Holiday Volunteering Helps Everyone

Marena and Nellie enjoyed volunteering with Santa.

From Kris, our executive director:

Your Best Friends Mentoring Program depends on more than 200 volunteers each year to ensure the success of this mentoring program that serves at-risk youth in our community of southwest North Dakota. Volunteering helps not only the youth and families we serve; volunteering also brings health benefits to the volunteers!

Read more at Hands Up Holidays (, then give Best Friends Mentoring a call at 701-483-8615 or email

Have you ever felt good after doing something positive for someone? You are not alone! Studies show that not only is volunteering beneficial to those you help, but you can be healthier too!

Studies carried out over the past twenty years have reached some remarkable conclusions:

  • Volunteering and physical well-being are part of a positive reinforcing cycle
  • Individuals who volunteer live longer
  • The best way to prevent poor health in the future, may be to volunteer
  • Volunteering leads to greater life satisfaction and lower rates of depression
  • Older volunteers tend to receive greater health benefits from volunteering

The study does not speculate why these benefits arise, but we are willing to hazard some guesses:

  • Perhaps it is being part of a cause that is important to us
  • Perhaps it is through the meaningful interaction with new people, that we as social creatures crave
  • Perhaps it is through the sense of purpose and fulfilment that volunteering brings
  • Or perhaps it is simply the warm glow from a person who has also benefited from our time, skills and care

In the end, the reason is less important than the outcome. Find a cause, help others and lead a richer, longer and healthier life!

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What do you REALLY remember about Christmas?


From Pamela, our Development & Volunteer Coordinator:


If you’ve managed to get older than 30, you may sometimes doubt if your childhood memories of Christmas are entirely genuine.  (Possibly distorted by the media or rose-and-green tinted glasses?)

But if you sit in a quiet place, squint your eyes and focus your mind, I guarantee that a few vivid Christmas memories—or sensations and feelings—will show up.  Ones that really do belong to you, ones that authentically happened when you were much shorter and weighed less than 60 pounds.  Here are a few of mine:

FLAVORS—Oyster dressing, gingerbread boys, peppermint hard candy, gravy with white lumps, jello molds with cottage cheese and nuts, sweet potatoes with syrup sauce, peas with little onions, spritz cookies, deep chocolate fudge, applesauce spice cake with cherries on top.

SMELLS—Evergreen resin, wood and smoke from the fireplace, things baking at the wrong time of the day, bayberry candles, and especially, the gust of new-plastic smell you get when you open the boxes with your name tag under the tree.

SIGHTS—Broken ornaments on the floor, round little jingle bells, distracted and frenzied cats racing around, poinsettias in the dining room, brass angel candlesticks, the scary, creepy thing screwed into the trunk of the Christmas tree to hold it up, the nasty fabric with fake snow and glitter on the floor around the tree, watching Christmas specials on TV with other people.

FEELINGS—Getting my hair curled and ribbons put on it, wearing special outfits made of strange fabrics, tight shoes, not recognizing myself in the mirror, dizziness looking at hundreds of bright, blinking lights, being kissed by a lot of old people.

SHEER JOYS—Writing a list of presents I want, five feet of new snow outside, just loving the thick ice on our driveway, laughing when I slip and fall on it, feeling slightly dizzy and faint with happiness when I first see all the presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

I know if I just allow these recollected memories to shimmer through my mind for a few minutes, I’ll feel oddly happy.  (It’s the side effect of children’s “innocent happiness” hormones–exclusively enjoyed by those under 10–which forever affect everyone’s childhood memories, mine included.)  These hormones help children’s minds fasten on the most pleasing parts of annual traditions.  They’ve probably enhanced my childhood Christmas memories, which I hope to keep stored safely in my memory bank for a very long time.

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Giving Thanks: ideas for mentors and mentees

Thanksgiving is just a day away and it’s never too late to practice expressing thanks. Try these ideas from our friends at G0-Mentor ( in Durham, N.C.

Take advantage of this opportunity to talk about what you & your mentee are thankful for. On our Pinterest page, we have different activities centered around gratitude for all age levels. You can make Thankful Turkeys, create a gratitude journal for the month, take the 30-day gratitude photo challenge, or even talk about these things while playing a game or sport.

