Today more than ever, Rebekah Christensen said, youth need mentors.

Christensen is director of Richland-Wilkin Kinship, which is celebrating the 20th annual National Mentoring Month campaign. National Mentoring Month aims to expand quality mentoring opportunities while connecting more local youth with caring adults.

“We celebrate mentoring, our mentors and our wonderful matches,” Christensen said. “In light of recent events, youth need adult support more than ever.”

Based in Wahpeton, Kinship works with youth in Richland County, North Dakota, and Wilkin County, Minnesota. Over the years, it has introduced programs including “Lunch Buddies” and hosted events like the annual Amazing Race and a sledding and skating party for mentors and youth.

“December was full with our first online auction and delivering 47 blessing bags since we could not have our Christmas party. We’ve continued our work with our teen group, our girls group, the recent Festival of Trees and we’re still supporting matches during a pandemic,” Christensen said.

Kinship is participating for the first time in this year’s Giving Hearts Day, which will be held Thursday, Feb. 11. A 24-hour fundraising event, Giving Hearts Day benefits nonprofits in Minnesota and North Dakota.

“We are so excited to be a part of this event, where 100 percent of proceeds goes to local charities,” Christensen said.

Donations are accepted by visiting https://app.givingheartsday.org/#/charity/1313.

“Mentoring is the best dollar you can put into prevention,” Christensen said. “Please join us in supporting youth mentoring and meeting our goal on Feb. 11. Be the change this year: give the gift of mentoring.”

In October 2020, Daily News reported on the departure of Kinship Assistant Director Jeff Bass, who moved to Jerome, Arizona, to start a business. Since then, Christensen has been joined by Kristi Maas. There’s always room for more involvement, Christensen said.

“We could use some social media tech volunteers, since we’re not the youngest over here,” Christensen said, laughing. “We just trained two new mentors, both men.”

Anyone is welcome to be a mentor, Kinship supporters say. Research has shown that mentors are key to providing young people with the tools to make responsible choices, attend and engage in school and avoid risky behavior like drug use.

“In turn, these young people are 55 percent more likely to be enrolled in college, 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities and 81 percent more likely to report participating regularly in sports or extracurricular activities,” Christensen said.

A mentored youth is more than twice as likely to say they held a leadership position in a club or sports team. However, it’s also been shown that one in three young people will grow up without a mentor.

“Today, in our community there are 20 kids who could benefit from having a mentor,” Christensen said. “It hurts my heart to know that one in three youth in America do not have a mentor in their life. We are working to place mentors in the lives of local youth who are asking for and needing them.”

Established in 2002, National Mentoring Month is a time when community members interested in being mentors are most engaged. Christensen encourages the extra step from engagement to activity.

“This year, with the support of the mentoring community, we are encouraging the public to go beyond just digital engagement — and become involved in real life,” she said. “Mentoring relationships are at their best when connections are made between a caring adult and a young person who knows that someone is there to help guide them through real life decisions. When I think about the people who mentored me along the way, I am forever grateful.”

MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, with support form the Highland Street Foundation, are responsible for leading National Mentoring Month. The campaign has been endorsed by American leaders including former President Bill Clinton, acclaimed poet Maya Angelou and Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood.

For more information about how you can get involved locally, visit www.rwkinship.org, Kinship’s page on Facebook or call 701-672-0303. Richland-Wilkin Kinship is located at 509 Dakota Ave., Wahpeton.

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