By Lynn Jensen, Staff Writer
At first, it looks like an odd match — a tall, quiet man of a certain age, walking with an energetic 10-year-old boy.
Dave Stish is a retired agriculture teacher. Austin Heineman is an active fifth grader who attends Lindbergh Elementary School. They are Kinship’s latest match in Morrison County.
Stish met the boy at a Kinship outing at Lindbergh State Park. His first impression of Heineman was that he was adventurous. Heineman’s memory of the walk was finding a pink lady slipper.
When a canoe trip on the Mississippi River from Pike Creek to Blanchard Dam for Kinship kids and volunteers was scheduled, Stish asked to be paired with Heineman.
Heineman’s only concern was actually getting into the canoe. “I didn’t think I would get into the canoe, but I spent the whole time in there,” he said.
After that trip came more adventures for the two. Stish took Heineman for a motorcycle ride to the Dairy Queen. Heineman had a bad experience on a motorcycle once and was admittedly leery, but over came his fears and enjoyed the ride.
The wait for a Kinship mentor can be long. “I waited about a year since moving into Little Falls before getting a mentor,” Heineman said.
Stish waited, too. He has been a Kinship volunteer for five years and on the Board of Directors for four years.
After meeting Heineman and observing the boy for a while, Stish thought they would be a good match.
Heineman didn’t really think about a match. “I never thought a volunteer could sign up to be matched,” he said.
Stish has lots of experience with children. Besides teaching, he and his wife, Polly, raised three children who are now adults and live away from home.
They own a small farm in rural Royalton where they raise strawberries and pumpkins to sell.
The farm seemed like a good idea to Heineman who would like to someday live on one.
Aaron Olson, Kinship director, said that adult mentors bring their life experiences to a relationship with the youngsters.
Kinship matches adults and youths based on interest inventories. “Dave had a lot of agriculture experience and Austin was wide open,” Olson said. “That is why they were matched.”
Each pair makes goals to reach during the year. These goals are specific to the pair. Olson said one pair made it a goal to see every state park in Minnesota. Another pair worked on communication skills.
Stish and Heineman don’t have specific goals set yet. Stish said, “We will spend time on the farm. Austin and his mother both want him to spend time on the farm.”
Heineman has plans for the pair. He would like to go to a “real” football game and hockey game.
The learning doesn’t just go from Stish to Heineman. Heineman wants to teach Stish to loosen up and be more spontaneous. He also thinks that Stish needs to develop a greater interest in sports.
More youths in Morrison County are waiting for mentors to walk into their lives. Currently 12 boys and two girls are on the waiting list. Olson said the mentor is asked to commit to participating in the program for one year, at least four hours a month.
“The average match in Morrison County lasts about three years,” Olson said.
“The longest match currently is about nine years.”
Stish and Heineman are still exploring the possibilities of their relationship.
Stish said, “Austin really likes to go in the canoe, so we have a canoe trip planned. He is also going to take a firearms safety class, and then we might get to do some hunting.”