Here’s the link for Thanksgiving activities:


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Until Now: I didn’t really know about the cold

From our Development & Volunteer Coordinator Pamela B.:  

Anyone just arriving here after living in Southern California for eleven years can expect some necessary November adjustments to be looming.  And I mean adjustments to below zero temperatures.  To strong winds.  To weird icy particles that smack you in the face.

But I’ve been getting ready for two months now.  And gradually, over the last sixty days, I realized that I’ve never known anything about cold weather.  I had heard that there were people who actually liked frigid, polar weather—but I’d never met one.

Actually, I can’t remember ever hearing anyone in Dickinson say that they loved the cold.  My impression is that living with bizarre cold means maintaining a “peaceful coexistence” for North Dakotans.  In fact, it seems people here are more likely to quietly layer up their clothes than even mention nasty weather.

Now, the layering—that’s something we can all get behind.  It really helps with aching wind chill discomfort, and it actually makes me feel like I’m DOING something about the weather.  I’ve developed three outerwear outfits that I sincerely consider a strong offense against bad old cold weather.  I have my 25 degrees to 10 degrees ensemble, my 10 degrees to minus 10 below zero outfit (which is mostly adding really bulky accessories) and, finally, my polar expedition getup, which REI promises will handle temps to 40 below zero.

Now, I don’t mind admitting to an irrational fear of the cold.  I knew it would snow last night (while I was asleep and couldn’t do anything to protect myself), and that scared me.  But I had my snow tires on, my oil pan heater installed, and three major league ice scrapers under the car seats.  I thought I was ready; I had taken steps. But those troubling, barely perceptible, irrational fears were still there, making spooky, low-frequency whale sonar noises just beyond the boundaries of my cerebral cortex.

To defeat those fears, I didn’t have to research anything, buy from a website, or ask any embarrassingly dumb questions.  I just did what I always do—I lit three candles before I went to bed, and I let them burn all night.  Worked like a charm.

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Comments on National Cat Day

From our executive director, Kris:

On National Cat Day (I know, who knew about THAT), one enterprising national charity ran a very unique fundraiser: For just $30, you could rent 15 minutes of on-demand kitten time.

Kittens were delivered by animal shelter staff in cars owned by the charity’s partner to businesses and homes all over seven major cities. Demand quickly exceeded capacity, with many disappointed cat lovers receiving the message “sorry, the kittens are snuggling now.”


I wondered how the kittens felt about this, and thanks to the internet there’s even a page with kitten photos and their comments about National Cat Day. So enjoy!

By the way, it was October 29th (I know, how did that slip by me?)!





Read about the furry fundraiser:

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Who Will Show Up for the Next Generation of Men?

September 2014

This blog post by David Shapiro, President and CEO, MENTOR ( raises concerns about what happens when young men have more contact with the justice system than with positive male role models who can stand by them through the ups and downs of their lives. It’s missed opportunity with obvious implications.

This blog post originated on

I don’t think I have time. What will we do? What will we talk about? Will it really make a difference?

As the “mentoring guy,” these are the questions men – friends, acquaintances, family and even the guy next to me on an airplane – often ask me about becoming a mentor. My response is pretty simple. If you show up several times in a row you might be the only man who’s ever done that for the boy you’re mentoring. And that consistent presence, our own experience and the research tells us, makes all the difference.

As Esquire readers know, through the magazine’s coverage of the state of boys and young men, the education, criminal justice and support systems in our country are increasingly failing our next generation of American men. From state to state, the number of families where children have two parents has dropped significantly. In colleges and universities, only 44 percent of undergraduates are boys and that percentage is expected to continue to trend downward. In our country, 20 percent of the people arrested for violent crimes are under the age of 18 and 83 percent of them are boys. Nearly half of black men and almost 40 percent of white men in the U.S. have been arrested by age 23.

What happens when young men have greater contact with the justice system than they do with men who can stand by them as positive mentors through thick and thin? We find ourselves with nearly three million teens and young men ages 16-24 disconnected from opportunity – they’re not in school and they’re not on a path to a successful career.

