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You Know You’re From...Tomahawk: Patti Hilgendorf

Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 8:53 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2022 at 9:39 PM CST
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TOMAHAWK, Wis. (WSAW) - January is National Mentoring Month.

For more than 24 years, Kinship of Tomahawk has been mentoring kids and families in the community. They just recently made their 300th match.

“We made out first match in December of 1997,” said Executive Director Patti Hilgendorf.

“Not only do you get to see your friends you, like, can make new friends,” 9-year-old 3rd grader, Zayden said.

Aydin is just as complimentary. “The help me get my homework done when I have some,” said the 8-year-old 3rd grader.

Hilgendorf is the only one whose been there since day one.

“I’ve always had a big heart for kids and want the best for kids.”

She’s seen hundreds of kids come though the program.

“We’ve had some really tough kids come through this building,” she said.

Every one of them with at least one thing in common. Patti.

“She can get kids to dig down and find their best efforts and put their best foot forward really well,” said Kris Berg, KinsClub Coordinator.

“When you really get to know them, they’re just a kid. You’ve got to give them a chance,” added Hilgenberg.

About 90% of Kinship is community driven, whether it be fundraising or donations. In a show of her leadership, Tomahawk Community Bank offered the house they call home at a friendly rate.

“We run an after school program so that even the kids who don’t have mentors can come in and have positive interactions with positive adults.”

Before Kinship existed, Patti worked at Lincoln Hills juvenile correctional facility. Her husband, sister, sister-in-law, brother-in-law worked there with her.

“I was in direct contact with the youth. The population monitor position is responsible for all the kids when they’re in the school building.”

She retired from Lincoln Hills in 2017 after 25 years. That gave her a year and a half with her husband, Larry, before he died in July of 2018.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself. There were days I didn’t know if I could get out of bed and get moving,” Hilgendorf recalled.

If it was even possible, Kinship took on an even bigger purpose to help fill that void.

“She organizes a lot and means a lot to Kinship because she’s always working,” said Ruth Uelman, a volunteer and junior at Tomahawk High School.

“Kinship is truly, tugs at her heart. And it fills her soul to be here,” Berg said.

‘Here’ won’t last forever. Patti has given the board her 3-year notice, admitting she’ll probably never completely step away.

“It’s going to take a special person that’s going to have a real big passion for our kids.”

Until that day comes, Patti will continue to carry the torch. She’ll be the first to tell you, she’s only as good as her staff and volunteers.

“I couldn’t do it without them for sure,” she said glowingly.

And they’re even better with Patti leading the way.

“She’s such a kind person,” said Berg, as she started to get emotional. “I don’t think I’ve ever known anybody--sorry--I don’t think I’ve ever known anybody as generous of her heart as she is.”

“I believe in this program with my whole heart. I would hate to see any part of this program go away,” said Hilgendorf.

They do have an application process and like to talk with the kids before they enter the program. But there’s no cost to be part of kinship.

Patti stresses, they need mentors. They have 34 kids waiting for their match.

You can read more about Kinship of Tomahawk by clicking here.

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