TeamMates seeks mentors

Ron Burtz

As with so many things in our community the COVID pandemic starting in 2020 had a huge disrupting impact on Custer’s fledgling TeamMates school mentoring program. However, now that the pandemic appears to be mostly behind us, the program is getting a reboot which could have a major effect on the success of many students next school year.
Bob Parsons, who serves on the local TeamMates governing board, said when the program came to Custer in 2018 it was the first full-fledged TeamMates program to be implemented in South Dakota and was wildly successful.
“We were going great guns with about 40 matches there at the beginning,” said Parsons, “and then COVID hit.”
When the school year was abruptly ended in March of 2020, the weekly meetings between adult mentors and students ended as well and never really got started up again that fall. Parsons said some students were nervous about meeting with their mentors and then some eventually moved away, while at the same time some of the adults were reluctant to go into the schools for mentoring sessions because of fears of the virus.
Parsons said, while he has resumed meeting with his original mentee who is now an eighth grader, the number of student/mentor matches has dwindled to less than 15. So, in an effort to recruit more adults and get the program rolling again, the board has set two upcoming informational and training meetings for potential volunteers in hopes of making new matches that will be ready to start meeting weekly this fall.
The identical two-hour meetings are set for April 12 and May 10 starting at 6 p.m. The meetings will be held in the conference room next to the school superintendent’s office in the Armory.
The meetings will cover the dos and don’ts of mentoring and are intended to help adults understand the process and the difference it can make in the life of a child. Parsons said potential volunteers shouldn’t be intimidated by the term “mentor.” He emphasizes a mentor is not a tutor or a counselor but simply a healthy role model and adult friend. Parsons said while he may occasionally help his student with a school assignment, usually he just meets the boy and his friends for lunch at school. Other mentors play games with their students during their time together or simply sit and talk. Building relationships is the goal more than academics, however, the relationships often result in better academics.
Founded in 1991 by legendary University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne and his wife, Nancy, the TeamMates organization has collected hundreds of success stories of long-term relationships that made a significant difference in the lives of those involved. A 25-minute documentary which can be viewed on the website tells the history of the organization and is a good resource for understanding its mission and potentialities, said Parsons.
“It’s just astounding what happens when there’s a caring adult in a kid’s life,” said Parsons. “Bad behaviors are down, good behaviors are up, grades are better, absenteeism goes away. It’s amazing stuff.”
While the TeamMates board concerns itself primarily with recruiting and training mentors, Parsons credits school staff members for their efforts in channeling students into the program. He said the school counselors are the ones who primarily recruit the students and says elementary counselor Michelle Watland has been largely responsible for attracting students to the program and making the matches. Teri Reynolds in the administrative office recently took over the role of program coordinator which had previously been held by superintendent Mark Naugle.
Parsons said it is his hope that if new mentors come on board as a result of these meetings, matches can be made and an initial meeting between mentors and mentees can take place before the end of the school year with an eye toward being ready to begin in earnest in the fall. The outcome, he says, can be a win-win for both children and adults.
“Coach Osborne said that mentors get as much out of this as the kids,” said Parsons, “because they’re giving and not expecting anything in return but you see a changed life and a success story so that’s the reward.”


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