approved, their basic requirements are that they spend four hours per month with their mentee and they sign on for at least a one-year commitment. Mentors can be individuals, couples (or two friends) or a family.

“As soon as I get an application, I call them on the phone,” Kathy says. “I’m in the business of building relationships, and I want to build a relationship with you as well.”

Decorah resident and business owner Paul Bauhs has been a mentor since April of 2017. His mentee, Jacob – or Jake – is eight years old.

“I signed up to be a mentor for a couple of reasons,” Paul says. “First, since I’m single with two grown kids who live out of the area, my life seemed to have gotten pretty self-centered. Mentoring seemed like a good way to ‘give back.’ Secondly, I like the idea of being a supportive friend to someone just starting out in life, sharing ideas and skills and interests, doing projects, and just plain having fun.”

They have a regular Wednesday evening ping pong match, and hang out on weekends when the schedule allows. It’s rewarding for both mentor and mentee.

“The best part of being a mentor for me, I think, is being that supportive friend that Jake can count on for serious discussions if need be,” Paul says, “as well as someone to enjoy all kinds of fun activities with.”

Jake agrees. “I like getting to do all the fun stuff like rollerskating and ping pong,” he says. And what kid wouldn’t? As for Becca, Jake’s mom, she says she wanted her son to have a positive role model outside of the family. Paul and Jake have hit it off well, and that’s in large part to Kathy’s specialty: Making a good match between mentor and mentee.

“A big part is personality,” she says. “The criteria can fit, but that doesn’t mean the personalities will.”

To become a mentee, youth must be between ages five and 16, live or attend school in Winneshiek, Allamakee, Delaware, or Howard County, and both kid and parent(s) must agree on the child having a mentor. The mentee / parents fill out an application, and then they have an interview with Kathy, where she asks the child questions about interests and wishes for an ideal role model. Kathy spends a lot of time listening and observing – she’s honed her skill over decades of experience in making a good mentor/mentee match.

“People sometimes say, ‘Kathy, how do you do that?’” she says. “Part of it is watching people’s mannerisms…How they talk. How they are. It’s not always what they say, but how they are. That helps me know if it’s right.”

Since day one, more than 1000 kids have been connected to a role model through youth mentoring. There are currently 76 kids taking part in Helping Services Youth Mentoring here in Northeast Iowa. And the impact of these friendships made between mentor and mentee goes deeper than just the two of them. Add in any other kids in the family, parents, and friends, and you’ve got a pretty wide-reaching, positive influence.

This January marks the 17th anniversary of National Mentoring Month. There are currently about 25 to 30 kids waiting to find a mentor here. For four hours a month, a mentor could help these kids add more positive experiences to their lives.

“It doesn’t have to be a fancy-schmancy outing,” Kathy says. “We had one mentee who was so excited to simply wash a car with his mentor one sunny day.”

There are also opportunities to “try it out” or sign on with less commitment though events. These are fun group outings like picnics, trips to local museums, and more. A Mentor For A Day is a person who has agreed to attend a mentoring event as a friend to a youth whose regular mentor could not attend, or one who is on the waiting list for a mentor.

These events are popular for mentors, mentees, Mentors For A Day, staff…pretty much all who attend.

“I asked Jacob what he thought about a recent event they attended, and his reply was, ‘I just liked being here. Being with the people I was with.’” Kathy says. “It just as simple as that.”

“We have this opportunity to make a difference in these kids’ lives,” she continues. “What they are facing at home? What are their challenges? Where do they find joy? All I know for sure is that Jacob found joy that day.”

Aryn Henning Nichols thinks the Helping Services Youth Mentoring Program is great, and encourages you to check it out if you’re even just a little bit interested. Let’s spread more positivity in this world!

Go to www.helpingservices.org/youth-mentoring-services/ to apply or get more information.

Read the Summer 2018 Inspire(d)!

Lots of fun things to look forward to in the Summer 2018 Inspire(d):

4-H • Dunning’s Spring bridge / Stonemason Ted Wilson • Viroqua’s Growing for Good • Adventures in the Driftless • Summer “Fill Your” Bucket List • Wabasha’s LARK Toys • Sum of Your Business: WW Homestead Dairy, Paper Butterflies, & More!

A note from Aryn:

Thinking back on my childhood, summer was all about adventures. Oftentimes, those adventures were just exploring the woods in my backyard or going down to the nearby creek with my cousins to squish cold mud between our toes.

So there’s nothing that brings me more joy than watching my kid run around our backyard, barefoot, hiding behind ferns and playing silly made-up games with her friends, or climbing up the rocks at Dunning’s Spring in Decorah. (Read Kristine Jepsen’s story about the new Dunning’s Spring bridge, and stonemason Ted Wilson on page 42 – it is fascinating!)

This is the stuff of summer, you guys!

Need a little inspiration to get you started? You clearly came to the right place! Check out our Summer Fill Your Bucket List, and some great events you might want to add to your Adventure Calendar this season (ever heard of the Catgut Paddle? It looks awesome!). Adventuring Ideas start on page 34, plus there’s a nice round up of resources available for exploring our little corner of the Driftless (pg 64), compiled by recent Luther grad Elizabeth Bonin.

