Mentors reach out to kids

by Britt Aamodt

Contributing writer

Not too long ago Nate Kostohryz, 11, had a science project. It’s one of those rites of passage for school kids, the inevitable, dreaded science project.

The coolest idea, a paper-mache volcano spewing bicarbonate soda and vinegar, was unavailable.

YMCA youth development director Samantha Funk says the Mentors Inspiring Success Program is important “because it fills a need in these kids’ lives.” There are currently 19 children on the waiting list for mentors.

YMCA youth development director Samantha Funk says the Mentors Inspiring Success Program is important “because it fills a need in these kids’ lives.” There are currently 19 children on the waiting list for mentors.

“The teacher said we couldn’t do it because too many people do it,” said Nate.

So his mom suggested testing the absorption power of household items. That was practical science at work, and a project Nate and his mom could whip up in the kitchen.

Sitting around the table that night, helping the would-be scientist dab oil off a bowl of water with a cotton ball — “It just sunk,” said Nate — paper towel and linen cloth was Tim Lyngen.

Tim isn’t Nate’s uncle. He’s not his neighbor or distant relative. He’s his mentor.

They met a year ago through the Mentors Inspiring Success Program (MISP), co-sponsored by the Elk River YMCA and Sherburne County Health and Human Services.

MISP got its initial push in 2009 when the county applied for and was awarded a grant to establish a mentorship program for at-risk children ages 6 to 17.

Photos by Britt Aamodt When asked what he likes about his mentor, Nate Kostohryz says, “He’s just fun and funny.” Mentor Tim Lyngen scored extra points recently when he snagged tickets to a Twins game.

Photos by Britt Aamodt
When asked what he likes about his mentor, Nate Kostohryz says, “He’s just fun and funny.” Mentor Tim Lyngen scored extra points recently when he snagged tickets to a Twins game.

The Elk River YMCA was brought on board, said Samantha Funk, youth development director at the Y, because the gym had the facilities and staff to run a program of this scope. And it fit the nonprofit’s mission of fostering healthy kids, families and communities.

MISP officially rolled out 2010-11 with the first mentor-mentee pairings. Now there are 43 pairings, including Nate and Lyngen.

Kids are referred to the program by the county.

Nate first heard about MISP from his mom.

“It was a surprise,” he said. “She said, ‘OK, you’re going to be hanging out with someone for a while.’ I had no idea who I was going to be hanging out with.”

“Kids have different reasons for wanting a mentor,” said Funk. “Their parents might have five children and they can’t provide the attention the kid needs. A girl might have a dad but she has no mom. Peers might be leading a kid down a path that doesn’t allow him to grow.”

For Nate, it was pretty simple. He wanted someone to play basketball and bocce ball with, someone who’d drive him to movies and to play paintball at Grand Slam.

A self-professed shy kid, Nate said, “I didn’t have many friends at school.”

He’s since moved to a new school, and for a year now he’s been working with his mentor on his shyness.

“We’ll go out places and I’ll have Nate go up and talk to the cashier,” said Lyngen. “It’s gotten to the point now where sometimes I don’t even have to say anything. He goes up by himself.”

Lyngen knows all about shyness. He didn’t break out of his shell until after high school.

Now an education major at St. Cloud State University, Lyngen said he wanted to be a mentor for the same reason he wants to be a teacher.

“I want to be a positive influence on someone’s life and make a difference,” he said.

MISP mentors come from all over Sherburne County and adjoining cities, like Otsego, Rogers and Big Lake. Lyngen is from Albertville. Mentors have to be at least 19 years old and agree to meet with their mentee once a week for a year. Many pairs continue meeting after the year.

The YMCA is currently training four new mentors. Among the group are two full-time employees, a college student and a retiree. But there are 19 kids on the waiting list, 17 of whom are boys.

Funk said it’s been difficult finding male mentors.

“Whenever I talk to a group or a guy about mentoring, their first question is ‘Well, are there other guys in the program?’” she said.

Yes, but MISP could use more.

On a recent Monday evening, Lyngen and Nate took in a Twins game at Target Field. For Lyngen, mentoring was a no-brainer. Still he realizes it’s not for everyone.

“But if you’re a fence sitter and you’re thinking about it, why not get on the side of the fence where you say yes?” he said.

Training set in June

The Mentors Inspiring Success Program (MISP) will be conducting the next mentor training session in June. For information on the program and becoming a mentor, contact MISP staff at 763-230-2818 or email samantha.funk@ymcatwincities.org.

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