BAXTER — Who doesn’t love a free grilled hot dog and a cool bottle of water on a hazy summer day?

Kinship Partners officials hoped no one could resist the nonprofit giving away the summertime goods donated by Cub Foods in Baxter. The youth mentoring organization wanted to raise awareness and funds, and recruit volunteers at its tent in the grocery store lot Friday, July 30.

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“It’s not just necessarily we focus on underprivileged kids, but what we really want is to empower youth. And we want to be a safe place for them to connect with adults,” Tracy Dresnin, an events and marketing specialist at Kinship Partners, said in the Cub Foods parking lot.

There are about 250 year-round child-adult pairings through Kinship Partners, according to Dresnin, with 19 children on its Brainerd waitlist looking to be paired with an adult mentor.

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“We want to be that bridge in the community that offers mentorship ... whether it's with, like, career choices or, you know, going into a trade or just making tough decisions that you know they need to make as a kid as they go through each stage of life,” Dresnin said.

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Kinship Partners serves families within Crow Wing County, southern Cass County and the Staples/Motley area by providing positive role models to youths in those communities.

“You know everybody can use another adult figure in their life when they're trying to figure themselves out,” Dresnin said.

People who stopped by the inaugural grill out and community outreach event at Cub Foods had the opportunity to talk to mentors, mentees and Amy Gray, the executive director of Kinship Partners, in addition to making a free-will donation or signing up to become a volunteer.

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Kinship Partners Executive Director Amy Gray talks about the youth mentoring nonprofit Friday, July 30, 2021, during the Kinship Partners community grill out at the Cub Food in Baxter. 
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Kinship Partners Executive Director Amy Gray talks about the youth mentoring nonprofit Friday, July 30, 2021, during the Kinship Partners community grill out at the Cub Food in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“Our vision statement now is empowering our community through safe and trusting mentor partnerships,” Gray said. “And that really spoke to us because, you know, we really are about empowering the community and about empowering our kids.”

Kinship Partners is unique among mentoring programs in that they encourage not only individuals but also couples and families to become mentors for children.

“We hear over and over again how much benefit the mentors also receive, so it’s really about finding, like, symbiosis again within the partnership and really learning and having it be mutually beneficial,” Gray said.

There is no cost to become a Kinship Partners mentor; the nonprofit covers the cost of the application process, including a background check.

“There is proof that mentoring strengthens efforts to reduce poverty, truancy, drug abuse and violence, and promotes healthy decision-making, positive behaviors and strong futures,” Dresnin said.

Gray said of mentoring a child, “It's not about necessarily having to set aside special time just to do special projects or special activities but just including them in your life.”

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Dresnin said the goal was to have a monthly activity Kinship Partners sets up for the adult mentor and child mentee to do together — “everyday activities” — so that expenses are kept to a minimum, such as the upcoming ice cream social planned for Aug. 17.

“We have discovered that time together is the most valuable resource adults can provide,” according to a Kinship Partners brochure that explains adult volunteers are matched with a child between the ages of 5 to 14 who has common interests.

Dresnin said of the adult-child pairings, “We try to keep them updated on what’s going on in the community … wherever, you know, an activity that might fit their interest, and then also the mentors, you know, they try to come up with things on their own, too.”

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Kinship Partners has offices in Brainerd, Pequot Lakes, Crosby and the Staples-Motley area.

“There is not a cookie-cutter mold for what makes a good mentor. It's really, ‘Do you have the capacity in your life to spend time with a child? Do you have an interest in spending time in healthy relationships with children? Do you care about what happens with kids?’” Gray said.

The grill out was hosted by R & J Broadcasting Inc., a family-owned, local broadcasting company in Minnesota behind Project Radio Outreach, a companywide initiative to bring awareness of meaningful and impactful organizations within area communities to its listeners.

“Project Radio Outreach plans to make this an annual event to help raise funds and awareness for local nonprofits. For this particular community grill out, every dollar raised on July 30 will go toward enhancing a child's life,” according to Dresnin.

Gray said, “We want to make sure that every relationship that comes out of Kinship Partners is a positive one, both for the child and for the mentor.”

Kinship Partners claims through these relationships that a child’s social skills and self-esteem can increase due to a “long-term, consistent commitment to provide guidance and support to a youth.”

“I think for me the most impactful relationships I’ve had with adults as a child were those where they spoke to me like I was a human being and really listened to what I had to say and care about what was going on in my life and took a vested interest in me, and that's really what we're looking for in our mentors,” Gray said.

For more information about Kinship Partners, call 1-877-730-5437 or visit

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at Follow him on Twitter at