God Had a Plan for Us

August 2, 2016

Have you been considering mentoring a refugee family but are unsure of what it really is?  Now is your chance to hear what a mentoring relationship is right from a mentor and family themselves.

Meet Kevin and David.  Kevin, his wife Sara, and their three kids, live here in Sioux Falls.  Kevin and Sara are no strangers to mentoring a refugee family, as they had previously worked with a single mother from Eritrea for six months.  When they chose to mentor another family, we decided to go in a completely different direction. Instead of matching with a family, I matched them with David.    David is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and spent many years in a refugee camp in Kenya before being resettled to Sioux Falls last July.  He has no family here in Sioux Falls and I thought Kevin would be a great role model for him.  This thought turned out to be correct as their friendship has blossomed and as they say it, “We’re now family.  He is my brother and I am his brother.”  I recently sat down with Kevin and David to get their perspective on mentoring and beginning this kind of friendship.

Q:  What were some of the thoughts you had when you first met?

D:  “It was definitely much different in Africa than it is here.  Back home you always had family around and here I was alone.  Then you brought Kevin and Sara to my apartment and I had family again.”

K:  “I felt a strong connection from the very beginning.  I knew it would be a lifelong friendship.  Of course I had those uncertain thoughts like, ‘Is this going to work’ but faith really helped.”

Q:  What sort of things did you do together as mentors?

K:  David has become part of our family.  We go to church together; he comes over for dinner and campfires.  We spent Thanksgiving together and David joined us at our families’ Christmas celebrations.  My children love him.  He’s so much a part of our family that he calls and asks about the kids and our dog if we haven’t seen each other in a while.  We even have plans for the future to practice driving and help him through the process of getting a car too.

D:  I work many days and it is difficult to visit each other often.  I usually just have Sundays to hang out and go to church.  We text each other regularly and stay in contact.   I hope to go back and visit Africa later this year and I hope he’ll come with me!

Q:   Mentoring can be a scary thing at first—meeting someone from another country, hoping to be friends, language barriers, cultural barriers, etc.  Was it difficult for you?

D:  Not at all!  They are my family.

K:  It was so easy.  David’s English was really good, even if he wasn’t confident.  But our friendship happened right away.

Q:  What was your favorite part of mentoring?

D:  Everything.  I thank them for being my friends and love that we are one family now.

K:  The unity.  We truly became one family.  My parents are his American parents and his parents are my African parents.  Our parents even introduce us like that!  Back in Africa, his parents call me son and here, my parents call him son too.

Q:  What would you say to new mentors and families?

K:  I would tell new mentors to just jump in.  Don’t think about it because you’ll give yourself every excuse not to do it and not to visit.  You’ll need to adopt, learn and listen but these relationships break down walls and racism.  They are opening doors.  God had a plan for this.  It was His divine intervention to bring our families together.

D:  I lost my family long time ago but I have a new family now.  Everything is easier because of them.

If you are interested in mentoring a refugee family or learning more, please contact Kristyne Walth at Kristyne.Walth@LssSD.org or 605-731-2009.


Written by Kristyne Walth, Volunteer Coordinator




Know a Good Mentor?

February 19, 2015

LSS Mentoring Services seeks nominations for the 2015 Citibank Outstanding Mentor, the Outstanding Rookiephoto Mentor and First PREMIER Bank/PREMIER Bankcard Community Partner awards. The awards, to be presented at the Annual Mentor Appreciation Breakfast on April 16, provide a platform to honor the contributions of individuals and organizations that have shown outstanding commitment to the mentor program.

Outstanding mentors are individuals who have proven their dedication to their student and the program. Rookie mentor nominees are people who have made a big impact in their first year of mentoring. Community partners nominations can include businesses, organizations, civic groups, schools or churches that have encouraged and advocated mentoring. If a community partner has received the award in the previous three years, they are not eligible this year. Organizations not eligible are Wells Fargo (2014), Raven (2013) and Cimarron Label (2012).

Nominations are encouraged and may be submitted by the community at large. Self-nominations are accepted. Click here for the nomination form. All nominations are due by Friday, February 27. Materials may be sent via email to mentoring@lsssd.org, via fax to 221-2404 or mailed to LSS Mentoring Services, 621 E Presentation Street, Sioux Falls, SD 57104.

For additional information on the nomination process, or to become a mentor, please call LSS Mentoring Services at 221-2403 or email mentoring@lsssd.org.

