Dordt College News

Personal Journey Prepared Mentor Coordinator to Help Others Through Hard Times

February 9, 2008

Reprinted w/persmission from the Sioux County Capitol Democrat

"It makes no sense to trust someone who takes loved ones away from you," said JoEllen Kauk. "But I do."

Eighteen years ago, in December, Kauk, a 1982 graduate of Dordt College, was widowed. Her husband Randy Poel, a 1981 graduate of Dordt College, had been a science teacher. On December 14, he was playing basketball with high school students in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He had a heart attack. He died instantly. They had two little boys and were expecting their third.

"I'm surprised I have all my noodles," she said with a smile. But friends, family, neighbors and church people were supportive. "I didn't dare ask for anything. I knew it would be on my doorstep the next morning!"

Two years later, Kauk returned to her home town, where years ago her father Ivan Visser had died of cancer at age 41… leaving her mother Alma with six kids. Kauk fell in love again, and married her former teacher at Unity Christian High, Mark Kauk, a 1976 graduate of Dordt College. She never imagined herself living in Orange City as an adult. As a Dordt student, she had had a heart for missions and for people, and she remembers sitting in the pew at college and feeling disappointed in Sioux County people. She thought they were simply pew-sitters. Not true, she has found.

Kauk was the first person hired for the Orange City ATLAS in February 2004. Jerry Kieft, who began the Sioux Center ATLAS, discovered her. Her job was to meet with clients and potential mentors and connect them.

Actually, people going through tough times come into ATLAS by themselves. Or they are referred by a pastor or organization. The clients are first interviewed and if there's a serious problem meet with staff members at Atlas.

But sooner or later, most agree to talk with Kauk, and to consider being linked with a mentor.
"It's scary… to meet with somebody they don't know. It takes a lot of courage, to open up. It takes a lot of reassuring on my part."

Of course, it takes courage for the mentor too, "courage and faith… to help someone they've never met before… to say that I'm going to be there for that person."

After meeting with a client, Kauk uses the grapevine. She tries to find a mentor from that person's community or church, if appropriate. She may call another mentor, or a pastor… not sharing the name unless the client gives permission. She usually just mentions one of the client's
interests, perhaps reading, knitting, taking walks. It's good to find a commonality.

"It's all about connecting."

She has found mentors from a large radius around Orange City — Sheldon, Ireton, Granville, Hospers, Alton, Remsen. She investigates to make sure that mentor and client are not related.
Confidentiality is very important. "Then, I call the person up cold, no warning." said Kauk.

"Most likely it's a person I've never met," and sometimes he has never heard of ATLAS. "I'm calling because so and so recommended you," she'll tell the potential mentor. And if he is interested, she invites him to the ATLAS office.
And they talk. She finds out about the person's past, her family, spouse, job… then her faith. When did she first hear about Christ? What has strengthened his faith? What has made a difference in her life? Why does he want to be a mentor? The mentor's job is to meet with the client an hour a week, to commit for a year… and to listen. "It's not your job to change them. That's God's job," she tells them. The mentor just needs "to love them where they're at.”

"We're not so much about sharing scripture. We're about being Jesus to them, loving and listening… sometimes confronting, but only after the relationship is built. Top on the list is building a friendship. It seems small, but it's not. It's huge! And we so devalue that."

In fact, Kauk often meets with mentors who say, "I don't feel like I'm doing anything. We have coffee. We share. I listen." Then Kauk meets with the client, who overflows with enthusiasm, "I love my mentor!" Kauk overflows with enthusiasm too. "I love what I'm doing!"

She prayed that God would show her when and where He wanted her in the work force, and she spent 12 years praying. "Life bred that into me, patience." She has learned to approach God with open hands, trusting… for when things are taken away, she said, you realize that God is in control.

In her job with ATLAS, Kauk is blessed to be able to meet a broad spectrum of people, "fascinating people." And she hears stories of their faith walks. She hears about bumps and
bruises. Both mentors and clients have struggled, some with death, divorce, single parenting, alcoholism, abuse, mental illness, financial challenges, and loneliness.

"A person who has been there makes a great mentor. They understand." And usually, as with Kauk, mentors have experienced love. "When we see how others pour themselves into our lives, the natural outcome is to share with others."

After three weeks, more or less, Kauk connects the mentor with the client. The client, if she is a believer, has been praying that Kauk would find the right person. "I believe God is in this," said Kauk.

Sometimes the two go to the same church, but have never officially met. Sometimes the client requests a certain person as a mentor. Often they have never seen each other before. Sometimes it doesn't work, and a new mentor is needed. If that's the case, Kauk tries to end the relationship in a positive way, so there are no hard feelings.

But usually the mentor-client relationship continues beyond a year. They become friends.
A few weeks ago, she paired two people, and they immediately clicked. "It was like Christmas Day!" Kauk said. "I love seeing people connect with people. It's a blessing,” she said, “to both the client and the mentor”… and to her. "It's amazing! It works!"

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