Archived Story

Being a mentor is rewarding

Published 9:56am Monday, January 21, 2013

By Colleen Thompson

Connie Kermes knows the importance of investing and where an investment is worth the most. That’s why she’s investing her time as a community mentor.

Kermes has always loved working with kids. She knew a few people who had been mentors, and they had many positive things to say. When she saw an ad about mentoring in the newspaper, she made her decision right there.

“I thought, ‘Why not?’” Kermes said. “It’s a good fit for me.”

STARS/Community Mentor Connection soon paired Kermes with 12-year-old Gona Majiok. STARS stands for Success Through Adults Reaching Students.

Majiok is a seventh-grader at Southwest Middle School. She enjoys reading in her spare time. She also plays flute in the band and is involved with choir, Youth Advisory Council and helps out with an after-school program at the Albert Lea Family Y with sixth-graders.

“I love that she is always willing to try something new,” Kermes said. “She just jumps right in!”

Kermes picks Majiok up after school once a week, usually on Thursdays, and they spend the drive home talking about what they want to do that day and in the upcoming weeks. They pass the next three hours doing whatever activities they both deem fun. Kermes likes Majiok to have an equal say in the itinerary.

“I think it’s important to let her be a part of the planning,” Kermes said. “And usually she picks things that I enjoy doing as well.”

Afternoons and evenings they spend together can consist of anything they want, as long as it’s approved by Majiok’s parents. Kermes and Majiok both enjoy going to movies, making crafts, playing Nintendo Wii, going out to eat, playing card games and baking with recipes they find online.

“We like to experiment,” Kermes said. “We’ll find an art idea or recipe on Pinterest and try it out.”

They have made several outings in the past year that they’ve peen paired together, including a day trip to the Como Zoo in St. Paul and a summer day at the Freeborn County Fair.

“She convinced me to go on a ride with her,” Kermes said. “She gets me out of my box, too!”

Kermes has attended several of Majiok’s band and choir concerts. They have also gone to several group mentoring activities with other mentors and mentees through the STARS program, like bowling, canoeing and wakeboarding.

“It’s so rewarding just to see her have fun and relating with an adult.”

The STARS/Community Mentor Connection is run by Carolyn Smith and has more than 20 mentors matched with children right now. Mentors are caring adults who volunteer to meet with their mentees, who are typically 7 to 17 years old, two to four times a month for educational, recreational and social activities.

“Connie is a wonderful mentor,” Smith said. “She makes time in her busy life for her mentee, and they truly enjoy each other’s company.”

Kermes, an Albert Lea native, has been involved with kids her whole life. Besides having children of her own, who are now grown up and moved out of the house, she ran a day care out of her home in Hayward for many years. After being a secretary at Crossroads Trailer for 13 years, she started a job with children again in September as a paraeducator at United Preschool.

“I love that I’m working with kids again,” Kermes said.

Mentoring is a proven strategy for preventing youth from engaging in risky behaviors, such as skipping school and using tobacco, alcohol or drugs. It increases self-esteem and helps young people feel they belong to the community, Smith says.

“It’s a positive way to give back to the community and give a little extra attention to a child who needs it,” Kermes said.

STARS/Community Mentor Connection is always in need of new volunteers. For more information about how to get involved, contact Carolyn Smith at 507-383-5272 or email