Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
Pat Johnston, executive director of Kinship Partners in Brainerd, has grown with the nonprofit organization.
Kinship Partners will continue to grow, but on May 19, Johnston, 61, plans to retire.
"It's time," said Johnston. "I feel good where the organization is at financially and programmatically.
"I want to spend more time with my grandkids and I want to travel."
In 1987, Johnston started working for Kinship of Brainerd, which became Kinship Partners when it merged with Volunteers in Partnerships, another nonprofit organization, in 1992. Johnston said Kinship of Brainerd was formed in 1986.
Kinship Partners is an organization that serves single-parent families in the Brainerd lakes area by providing positive role models to at-risk youth. Its mission is to provide guidance to youth in the community.
Kinship Partners, which serves Crow Wing and southern Cass counties, matches adult partners with a child between age 4 to 18. The partners, which are matched based on common interests, spend time together and do a variety of activities, such as hiking, skating or watching movies.
In 1987, Kinship had five partnerships. Today, there are 161 adults and children matched with 54 children waiting for an adult mentor.
When Kinship and Volunteers in Partnership merged, there were 20 partnerships. Three months later the number of partnerships increased to 60 matches.
Johnston, who is the oldest of six siblings, was born and raised in Minneapolis. She graduated in 1962 from St. Margaret's Academy high school. She then went to the College of Saint Catherine in St. Paul, where she later dropped out to get married to her husband, Harvey Johnston. The couple moved to Garrison where they had four children and Pat Johnston became a stay-at-home mom.
After the children were in school, Johnston attended Central Lakes College in Brainerd to earn an associate of arts degree and then went on to receive a bachelor's degree from the College of Saint Catherine.
Johnston said while attending the college in St. Paul, she applied for a part-time job with Kinship.
"When I was interviewed they needed someone to work with kids and someone who had fund-raising experience," said Johnston. "Well I love kids, but I had no fund-raising experience. I did little fund-raising things, but that was all."
"After working for Kinship of Brainerd for a few months it was not a job anymore, it was a passion."
When Johnston started she was the only employee. Today there are six employees. The budget also has grown in the past 18 years. In 1987, the budget was $10,000 and today it is $160,000.
Johnston said the main fund-raiser in the beginning was selling brats and pop, which raised $700. Today's main fund-raiser is the Taste of the Lakes, which raises about $50,000 for Kinship Partners.
Johnston said children's lives have been changed because of Kinship Partners.
"It's fun to see the kids come back as adults," said Johnston. "They have their heads on straight and they tell me that their mentor made all the difference in the world.
"It is very rewarding to see their accomplishments."
Johnston said she will miss the people at Kinship Partners when she retires, but said the organization will see a refreshing change. Karla Berg of Walker has been hired to replace Johnston as the executive director.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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