In 1991, Nebraska legend Tom Osborne and his wife, Nancy, founded TeamMates, a mentoring program intended to provide school age children an individual, one-on-one relationship with an adult mentor. While classroom education is important, many feel it is not the be-all and end-all of a child’s educational development. Dr. Osborne said when he created the program, “Our young people face different challenges today that affect them personally. If we are going to make a difference, we have to get involved with them as one-to-one mentors.”
One of the more ardent supporters of TeamMates is Greg Cromer. Cromer, M.S.P.T., is a physical therapist working here in Fairbury. When Cromer signed up to be a mentor, he was paired with a fifth grader named Alfred Davis.
“When TeamMates came, I was actually on the board when it started,” Cromer explained. “So I knew it was a great project for the kids. We saw good results in how kids responded as far as improving grades, attendance to school, decreased dropout rates and those kind of things. So I was really interested in doing that and I knew Alfred a little bit because he was in my son’s grade. So I went ahead and said I would be more that happy to mentor Alfred.”
Mentors generally spend an hour a week with a student. According to Cromer, “During that one hour you can do anything you want. We talk about school, we talk about life in general. It’s not a tutoring program or anything like that but if they have questions or we have suggestions about school or life…it is just another person to sound off with.”
“Alfred and I, we have a lot of the same interests. He likes sports and I like sports, so we’d spend a lot of our time playing basketball or football and we’d go outside and walk on the track, kick field goals and we’d even, once in a while, do some baking.”
“He graduated from the high school last year but he’s in the LIFE (Living Independently through Functional Education) program with the high school.”
Although mentoring officially ends when the student graduated, Cromer discovered that, as is often the case, the relationship continues, “Not officially through the program but we still keep in touch, which is nice. He’s looking for a job that will be adequate for him that he’s excited about and he’s looking at a couple of things. So we discuss that and, of course, we always discuss Husker football and those kind of things.”
Motivation can sometimes be an issue with some kids, and the mentoring program can help. Although as Cromer relates, motivation was never really an issue for Alfred. “He’s pretty impressive. He doesn’t drive and his parents have a hard time getting around, so he’s always been active. One of the things that I believed in and Alfred believed in was being active, so he’s always been involved either in football or basketball or both in junior high and high school. Now he played up until the point where he didn’t think he could be competitive anymore and then he became the student manager. So he’s been the student manager for the football team the last two or three years and he helps the basketball team as well. And this year he’s helping with wrestling. He stays involved that way.”
“His parents weren’t able to get him to and from practices and games, so a lot of times Alfred would do something a lot of kids wouldn’t. He walked.” Cromer noted that Alfred walked regardless of how difficult the weather might be. Which, in Nebraska, was often very difficult indeed. “It was snowing, you know it’s cold, he’s walking early in the morning. He’s pretty impressive that way.”
Being a mentor has been good for Cromer and Davis.
Cromer said, “It’s been a positive influence on me and, hopefully, on Alfred as well.”
Unfortunately, not all kids are as lucky. There is currently a shortage of mentors in Nebraska and TeamMates is actively searching for adults to fill these important roles.
“There are a lot of students that would like to be with a mentor but there’s just not as many mentors out there as we need,” Cromer said.
As always, a major roadblock is time. “It doesn’t seem like an hour a week is tough but, for me, being a physical therapist, it’s hard to try and fit that in. It always is hectic to try and fit that in but every time I go see him he always brightens up my day, so it was a great experience. I learned things from him as well.”
“Luckily, I’m my own boss, so I was able to schedule that hour a week off. What we run into now with TeamMates is sometimes employers don’t want to let their employees take an hour off, so I know that is one of our big emphases now is to try and meet with the employers.”
“Many kids are currently on a waiting list for mentors. The longer they are on that list, the less likely it is they will ever find one. Once they hit junior year, that doesn’t leave enough time in the eyes of some for a profitable mentoring relationship, so mentors are more likely to be paired with younger students.” Cromer commented.