LINCOLN — Tom Osborne, the founder of the TeamMates mentoring program, said Wednesday that the program has stepped up its game in hopes of attracting more mentors.
TeamMates serves more than 9,400 youths and has been gaining about 500 mentee-mentor matches each year, said Osborne, the former Nebraska football coach and athletic director.
But in Lincoln, about 700 youths are on the waiting list for a mentor, Osborne said during a press conference outside Memorial Stadium. Many of them have been waiting for two or three years, he said.
Adding 500 matches a year isn’t enough, Osborne said. “We always have about a third more kids that want mentors than we have mentors.”
TeamMates hopes to reach 12,000 matches by 2020, Osborne said.
In pursuit of that goal, TeamMates announced a new contest that aims to increase mentor participation.
New mentors who apply during the “Back to School Challenge” will be entered into a drawing. Current mentors can receive an entry for each person they nominate who becomes a mentor. First prize in the drawing is two airline tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S. and a three-night hotel stay. Second prize is two airline tickets. Third prize is dinner with Tom and Nancy Osborne. The challenge lasts until Nov. 30.
“Hopefully, this will spur a pretty good surge in mentoring, because we’ve seen the power of it,” Osborne said. Mentoring improves academic performance and behavior among youths, he said.
“Kids who have a mentor are much more hopeful about the future,” Osborne said. “Hope is a very powerful thing.”
The Lincoln-based program serves 160 communities in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Wyoming, Osborne said. The program will spread to South Dakota soon.
Mentees meet one on one with their mentors once a week, often over lunch.
“You can go mentor and be back (to work) in an hour very easily,” Osborne said. “It’s just simply carrying on a conversation and building a relationship.”
In addition to concern about the time commitment, Osborne said people often are apprehensive about becoming a mentor because they don’t think they will be successful.
“If you can care about another person, if you can carry on a conversation, if you can simply be an advocate, you can mentor,” he said.
Osborne said mentors range from age 19 to people in their 90s. Osborne, who founded TeamMates in 1991 with his wife, Nancy, mentors two youths.
“As a mentor, it’s very rewarding,” said DeMoine Adams, TeamMates’ program director and a former defensive end for the Huskers. “I feel like it’s a win-win. The legacy that Dr. Osborne has created on the field, it gives caring adults like myself and others that same opportunity to be winners in school and life.”
People with questions about the program may call 402-390-8326. To apply to become a mentor, go to teammates.org/become-a-mentor/apply/