Gary Walters paused as he approached the last few steps on the Brainerd water tower's winding staircase.
It was the last trip of the day. Signs, indicating the duration of his day and night vigil on the tower in his Perching for Partners campaign, were rolled up and removed. It was the morning of Day 10.
"See ya -- hopefully never walking up those stairs," he said after thanking Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce employees at the tower's base.
Outside, a small group of family, friends and supporters greeted him with applause. While Walters lived on the tower for more than a week, with a tent on the narrow observation deck at the bowl's base and a chair on a landing some 90 feet above the ground, 37 adult mentors were recruited and more than $13,500 raised for the nonprofit organization. Walters said he expects the final totals to rise as people expressed interest yet on Saturday morning.
While on the tower, Walters said the biggest challenge continued to be the sheer height and boredom. He read two books. A plan to watch DVDs to pass the time had to be scrapped because of the continuous noise level from the busy corner below. He updated his Web site journals, e-mailed people and worked the phone seeking contributions. At 10 o'clock each night he turned in, going up the short exterior staircase to the observation deck and his tent.
Walters' perch on the water tower inspired Brainerd resident Diane Schilling to contact him by e-mail. Schilling's oldest son, 16-year-old Kyle, was one of the young people on the waiting list for a mentor. He never received one. But her twin sons, now 14, did.
"It's just been such a blessing for my family," she said.
Jacob and Jordan gained their Kinship Partners about five years ago. Schilling said the men, retirees Lester Henningson and Henry Lemm, have a been a wonderful influence for her children.
Henningson took Jordan to gun safety training and went with him to every class.
"He was so happy," Schilling said of her son. "He would have never been able to even do that if Lester hadn't taken him."
Kinship plans open house
A reception open house is set Thursday at Kinship Partners, 402 1/2 South Seventh St., Brainerd, in the wake of the Perching for Partners campaign on the Brainerd landmark water tower.
Donors, mentors, family and friends of Gary Walters are invited to attend.
For more information, go online to www.perchingforpartners.com.
Together they volunteered to create comfort packs with the American Red Cross.
"Lester and Jordan are always doing little things like that," she said. "My kids wouldn't have any men in their lives without their Kinship Partners.
Schilling lost her husband to a massive heart attack in 1998. He was 45. There have been additional family stresses, including Schilling's battle with breast cancer and the tornado that struck Brainerd in 2001. The tornado devastated their southeast Brainerd neighborhood. Schilling said the cumulative stress was hard on her children.
She said the mentors they received helped. Both mentors are patient with the boys, Schilling said. Henry and Jacob often go fishing. They have woodworking projects and made birdhouses together. Lester and Jordan recently took in a car show and checked out Reed's Sporting Goods store.
"It's just stuff like that they would never had an opportunity to learn how to do," Schilling said. "We just love and appreciate them so much."
Two years ago Walters biked 1,540 miles from New Orleans to Brainerd to raise awareness and funds for Kinship Partners. This year he focused on recruiting adult mentors for the program which matches adults with children, many of them from single-parent homes.
Kinship Partners serves families with one-on-one mentors, family mentors, summer Blueprints program, after school club, group outings, a community resource library and community service projects. The program had about 60 children on the waiting list for mentors.
Just what Walters may do next year is an unknown.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.