The nationwide Kids Hope USA program is beginning its 15th year in Milbank and is living up to its goal of making a difference in the lives of at-risk children. Kids Hope USA develops one-on-one relationships through the creation of church-school partnerships that pair church members with at-risk children in supportive mentoring relationships.
The program started in Milbank in 2000 when Marge Bohn, a retired Milbank teacher, and a few other women heard about the program on a James Dobson radio show. Bohn felt moved and knew the Milbank community needed the program. She did research and took the steps to get started.
Bohn continued with the program for a year and a half. Kristy Liebe then took over and has been the director ever since. “It was good timing for me,” explained Liebe. “I was a stay-at-home mom and felt it was a good fit. I have always had a passion for working with children.”
Now, 15 years later, the program is still going strong. “We have the largest number of children and mentors that we have ever had,” noted Liebe. The program will serve 16 children this school year. In previous years, an average of 10 children were involved in the program. The program serves as many children as can be matched with committed mentors.
Kids Hope USA mentors spend one hour per week at school, reading, catching up on homework, talking, playing, and listening. By helping the student feel loved and valued, the mentor helps that child to learn, grow, and succeed. Liebe added, “With these relationships, the child’s self-esteem and confidence increases which leads to growth in academic performance, as well.”
Mentors are carefully screened using a process that includes an application, a criminal history check, a personal interview, and pastor approval. Mentors must also submit to screening requirements at the school. Training is provided and each mentor devotes an hour each week while in the mentoring role.
Instructors at Koch Elementary refer students to Liebe and the program. “The teachers are very supportive and appreciative of the program,” she stated. Children who need some tender loving care, academic support, or have difficult family situations are selected. Parents can make a request, but the teacher must make a referral before the child is accepted into the program.
Most children enter the program at a young age. Mentors tend to stay with that child for as long as they remain in the program. “The pair builds a relationship and forms a bond that lasts for many years,” noted Liebe. “The children tend to become less interested after they reach middle school, but we stay with them as long as possible.”
The local program is run by Central United Methodist Church. “All our volunteers must be members or actively involved in becoming a member,” explained Liebe. The program remains focused on the one hour that takes place at school. Mentors are not allowed to evangelize or pray while at the school or on school property. Personnel are advised that only after parental permission is granted, if ever, are students encouraged to attend church events.
In addition to the one hour mentoring sessions, Kids Hope USA hosts a variety of gatherings for the children, families, and mentors throughout the year. Special events such as a movie, fishing, and back-to-school shopping take place in the summer. The participants enter a float in the homecoming parade each fall and gather for Easter and Christmas parties.
Confidentiality is maintained and parents grant permission for their child to be included in events.
For additional information on becoming a mentor or getting a child enrolled in the program, contact Kristy Liebe at Central United Methodist Church at 605-432-4766.