A Perfect Match: Andy and Lance

December 4, 2014

It is great to see when a mentor and student get matched and it seems like it was just meant to be. Andy McKay and Lance are a great example of a match that clicked from the beginning.

What did they click over? ROTC. Lance is involved and Andy has a strong military connection in his family. His father, two brothers and daughter are (or were) involved. Lance’s step-father is in the National Guard, and Lance wants to enter the military after high school.

For Andy, mentoring has been a blessing. He works at Farm Credit Services and saw colleagues mentor elementary aged students. Andy never felt like he could participate due to frequent travel for work. He then heard about USucceed and the flexibility of meeting four hours per month, and he signed up.

“It is great to have this connection,” said Andy. “I was new to Sioux Falls and we are emptynesters, so this is a great way to get involved with local kids and schools.”

Lance, who is never short on words, said that he enjoys having a mentor. “It is like hanging out with someone who is not family, but who is a friend who cares about you like family.”

When looking back over the last year and a half they have known each other, there are several memories. They have went trap shooting, which led to Lance getting involved with 4H. Mostly though, the two enjoy meeting up and sharing lunch when their schedule allows. “We both like to eat,” said Lance. Andy added, “I really enjoy the flexibility of USucceed. I can call and schedule a lunch meeting with Lance or we can meet after school or on the weekend. I enjoy being able to meet with him – it is a great way to refocus. Lance has a lot to offer and a great perspective. Mentoring has been very personally rewarding for me.”

If you are looking for a new volunteer opportunity for the coming new year, please keep USucceed in mind. There are high school students in our community who are on the waiting list for a mentor! Help us reach them before they reach adulthood!

“He gave me my first gun.” Prisoners and mentoring

November 7, 2014
It is estimated that 1.7 million youth in the United States have at least one parent in prison and that millions more have a parent in jail. Research suggests that children of incarcerated parents are more prone to struggle with mental and physical health, along with difficulties in the school setting. The Center for Children of Incarcerated parents reports that children of prisoners are 5 times more likely than other children to end up in prison.While the numbers may look grim, it is always important to remember that children are resilient and with the right support system in place, many of these children will find success. Research indicates that the practice of mentoring can be positive for many children and initial results show that this is true as well for the subsection of children with incarcerated parents. The life experiences of these children may differ slightly from other children and it is important for the mentor to keep that in mind during day to day interactions with them.

LSS Mentoring Services is partnering with LSS Fatherhood and Families to present a training on children of incarcerated parents. This training will aim to provide information on the effects of children having parents in prison or jail, insight into children communicating and visiting with their parents in the South Dakota prison system, and the needs and “to do’s” for mentoring children of incarcerated parents.

The training will take place on November 13 from 12:00 to 1:00 PM at the LSS Center for Children and Youth, located at 621 East Presentation Street in Sioux Falls. Click on the session to RSVP.

Read the rest of this entry »

Middle School Rules: One School Counselor’s Whimsical Observations

October 30, 2014

Please help us welcome guest blogger Tobin Bakkedahl! Tobin is a School Counselor at Whittier Middle School, SD School Counseling Association Past-President and Self-Proclaimed Lover of Middle School Level Education. He works with LSS Mentoring and is a great advocate for all of his students. Whether you are mentoring a middle schooler, have one in your house or can look back at your own middle school experience, take a moment to read this post!

The land of middle school is a fun, exciting and often traumatic time of human development. The following is a short list of whimsical observations and tips that might just help you understand (or remember) what it is like. 

Lighten up…
While working in a middle school you often have the choice to laugh or cry in regards to the ridiculousness happening around you. Read the rest of this entry »

Meet the Hansons….Part 2

October 15, 2014

Last Thursday, we met Paul, Lara, and Elliot Hanson, one of our refugee mentor families, and heard about part of their journey mentoring the Kamanyire family.  (Read it here)  We continue with the rest of their story today. 

