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Fellowship will help develop county mentoring program

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MORRIS – You’re never too old to have a mentor.

That’s one of the lessons that Stevens County Commissioner Jeanne Ennen has carried with her throughout her life and that has inspired her to foster and support mentoring relationships in the community.

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In December, Ennen was named a 2013 Bush Fellow and awarded an $80,000 grant to help develop a nonprofit program that will connect individuals and mentors throughout Stevens County.

Ennen said early ideas for developing a mentoring program came during the Association of Minnesota Counties conference in December 2012 when she learned about a “circle sentencing” program developed in Chippewa County.

Through the Circle Sentencing and Mentoring Program, juveniles who have committed crimes meet with a group of mentors and volunteers with the goal of rehabilitating the offender rather than sentencing them to traditional punishments like jail time or probation.

“Initially I thought we have to do that in Stevens County,’” said Ennen. “The more people I talked to, I thought why are we waiting until these kids are getting in trouble with the law before we’re doing something to make a difference?”

After reaching out to connections in law enforcement, human services, and the University of Minnesota, Morris, Ennen began looking into developing a county-wide mentoring program for people of all ages.

“We have a lot of community members that would be willing to help if they just knew who and how to help,” said Ennen.

With that in mind, Ennen submitted a proposal to the Bush Foundation, a private organization founded in 1953 by 3M executive Archibald Bush and his wife, Edyth, for funding to help start a nonprofit in Stevens County that will be able to receive referrals and match individuals with mentors, whatever their needs happen to be.

After a final interview in September, Ennen learned that she has been selected as a 2013 Bush Fellow. The Bush Foundation has invested resources into communities and Native nations across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The foundation started offering fellowships in 1965 and has since named more than 2,200 people as Bush Fellows. Fellowship opportunities focus on building the leadership capacities of individuals and improving life in local communities.

Ennen was one of five elected or government officials selected for the program, and the only county commissioner to have a project chosen.

Over the next several months, Ennen said she plans to get out in the community to talk to as many groups and individuals as possible about the idea to find out about community needs, who should be involved, and ideas for how the nonprofit should function.

Throughout the year, Ennen also plans to use some of the fellowship award to bring speakers to the community for education about mentoring and issues that affect children.

By the end of 2014, Ennen said she hopes a diverse group of individuals will have emerged that can work to set up the nonprofit that will help oversee the mentoring program.

“I truly want it to be a community-developed program because if the community is on the development of it they’ll own it and it will be more successful,” said Ennen.

Individuals or groups interested in learning more about the fellowship award should contact Ennen by phone at 320-246-3316 or by e-mail at djennen@runestone.net

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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