CLICK HERE to read the Summer 2018 issue of Inspire(d) Magazine!

I know one adventure we’re adding to our list for sure: LARK Toys in Wabasha, Minnesota. How is it that I’ve never been to this giant (seriously, it’s 21,000 square feet!) toy store? Reading Maggie Sonnek’s story about how the current owners took on this “Willy Wonka-style” job – and how it connects to a slower pace of life – was truly beautiful (pg. 55).

Another big part of my childhood summer was 4-H. At the end of the school year, I would pick a pattern with my mom, and together we’d sew a project (inevitably we’d run right up on the fair deadline in July – an early sign of my aversion to deadlines?). I would often submit a photograph or another craft too, or maybe even do a presentation (I got to go to Cattle Congress as a junior member!). I remember painting awesome trash cans with our 4-H club name (the Cherry Valley Chums) for the Allamakee County Fair and working the food booth with fellow members.

(Sidenote: I totally could have entered something crafty with the Paper Butterflies Project Roxie and I put together on page 21.)

So yes: Fair time was the best! I think the Einck kids featured in this issue of Inspire(d) think the same thing (pg. 14)! Sara Friedl-Putnam tagged along with these three Decorah siblings as they took care of some of the animals they’re showing at the Winneshiek County Fair – from chickens to dogs to sheep to goats! Going through the livestock barns (and the 4-H building) is one of my favorite parts of the fair, and it was fun to get the background on what it takes to get there, and learn some of the history behind my beloved 4-H organization as well (pg. 14).

We’ve got lots of other great stories woven throughout this issue too – Growing for Good in Viroqua, Wisconsin (pg. 26), WW Homestead Dairy in Waukon (pg. 51), a wonderful probituary, and more.

We hope you have a great summer, friends, and that this magazine helps inspires you to get out adventuring!

Looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols

CLICK HERE to read the Summer 2018 issue of Inspire(d) Magazine!

June 2018 Calendar!

June 2018! Whew, it feels like summer already, so let’s kick this thing off! There’s lots of fun to be had. Start your planning with this handy-dandy June 2018 calendar (you can download the pdf here). Enjoy! XO, Inspire(d)

LOOKING FOR MORE DETAILS ABOUT EVENTS ON THE CALENDARS?
Check out these great June 2018 activities!  In chronological order, each event’s number coincides with its number on the calendar!

1. All Summer: Driftless Safari offers free outdoor adventure and exploration in Winneshiek County all summer long! Visit www.driftless-safari.org or stop by any Winneshiek County library to join!

2. June 1: Velkommen to Sangerfest 2018, Norwegian Singers Association of America festival at Luther College. Grand Concert Saturday, June 1st, 7pm, Luther CFL. www.nsaaonline.org

3. June 6: Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre: The Amazing Adventures of Willy the Woolly. Join us for delightful tale of the lovable mammoths who roamed the Iowa prairies 10,000 years ago! Decorah Public Library, 1pm www.decorah.lib.ia.us

4. June 7: Guttenberg’s River of Music (ROM) EVERY Friday, June —August 10, 6-8 pm, in Ingleside Park Bandstand (along the Mississippi River). Rain location: City Hall.

5. June 11: ISU Insect Zoo: The Songs of Bugs. Come hear a story about Unia the cricket, who has lost his song, and see a Bugtastic Insect Zoo display! Decorah Public Library, 1pm  www.decorah.lib.ia.us

6. June 12: Lanesboro Arts invites kids 5-9 to create fun, large-scale “surprise” sculptures! Tuesdays 12-2pm from June 12 to July 17. Meet at St. Mane Theatre upstairs classroom. LanesboroArts.org

7. June 16: Art in the Park festival in Lanesboro! 90+ artists, live music, craft beer, food vendors & art activities. Saturday, June 16, 10am – 5pm LanesboroArts.org

8. June 17: Celebrate the fathers in your life at Luna Valley Farm. Open Father’s Day from 11am-3pm. Come out and enjoy wood-fired pizza and community. Rural Decorah. wwwlunavalleyfarm.com

9. June 22-23: Root River Trail Towns 60-Mile Garage Sale – Join the communities of Fountain, Preston, Harmony, Lanesboro, Peterson, Whalan, Rushford, Rushford Village & Houston for community wide garage sales! More info at www.rootrivertrail.org

10. June 22-24: New Minowa Players presents “The Drowsy Chaperone”, at the Decorah High School Auditorium. More information at newminowa.wixsite.com/new-minowa-players/summer or call Sheryl at 563-379-5738.

11. June 27: Grout Museum District: Sound Science. See the amazing science of sound with singing rods, singing pipes, and spouting bowls! Decorah Public Library, 11 am  www.decorah.lib.ia.us

12. June 30: Celebrate with the Porter House Museum Garden Party & Fundraiser, live music, food, and outdoor activities – all to support this fantastic local museum! 401 W Broadway, 4-6pm. www.porterhousemuseum.org