One question was asked. Twenty-two hands went into the air. Thousands of youth in the Midwest have benefited. Many in Fairbury heard this powerful message last Wednesday (Jan. 18).
Dr. Tom Osborne, founder of TeamMates mentoring program, along with wife Nancy asked a simple question 25 years ago to a group of 22 UNL football players.
“I asked the team ‘How many of you want to spend some time as a mentor?’” Osborne asked. Twenty-two student athletes volunteered and were paired up with 22 youth in need of a buddy to do activities with and an ear to listen.
Out of the 22 initial mentees, 21 graduated from high school on time, 18 went on to college.
“Forty-eight percent of kids that have a mentor go on to college compared to those that do not have a mentor,” Osborne said.
“This is not a tutoring program, you don’t have to know math or conjugate a verb. You are building a relationship with the young person, a stable relationship they can count on.” Osborne shared this message of being a mentor at several locations on Jan. 18 throughout Fairbury, culminating in a public event at the Burkley Fine Arts Center at Fairbury High School.
“Dr. Tom and Nancy Osborne not only founded TeamMates, but truly believe in this program,” Fairbury TeamMates coordinator, Patty Swartz, said. “I feel very blessed that he came to Fairbury to speak in his own words about what mentoring can do for our future just by being that one constant outside of a family that shows they care and support the youth.”
The first stop for Osborne was the Fairbury City Council chambers, where Osborne and other members of the TeamMates program discussed the importance of being in the program. City employee Tony Biehl discussed his experience with his first mentee and the bond they share to this day.
“You want to make that kid smile,” Biehl said, who has been a TeamMates for seven of the eight years the program has been at Fairbury. “Most of all, there are a lot of conversations. They want someone to listen. They want to have a voice that someone just listens to.”
TeamMates mentors spend 45 minutes to one hour a week with their mentee, playing games, doing puzzles, taking a walk and, most importantly, talking and listening.
“I don’t know how many games of Yahtzee we started and never finished. The game was the start of the conversation and that was what was important,” Biehl said. “He just wanted to talk. That is what it is about, talking and listening and pointing them in the right direction. Sometimes they just want a different friend than mom and dad. One hour a week can make a friend for life.”
Osborne relayed that despite being in Congress, where he spent much of his week in Washington, D.C., and toured the third district every weekend, he still found time to be a mentor, which he is still now.
“I saw them Monday before I left, or Friday when I got back. Everyone will find time for what is important to you,” Osborne said. “All we’re asking for is 30-40 minutes. Eat lunch with that young person, which most lunch periods are 30-40 minutes. The important thing is consistency. The most precious gift you can give any person is your time. It is a pretty powerful message to a young person that you are not a parent, a preacher or a teacher, you have no obligation or claim on them and you are there for them. It sends the message that they are worthwhile and have potential.”
At the public event at FHS, TeamMates mentors were recognized for their service and Biehl explained just that day he had five other phone calls from city crew members interested in being a mentor.
The TeamMates program also received a bit of a boost at the event from Ron Hiligas, local Walmart manager, who presented local TeamMates chapter president Debbie Ebke with a check for $2,000.
Osborne gave a powerful message of the ripple effect mentoring can have on the life of a youth, relaying the story of his grandfather, who was living in western Nebraska on an unproductive farm with a father with a drinking problem. A traveling minister heard his grandfather speak at a fifth grade event and encouraged him every year to finish high school and go to college. Osborne’s grandfather would eventually go to college, become a minister, and serve the state as a politician.
“That person caring for my grandfather had a huge ripple that even affects me today,” Osborne said.
TeamMates was born after Nancy Osborne watched a segment on “60 Minutes” about helping youth at an impoverished high school. Nancy reached out to her husband to help youth in Lincoln. Before long chapters There are 143 chapters in four states began popping up and are now in Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming and Kansas.
The goal of the Fairbury chapter of TeamMates is not a number of volunteers.
“Every child who wants a mentor should have a mentor. In the smaller towns, however, the matches normally stay together until graduation and stay friends for life,” Swartz said. “The goal is not a number, it is to simply find the right match for each young person desiring to have that ‘extra friend’ in their life.”
- In 2016 9,430 students were teamed with a mentor.
- The number of mentor visits to mentees: 220,852
- Amount of scholarships given: $1.6 million