Teammates was started in 1991 by head Nebraska football coach, Tom Osborne and his wife Nancy. Tom saw a need for a change in the way that city youth were growing up. Many kids grew up without proper adult attention or without any adult influences in their lives at all. Whether the kids rebelled from parents or guardians or the kids just grew up without a dependable adult role models, Tom and Nancy wanted to help them by giving them some attention from mature adults that were capable of leading kids down the right path.
In 1991, when Teammates began, Tom had the idea that he could use the members of the Nebraska Cornhuskers mentor young kids who wanted to sign up for the program. Tom thought that if the kids could see real Huskers and what they have achieved that the kids might be inspired to make the right decisions with their own lives they could achieve great things.
The way Teammates worked was that a Husker player would be assigned a child he was recommended to the program and that particular Husker would then take the child out to dinner, talk to him, hang out with him, help him with school work, or any other problem the child had. Basically, the Husker would act as a grown up friend for the children. Tom hoped that if the kids were able to see the decisions that the older, more mature Huskers were making that maybe the kids would be influenced to make good decisions as well so that they could achieve great things too.
In 1991, Teammates was a single chapter organization with one chapter in Lincoln and that was it. As more and more participants joined teammates the need to expand greatly increased. Teammates was specifically designed for Lincoln Public School Students and was started with 20 students. The number of participants was greatly increasing over the years until, in 1995, Teammates was expanded to include all kids in Lincoln’s public and private sectors.
Now more than 120 kids were enrolled in the Teammates program with more and more wanting to sign up everyday. In 1998, Teammates made a huge leap to the Omaha and surrounding areas and introduced 7 new chapters of the program. Teammates was now open for business in Omaha, Papillion, LaVista, Bellevue, Elkhorn, Valley, and Bennington. Teammates now had 441 mentors in 12 different chapters.
Big changes came about for Teammates in 2000. With over 2000 members enrolled in Teammates the need for more money came. A one million dollar federal grant was given to Teamments to be allocated to all the local chapters. Some of the money was used to support the mentoring program, while the other part of it was used to create and implement the Program Management Manual. This manual was to outline all the accounting practices and duties of all members of Teammates to increase the efficiency and accountability of the program. In 2001 similar changes occurred when Teammates received it’s 501(c)(3) designation. Also in 2001 Teammates began taking in data that was put together and showed that the mentoring program was having a profoundly significant effect on students grades, attendance, and behavior in and out of school. Teammates seemed to be a huge success and the future looked even better.
Around 2002 federal funding was ended so Teammates needed to begin a fundraising program to raise funds for the program. Teammates, along with The Gallup Organization set up a collection website for all donations to be directed toward. Many walk-a-thons, phone-a-thons, dinners, and other activities are all used by Teammates to raise funds. Fundrasing, however, accounts for about 39% of Teammates funds, organization donations account for about 26%, while private donations and other funds account for the rest of Teammates funds.
Over the next few years Teammates has continually grown and spread to over 67 different communities in Nebraska. Recently the first Iowa chapter was added in Johnston Iowa. Teammates is beginning to push to other communities in other states and soon begin their journey as not only a state wide program, but soon a national program. In 2005 the W.K. Kellog Foundation recognized Teammates as the “best practice” model for all one-to-one mentoring programs in the United States. The Teammates model was presented to thousands of people all throughout the country by the Kellog Foundation, hopefully boosting the national recognition for Teammates and its accomplishments.
One to One Mentoring
The type of mentoring program that Teammates is, is a “one-to-one” mentoring program. One-to-one means that for every one child enrolled in the program there is one mentor volunteering to help that child. All of Teammates mentors are volunteers. They receive no monetary compensation for their work that they do for the program. The “mentees” or children being mentored, however, have many different reasons for joining the program. About 70% of all “mentees” are in the program because of a personal, peer, or academic referral to join.
“Usually a child will be implemented into the program because he is not doing so well with school or family life,” says Roger Severson, Director of Activities for the Teammates Bellevue Chapter, “I like to see kids enrolled in the program because it really helps them now and in the future.” Severson says that another 13% of “mentees” in the program are enrolled because of discipline or legal issues. “The courts do direct some kids to enroll in the program rather then sending them to [juvenile hall] or putting them on probation. I think that it is a much better solution to problems with kids who are still in middle school, or even some in high school,” says Severson.
When a mentee is enrolled into the Teammates program, the mentee is matched with a mentor based on the mentee’s needs and problems. For example, if a mentee in the Omaha area is entered into the program through the court system, then he or she will be matched up with a mentor who expresses the desire or ability to work with children who need attention to get that child the support he or she needs to conform to the societal norms and expectations of today.
