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Teammates looking for mentors in North Platte

November 11, 2017 GMT

Started as a community outreach program for the Nebraska football team in 1991, Teammates has flourished.

But the youth mentoring organization is in need of help in North Platte.

After a high of 65, the number of mentors in the community has dropped to 36, while the number of youths in need of a mentor has grown to near 100, organizers say.

Teammates co-founder Tom Osborne, the former head coach of the Huskers and former congressman, and Dr. Kim Baxter, a local organizer, mentor and

former member of the overall Teammates Board of Directors, spoke Thursday about the need for more volunteers in North Platte.

“Our numbers have dwindled just a little bit recently,” Baxter said. “That’s why we’ve put on a big push for mentor recruitment, as well as to make sure we’re trying to have the funding that we need to not just sustain the program, but to grow it. We’ve always thought that in North Platte we should have well over 100 matches.”

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The statewide grant that has funded the North Platte chapter has expired, and the organization is working to raise funds in the North Platte area.

“Most of the funding from the North Platte chapter comes from our state office,” Osborne said. “We just had a fundraiser last week with Peyton Manning last Friday and we raised quite a bit of money there, but we do need to raise some funds locally.”

The goal is to raise $20,000 to $30,000, Baxter and Osborne said.

“We provide a lot of support from the state level, but we feel like some fundraising needs to happen here,” Osborne said.

Since its inception in 1991, with 27 Husker players mentoring 21 or 22 kids in Lincoln, Osborne said Teammates has expanded to help more than 8,000 kids in 153 school districts in four states.

Osborne said he takes pride in the effect that mentoring has on the mentors as well, saying while the program helps 8,000 kids, it’s providing benefits to 16,000 people.

“There is a ripple effect,” he said. “If you can change one life for the better, you’re going to impact the children, the marriage, the people they work with. Sometimes that trickles down to two, or three, or four generations.”

While the program has led to greater success in the classroom and out of school for many of the mentees, Osborne said Teammates’ most valuable lesson to children is hope, a “very powerful thing.”

“Lots of kids, for whatever reason, grow up without much hope,” Osborne said. “That’s fairly dangerous, because if you don’t have hope you’re going to fill your life with something, and quite often it’s fairly destructive stuff. A mentor can kind of point the way through. No matter what your circumstance, you can get a good education, you can live a productive life, you can, someday, have a good job.”

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Specifically, Osborne pointed to school attendance rates, which have increased in about 85 percent of the mentor/mentee matches through Teammates. That, he said, leads to better graduation rates and grades and increases the percentage of kids going to college.

Also in about 85 percent of the matches, Osborne said, behavior improves. That leads to fewer classroom disruptions and reductions in substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and run-ins with law enforcement outside of school.

Kids are matched up with the program in three ways: They ask school officials about the mentoring program and express a desire to have a mentor, a parent or guardian recommends the child for the mentoring program, or a school official recommends a child to the program.

“Teammates is not just for troubled kids — we don’t want that image to be spread. All of the kids in Teammates are there because they’ve said they’d like to have a mentor,” Osborne said.

The minimum age for mentors is 19. A high school degree is required. But the program has mentors in their 80s and 90s as well, Osborne said.

“We’re looking for somebody who can care about another person, who has good listening skills and can carry on a conversation,” Osborne said. “The typical mentor is often a professional person, average age maybe mid-40s. We have almost as many male mentors as female, which is not true of many other mentoring programs.”

The program asks for about 30 to 40 minutes of a mentor’s time each week throughout the school year, and Osborne said he asks for a three-year commitment to the program. The longer a mentor/mentee match lasts, the greater impact it can have. Most interactions are at school during lunch hours, Baxter and Osborne said.

To volunteer with Teammates or for more information, contact local coordinator Molly Morales at 308-520-1241.