Minnesota group seeks to fill chronic need for more male mentors

  • Article by: GRAISON HENSLEY CHAPMAN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 28, 2014 - 1:55 PM

More than two dozen youths in the south metro are on a waiting list for mentoring.

Too many boys in the south Twin Cities metro are suffering from the lack of a male role model in their lives, and too few men are volunteering to help mentor them, according to a 2013 study from the Minnesota Partnership for Mentoring.

That’s one trend Jan Belmore wants to change. As president of Kids ’n Kinship, an Apple Valley-based mentor connecting group, she is trying to find mentors for 32 mostly young boys. If the statistics are borne out, nearly one-third of the boys will wait another year or more before a volunteer is found to link up with them.

While the boys wait, Belmore said, they’re often left without the resources to deal with poverty, mental health diagnoses, lack of transportation or learning English. On top of that, their mothers are often “focused on survival” and can’t always help as much as they’d like, she said.

The weakening of the economy after 2008 has added another challenge. Polly Roach, MPM’s vice president, said cuts to mental health services have forced some parents to look to mentoring programs to help with their child’s mental health diagnosis. Belmore said that Kids ’n Kinship has seen an increase in children with autism referred to its program.

“There don’t seem to be as many places where families can get the help they need,” said Roach, who added that mentoring groups also try to work to connect the children with other services.

Especially over the past 10 years, there has also been consistent growth in the overall need for mentors and programs, Roach said. According to the 2013 study, 200,000 state children have official mentors — either a one-on-one relationship or through a group program like scouting — but 250,000 do not. About one in three of all American children under 19 say they have never had a mentor, either informally or through a program, according to a new report by ­MENTOR, the National Mentoring Partnership.

Longtime bond forged

Mike Haupt and Matthew Cady, who met 10 years ago through Kids ’n Kinship, are an example of what mentoring can do for a young person.

Cady, a senior at Eagan High School, has been mentored by Haupt since he was 8. Over the years, the two have bonded over sports games, trips to the Science Museum of Minnesota and Valleyfair, and projects, like a 10-foot catapult they built together when Cady was 12. They play chess and cards, and just spend time together.

As the young man grew up, Haupt, who repairs copying machines, has been there to tell Cady, whose father died when he was 5, some of the things a dad might tell his son, like advice on driving or tips about applying for jobs.

Another part of mentoring, said Haupt, 54, is just being an example.

“How my father acted, what he demanded of me, how he went to work every day, how he took care of his family. I saw that every day,” he said.

The average mentorship at Kids ’n Kinship is three years (the national average is between nine months and two years). When he volunteered after reading about Kids ’n Kinship in the paper, that’s the kind of timeframe Haupt expected his mentorship would last before his future mentee got bored. But long after meeting each other, the two have a strong connection, and today, while Cady is 18 and the official mentorship soon will end, the older man has no plans to stop spending time with him. He calls Cady his friend.

“It’s been a great relationship,” he said.

Addressing a gender gap

While women volunteer at a higher rate than men overall, there is a particularly big gap in mentoring: In MPM’s survey, 65 percent of mentors are women to men’s 35 percent, despite the roughly equal need for mentors among boys and girls.

Roach, the MPM vice president, said the gap might be explained by how men perceive mentoring. Campaigns around mentoring focus on being a caring adult, which can be “not their go-to place” when men think about their strengths, she said.

But some programs are finding success with attracting female mentors, she said. Those include Bolder Options, which connects mentors and mentees through “the bond of a common activity” like training for bike and 5K races together.

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