So what is the difference you can make by just showing up? Last year, we did a nationally representative survey of young people ages 18-21 about their experiences with mentors. Those who were at-risk for not graduating from high school and had mentors were 55 percent more likely to be enrolled in college. Not only that, they were much more likely to participate in sports and other afterschool activities. They were much more likely to hold leadership spots in those activities. And they were much more likely to volunteer in their communities.

In their own words, the young people we talked to really brought to life the ways in which, over time, their mentors’ commitment to showing up had an impact on their lives. “My mentor came into my life and provided structure, did things with me that my parents couldn’t. He took me out to play ball, just sat and talked with me, and kept me from doing other things, like being in the streets,” said one young man. While another told us his mentor “gave [me] the skills necessary to diffuse conflicts between individuals.”

These experiences exemplify what we call the mentoring effect – the positive outcomes that come from these powerful relationships that benefit not only the two individuals involved but also our families, our communities, our country.

Yet, one out of every three young people will grow up without a mentor.

For boys, this mentoring gap is even more difficult to close. Take the state of Minnesota as a snapshot of the trend around the country. Our affiliate Mentoring Partnership in the state found that the number of female mentors was double the number of male mentors statewide. In mentoring programs in that state, boys represented 60 percent of youth on their waitlists – with nearly a third waiting more than a year to be matched with a mentor. Nationwide, in a survey on volunteerism, only 18 percent of men said their volunteer activity is mentoring.

In the October 2014 edition of Esquire, writer Andrew Chaikivsky details many of the reasons why men don’t mentor and the variety of solutions the mentoring field has devised to overcome them. But the gap persists and as a result, our boys continue to struggle. Esquire magazine, with its finger on the pulse of what drives men to act, is investing an incredible wealth of resources and influence to mobilize readers – men – to enlist in the effort to close the gap. At MENTOR, we applaud this effort and we are proud to support and help sustain it through an ongoing partnership.

I don’t think I have time. What will we do? What will we talk about? Will it really make a difference?

Esquire’s multimedia efforts provide answers to these questions and challenge you to decide if you want to read about the crisis with our boys or be part of the solution.  We can and must be the men who lead the next generation of boys as they grow to be men. We can all show up.

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Real Awareness in Action

From our executive director, Kris:


That’s Daniel Schutzsmith’s word for arm-chair activitism, or what I would call an arm’s length feel-good gesture for the general public. It’s a way to kind-of get involved with a non-profit. Good examples are tweeting support of breast cancer awareness, or to retweet, like or share. Doesn’t require more than a moment’s effort to click or tap the screen and you’re done.

Schutzsmith, in last week’s article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, uses the New York Giants’ recent Breast Cancer Awareness Month hashtag displayed on the jumbotron as a classic example of slacktivism, brought to you courtesy of lazy digital marketers. Who doesn’t know that breast cancer is real, he opines. This type of a campaign is nice, but does it translate into real support for the non-proft? Digital marketers aren’t asking us to do anything that makes a real difference, such as getting out of our seats to hug a cancer survivor, deliver a meal, or donate money.

Transparency, he says, is lacking: Will it generate meaningful support for a non-profit in the form of funds or volunteers? Who will get it?  When?

On the other hand, the jumbotron awareness may be an individual’s entry into the non-profit world. It’s a very small step, and one that appeals to a wide brush stroke of people  on the non-profit supporter canvass. Knowing that your favorite sports team supports a worthy cause may be reason enough to give it a second thought and elevate the cause’s status from vague awareness to more importance. After that, though, it’s up to the individual to follow through: to dig deep within yourself and give of your own time, talent or treasure. And make a real difference.

One of these campaigns should be followed up with a call to real action: The Giants or the NFL could ask fans to text to donate, and offer a match. In Schutzsmith’s example, with nearly 80,000 attendees at MetLife Stadium think of the major impact the team could have. And that’s not counting the television audience. Or, the Giants could initiate a giant call to action: every non-profit needs more volunteers and, led by high profile organizations with built-in audiences, they could make a real difference.

The same is true for large companies, well-known celebrities or influences in every community.

That’s how awareness translates into activism.

Daniel Schutzsmith is creative director and co-founder of Mark & Phil, a digital creative agency working on marketing and fundraising for nonprofits of all sizes.