The Hansons and Kamanyires have been able to meet pretty regularly. During their time together, the Hansons check-in on the family’s progress. “We see what they need that week and talk about what they want to accomplish during our time together.” Sometimes that means plans can change suddenly. Paul told me that one week the plan had been to introduce them to some American food. They brought over pizza but when they arrived Jonathan wanted to visit a park, so they did that instead. “It was very freeing for the Kamanyires. Being so new and not knowing many people yet, I think they stayed inside their apartment most of the time. It was great to see their smiles as they ran in the grass and looked at the river.” During other visits though, their time is more focused. They like to spend time practicing English with the family. I asked what they have done to get past the language barrier as only Jonathan has a good understanding of English. Lara said, “There are no real tricks. It’s just going slow and using simple words.” Maria and Lara keep a vocabulary list together. They point out objects and write down the word in English as well as Kiswahili. Paul likes to check with Jonathan to see if he understands. “Jonathan will tell me if he does not understand what I said. I can then rethink my sentence and try again.” Paul knows that miscommunication is going to happen but says that they try to be flexible and not worry so much.

 As our interview come to an end, I asked Paul and Lara what’s the biggest thing they’ve learned from their experience mentoring. For Paul, he appreciates seeing American culture through another’s eyes. He feels that things are often taken for granted here and working with the Kamanyires he remembers how lucky he truly is. After expressing how amazing the cars here in America were, Paul explained to Jonathan that if he worked hard and saved money, he could buy one too. Jonathan was ecstatic! He told Paul that in his home country, only the President rides in cars like that. There would have never been an opportunity for Jonathan to even sit in a car like that, let alone own one.   Paul’s advice for someone thinking about mentoring? — “Be patient and flexible. You have to remember that all of us have ancestors who resettled here and went through the same things as [the Kamanyires]. I can help them with that.” Lara has learned that it is not hard. “It’s just being a friend but you are making such a big impact in their lives.” She advises others not to be afraid. “All the barriers (language and culture) are small humps to get over. These refugee families are just people and how easy is it to be friends with a person?”


If you want to become a mentor like the Hansons, please go to http://www.lsssd.org/family_services/refugee/volunteer.html or call (605) 731-2009.

Back to School and Football

July 15, 2014

Today we bring you our second installment of our summer series! In case you missed it, read about family picnics and reunions, posted on Monday.

Did you think we were celebrating summer this week? Just like local retailers who have all of the shiny school supplies ready for purchase, we are getting ready for back to school at LSS Mentoring Services. We know that there are hundreds of kids who will return to school in a matter of weeks hoping they have a mentor this year. We do not want to let them down. So, we will rally together to raise awareness of this important need!LSS_EDHeroRally Read the rest of this entry »

“He makes me happy.” One mentor and his story.

July 8, 2014

Happy, kind and athletic are three words Holden, a soon-to-be sixth grader, used to describe his mentor, Greg Jasmer. The two share a unique bond that has grown over meeting with each other for since Holden was in Kindergarten. Read the rest of this entry »

Teaching Kids Resilience

June 30, 2014

“Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character.” These are words from Paul Tough’s most recent book where he describes the traits that may be more important than intelligence when it comes to succeeding in life.

LSS Mentoring Services will offer a training based on the book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.In this book, Tough writes about his interviews with professionals from a variety of different fields including economists, neuroscientists, psychologists and medical doctors; they all might not be working together but they seem to all be coming to similar conclusions. The New York Times review of the book can be found here.

Over the years, a belief has developed in our schools and communities that the most important skills for children to learn are those that are cognitive and can be measured on IQ tests, like ones related to reading and math. What these professionals (including many researchers) have uncovered is that these are not the most important skills for children to learn and that this intense focus on intelligence is actually limiting how far kids are able to go in life.

Instead, it has been found that the strongest predictors of success actually come from character traits. Many have come to the conclusion that even if a child does not receive straight A’s, if s/he possesses large amounts of self-control, optimism and grit, s/he has a stronger likelihood of being successful in life. It is one thing to be smart enough to get into college but it’s another thing to have the determination and self-control to finish all four years and receive that diploma.

Something even more exciting (and relevant for mentors) is that these character traits can be taught. Caregivers, teachers and mentors alike all have the ability to help a child develop these traits. Another topic that Tough explores is the significance of emotional support for children in helping to grow resilience; something that mentors also can help with! In this training we will reflect on these various research findings and look at ways we can help prepare our mentees for a life of success.

The training will be offered July 10 OR July 15, 12-1 PM at the LSS Center for Children & Youth (621 E Presentation Street).

The Survey Is In — Volunteers LOVE Mentoring!

June 9, 2014

Each year, LSS Mentoring Services sends out a survey to all 1,000+ mentors. And every year, the results are amazing. This year did not disappoint. Our volunteers tell us that they love this program and what they are doing to make a difference in our community.

Here are some of the things our mentors told us this year …. Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: