Small wonders

Dianne Knorr

Photo By Jill Wagner

Two years ago, Diane Knorr was a successful businesswoman and a joyful wife and mother. She was making a good salary, and enjoying the prosperity that comes with it, when she realized something was missing from her career: meaning. She created meaning by founding Wonder Inc. (, a nonprofit organization dedicated to matching children in foster care with adult mentors. The kids, ages 6-12, are paired with trained mentors and provided with backpacks containing a journal, a book, a T-shirt and art supplies. The children and their mentors begin a yearlong journey together, filled with adventures such as trips to the zoo, local restaurants and the theater. The program reimburses mentors up to $250 to cover some of the costs of the year’s activities. Mentors commit to spending 10 hours per month with a child for a one-year period, but, as Knorr explained, the relationship can outlast the program.

Was it hard to walk away from corporate success?

No, not at all. When I reached the salary goal I had set for myself, I felt like, “So what?” For me, it was about figuring out why I was on the planet. I knew I wanted to help bring kids in foster care what they need to thrive—not just survive. That meant going outside the corporate setting.

Were you happy?

I was in corporate America for 10 years, met great people and got to do a lot of different things along the way. It was all perfect preparation for creating Wonder because it provided me with the expertise I need to run an organization. I am grateful for that.

Was being an adoptive parent a big part of your decision?

It was an influence but not a deciding factor. My husband and I had a difficult time starting a family, and the process of adopting Gabriel gave me an incredible appreciation of what a privilege it is to be a parent. I’m truly thankful I am his mom.

Could you explain the vocabulary you use at Wonder Inc.?

I’m a big believer in the power of words, so we definitely have our own lingo. We call our mentors “guides,” and the kids are “explorers.” They commit to a yearlong “journey” of outings we call “adventures.” The name of our organization has a double meaning: the sense of awe we see in kids, but also to be curious about the unique greatness in every child. I think it’s far more interesting to focus on what’s possible for each child rather than on what may not be. All of our vocabulary is designed to focus on what’s possible if we lay down our assumptions about kids in foster care and pay attention to who they really are.

How does Wonder Inc. differ from Big Brothers/Big Sisters?

Our programs serve different kids. Big Brothers/Big Sisters focuses on kids in single-parent families but not kids in foster care. They’ve been great about sending those kids our way. Our program also has a “journey” feel because we want to give kids a chance to experience a wide variety of things, like music, the arts, sports, volunteer service, dining out and nature. Three out of four kids in foster care are removed from their homes because of severe neglect. They just haven’t experienced the kinds of things that many kids outside of foster care have.

Who can or should be a guide?

Anyone, 21 or older. The most important thing is that they enjoy being with children. They must be the kind of people that go to a park and will actually get on the swings and swing. We’re looking for people who like to play, listen and explore. We require a commitment of 10 hours a month, for 12 months. The commitment is critical because we want people children can count on. We want to avoid the chance of a match that lasts only a couple of months, and then the person disappears from the child’s life. We spend a lot of time up front making sure people are willing to make that commitment to the child, themselves and the organization. And they can stay connected longer than a year if both the explorer and guide are interested in taking another journey.

Do you do a background check on potential guides?

We use the same screening process as Big Brothers/Big Sisters. … Potential guides go through a process that includes completing an extensive application, sharing references, obtaining background clearances and participating in 15 hours of training. The children in our program have been through a lot. We take every precaution to connect them with quality people who treat them with respect and dignity and make them feel special. It is a chance for each child to take a deep breath and have some fun.

Has Wonder Inc. changed your life?

Absolutely! It’s magical to see a child’s eyes light up as they skip a rock across a river for the first time. In fact, if we could bottle that feeling, we wouldn’t have to do any more fund-raising. It just doesn’t get any better than that. I feel like I’m contributing to our community’s bottom line now and giving others a chance to do the same.