Read the full article here:

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Disappointing Caffeine Boost News

From our executive director, Kris:

I was reading Michael McCord’s recent blog, “The Scientifically Best Time to Drink Your Coffee” and he got me to thinking about caffeine in general and my caffeine drink of choice in specific. He tells us that the best time for caffeine to boost our energy levels is not in the early morning, as many of us practice.

That’s because our bodies’ natural cortisol levels are peaking around 8 am to 9 am. Cortisol is a “high alertness”  as well as a “stress” hormone. Because one of the key principles of pharmacology is to use a drug when it’s needed, McCord says could develop a tolerance to  caffeine’s effects and perhaps get even less of a boost from the morning caffeine intake. Well, isn’t that disappointing?!

Would the same be true of non-coffee drinkers, like me, who consume a caffeine drink first thing in the morning? Have I been wasting my caffeine boost?

McCord shares research that indicates the best time for caffeine intake is 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., to maximize the body’s natural early morning alertness combined with caffeine infusion as the cortisol wears off. I guess I can live with that.

Check out the blog for yourself:

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The Wait is Over!

From our Executive Director, Kris:

Have you seen the new post office boxes?

On Monday morning, the Postal Service in Dickinson unveiled the project it has been working on for several months. And I must say that they are a grand improvement.

Not only do we have new boxes that are shiny silver, it appears that there are hundreds more PO boxes than before the construction began. Magically, a previously hidden area of the post office – configured with alcoves and various sizes of the new boxes - has appeared.  This expansion gives the lobby more room and a much lessened claustrophobic feeling: there is room to maneuver around the line of folks waiting for assistance and room for that ever-growing line to continue to grow without much  disruption to folks rushing in to check their PO boxes.  It’s such a change from the past few months when a large area of the lobby was walled off while construction hummed and banged, and customers waited with an assortment of other folks while the postal worker wrote down our box numbers and dutifully  retrieved the PO Box mail.

Last week, PO box holders were invited to throw their existing keys into a receptacle for disposal. I did it, taking on faith that, as our notes stated, there would be new keys for a new box. I was not disappointed when I called for my PO Box mail and it contained an envelope with the new keys. They, too, are shiny and new.

On Monday morning, I was excited to find our box and to try the keys.

Shucks! No mail.


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Parents: Just Breathe

From Pamela, our Development & Volunteer Coordinator:

Many years ago I realized, with a wisdom beyond my years, that disappointed expectations were the source of all the world’s misery.  I mention this because, now that I am working with mentors and mentees, I also speak to parents from time to time.  And parents are, sadly, subject to disappointed expectations regarding their children.  And needlessly, in some cases!  For example, many parents of elementary school kids think they will have more discretionary time when their kids head into Junior and Senior High School.  Why would they think that?  Because it’s comforting to think that, when their daily schedules are so often crunched into powder.  They think—“In a few years, I will no longer be 100% responsible for how for my offspring’s every waking moment is spent.”  Unfortunately, they will soon enough be 40% – 80% responsible for all those waking moments that are, now that the kids are older, 700% more complex, bewildering, and requiring ever-vigilant re-scheduling.  Below, I have sketched out a hypothetical schedule for Jr. and Sr. High parents (that I carefully researched and that is absolutely true-to-life) for a random four days in October.  (I was trying for a full week but quickly ran out of space):

Wednesday, Oct. 1

Orthodontist appointment

P/U from cheerleading practice

Tennis lesson

P/U from band practice

Observe World Vegetarian Day/Make special veggie salsa

Thursday, Oct. 2

Dermatologist appointment

Boys Jr. High Football game

Swimming Lesson

Plan ahead for Oct. 16 & 17, school closed for NDEA

Pay online bill for all tele. and personal devices

Friday, Oct. 3

Orthodontist Follow-up Appointment

Girls Junior High Volleyball Game

Boys Varsity Football Game

Start planning for Halloween Party/decorating house

Saturday, Oct. 4

Girls JV Volleyball Tournament

Observe National Golf Day/Take kids out for nine holes if no rain

Drive daughter to sleepover

Check to see if things are going okay at sleepover

I’m exhausted just keystroking this—and this was a typical four days for kids who aren’t socially active and say they don’t have any friends.  So, you parents with younger kids, you get the idea.  And, now that I think about it, to parents with Jr. and Sr. High kids, mentoring must sound really, really easy.

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