They could be part of a big, loving but busy family. They could have a complicated home life. They might benefit from a little more socializing.
There are many reasons why a youth could benefit from the Kinship Lunch Buddies program, Rebekah Christensen said. But every road leads back to the clearest reason of all.
“Every kid needs support,” Christensen said.
Christensen, director of Richland-Wilkin Kinship, is excited for the program’s second year. Launched in November 2018, Lunch Buddies has expanded from Wahpeton and Breckenridge, Minnesota, into Fairmount, North Dakota.
“We’ve doubled from last year,” Christensen said. “We’re expanding out into Fairmount and Campbell, Minnesota.”
Expansion would not be possible without mentors, supporters say. Julie Carlson is a counselor for grades 3-5 at Wahpeton Elementary. She proudly recalled Thursday, Oct. 3, when Lunch Buddies began for the 2019-20 school year.
“The smiles were big and the excitement was high. I had students coming down to my office two hours before lunch wondering when their buddies were going to be here because they were so excited to meet them,” Carlson said.
Just before meeting students, new lunch buddies complete a short orientation with Carlson. It includes topics like how to build relationships, create confidentiality and handling logistics.
Parental consent and background checks for participants are both required, Daily News previously reported.
“Lunch Buddies meet twice per month during the child’s lunch period,” Christensen said. “We will provide a calendar for the academic year, and a definite time once you select the school district you wish to serve and are matched with your buddy.”
The commitment is two lunches per month, a maximum of 15 lunches shared between October-May. Substitute buddies are available if needed.
“We want to help a child thrive by giving them an additional, trusted adult friend for support and encouragement,” Christensen said.
Christensen also took part in last week’s kickoff. Youth and adults who participated in the first year of Lunch Buddies were perhaps just as excited the second time around.
“Those kids knew their mentors, they felt so special,” Christensen said. “They just took off right where they left off. They got the games out right away. They were just so happy to have someone to listen to them and to talk to.”
A majority of the adults involved in Lunch Buddies came back for 2019-20, Christensen said. The only ones who couldn’t had unavoidable scheduling conflicts rather than dissatisfaction with the experience.
The only expense involved with Lunch Buddies is the cost of a school lunch, Christensen said. Between the lunch period and traveling, it’s a two-hour commitment each month.
“I’m thankful for the people who are willing to be intentional and build this into their month,” she said.
While Lunch Buddies is designed for elementary-age students, the grades involved vary by school. In communities where Lunch Buddies is new or forming, organizers are hoping to spread positive word of mouth.
“The more adults that kids have in their lives, the better,” Christensen said. “It’s all part of having that web of support.”
A spider’s web might seem fragile, but it has strength, Christensen said. A youth’s web of support follows the same principle.
Teachers see the difference in a Lunch Buddies participant, Christensen said. Parents definitely see the difference.
“It’s so rewarding. This program is out there, it shows that mentoring is prevention. Even if it’s this small interaction, it’s stronger than you think,” Christensen said.
Richland-Wilkin Kinship is located at Suite 104, 509 1/2 Dakota Ave., Wahpeton.