“Basically the idea is to teach that child that it is not o.k. to make immoral decisions because it not only hurts him but those close to him, and it is my job to be the one who is close to him so he can think about how his actions will hurt me,” says Steve Lamoureaux, a 9 year mentor in the Teammates program. Lamoureaux says that he has had the same “mentee” for about 9 years now. To keep his identity safe we will call his mentee ‘John.” Lamoureaux says, “John was assigned to me as a mentee when he was 10 years old. Me and him have become very close over the years and he graduated from the program about 2 years ago and me and him still hang out and talk about once every week if not more.”
“It is very common for a mentor and a mentee to become close friends because of what they experience throughout the years that they are together, and it is even more common for a life long bond between the two to form so that they remain in contact even after a mentee is graduated from the program,” says Severson. When a mentee graduates from the Teammates program he or she is encouraged to remain in contact with the mentor. “We try not to develop a dominant/submissive realationship between the match, we would like to develop a friendship between the two so that more can be accomplished and willingly,” Severson says. Teammates is trying to develop friendships that last a lifetime and not just something that a child has to do, something that the child wants to do. It is a difficult task and one that only a strong organization, like Teammates, can accomplish.
Teammates as an Organization
Teammates was started in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1991 by Tom and Nancy Osborne. In 1991 Teammates was set up as a single chapter headed by Tom Osborne. There was no executive director title at the time. Nancy Osborne acted as the executive director only because of her status with Tom. Tom and Nancy directly watched over the mentors as they volunteered. As the program grew throughout 1991 and the following year, the original mentors who implemented certain program ‘standard operating procedures’ acted as managers and leaders within the organization. Those leaders began directing and training new mentors as they came in and they too were still mentoring students.
Throughout the following years the program really took off and grew astronomically. Tom saw the need for a more structured management regime. Originally, Tom wanted to have a very simple program as he was very busy with the Huskers and other areas of interest to him. He wanted to have very few on his paid management staff. In the beginning, Tom and Nancy decided that they would have an executive director to basically run the program. DeEtta Vrana was appointed as the executive director in 1998. Tom, Nancy, and DeEtta sat down and had a meeting on what the appropriate management staff should look like.
After a few weeks of discussing options and plans, Tom, Nancy, and DeEtta decided that they would have an executive director, a program director, and an activities director. DeEtta, acting as the executive director wanted to sit back and watch the whole process unfold. She decided that the program director would train and teach the mentors what they needed to do and what was expected of them. DeEtta decided that the activities director would run all the fundraising activities and all public affairs for Teammates. This was an excellent set up for Teammates at the time because all the Teammates chapters were close by Lincoln. It was easy to direct and manage the chapters because they were all considered local.
Obviously when new chapters begin springing up all over Nebraska a new system was needed. DeEtta began delegating more power to the individual chapters by assigning directors to each individual chapter. The program director was now only responsible for assigning and training a volunteer chapter director which was selected based on Teammates performance and involvement.
All the chapters became responsible for themselves. They only needed the executives for financial needs and big problems that may have arisen during the year. The program directors new responsibility was mainly to train all chapter directors and provide financial information to local chapters such as budget details at certain times of the year. The main responsibility of the program lies on the chapter directors shoulders.
The chapter directors are in charge of local marketing and advertising while all fundraising program ideas are also thought up of by chapter directors. When a chapter director is appointed he or she must then manage all the individual mentors. The chapter director is in charge of providing all incoming mentees with a match to a mentor and then following up with them on their progress together. It is also the responsibility of the chapter director to come up with fundraiser ideas and events and then get them approved by the executive office in Lincoln, Nebraska.
All of the workers at Teammates are volunteers except for those that work in the executive office. No profit is ever made as Teammates is usually working in debt. The fund-raisers that Teammates sponsors are all to get out of debt rather than create a profit.
Overall, Teammates is a very efficient organization that makes very good use of willing volunteers and strategically placed executives. The volunteers are very hands on and need little motivation to work hard. The executives at Teammates are very relaxed and give the volunteers plenty of room to make their own decisions and use their own ideas. Teammates is an organization that realizes that the people who volunteer all have good ideas and need an outlet for their ideas. Teammates lets all volunteers express their own ideas and own opinions to better the organization and the children that are enrolled into the program. If anyone ever has any questions about Teammates or would like to volunteer or make a donation to Teammates, you can log on to www.teammates.org and you will find all the information and more that you will need to make a donation or volunteer.
Lamoureaux, Steve. Personal Interview. March, 09, 2006.
Severson, Roger. Personal Interview. March 01, 2006.