Getting back to the great outdoors
Chapter of statewide mentoring group forming in Marshfield
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Whether it is due to lack of equipment, knowledge, or time, some parents are not prepared to teach their children the intricacies of outdoor activities. That is where Ben Gruber and the organization of which he is the state vice president come in.
Gruber is working to establish a local chapter of the statewide volunteer organization Kids And Mentors Outdoors (KAMO). He is not yet seeking children to participate in the local group, as it is in the formative stages, but mentors are being actively recruited.
Nearly 10 years ago, Gruber became involved with KAMO, mentoring children and taking them on various outdoor adventures. For the former Madison resident, his involvement with KAMO started partly as a way to get outside of the city and into nature. Gruber’s family has now relocated to his wife’s family farm near Auburndale.
There are seven chapters of KAMO throughout the state, and the local chapter will be the eighth. Along with hunting, fishing, and golf, mentors have taken children on camping, biking, disc golf, and canoeing trips.
“We like to take the Big Brothers Big Sisters model of one-on-one mentoring and move it to, specifically, outdoors,” Gruber said. He added that adults who have mastered the skills of fishing, hunting, or some other outdoor activity likely had a mentor who guided them in their youth.
“We’re trying to create a relationship where a kid has a repeated mentoring opportunity to learn how to do something, … a positive role model, a relationship that spans multiple trips, multiple events, multiple years, to where that kid is comfortable doing things on their own,” Gruber said.
KAMO does host group events, Gruber said, though the chief focus is on developing a one-on-one relationship between a child and his or her mentor. Group events give parents and guardians a chance to get to know their child’s mentor and develop a trusting relationship with that person.
Gruber said in his past experiences, it takes several meetings for a mentor, the child, and the child’s parents to develop a relationship.
“You can feel that trust build over time,” Gruber said.
KAMO performs a background check on all mentors and otherwise serves as a connecting point for matching children with adults. How often the mentor and child meet is up to each individual pairing.
Gruber said KAMO recently received a $10,000 grant from the DNR, which will go toward marketing and promotion of the group. KAMO hopes that marketing effort will help recruit new mentors.
“There’s a huge concern nationally through DNRs and outdoors organizations that we’re about to have a huge decline, as the baby boomers go, in participants in outdoor activities,” Gruber said.
Gruber sees KAMO as an important opportunity for parents, who may have lost skills or equipment for an endeavor like fishing, to give their children the chance to learn about the activity, even if they are not the ones doing the teaching. Parents and guardians are welcome to accompany mentors and children on outings.
“We absolutely try so hard to engage the parents and guardians,” Gruber said. “That’s one of our happiest times, when we can engage the parents.”
For more information or to get involved with Kids And Mentors Outdoors, visit kamokids.org or search “KAMO-MarshPoint Chapter” on Facebook. Ben Gruber can be contacted at 608-575-7786, and the email for the local chapter is [email protected]. The local group meets at the Mead Wildlife Area the first Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m.