TeamMates’ biggest need is volunteers, not getting more money to operate, said Tom Osborne, former Cornhusker football coach and TeamMates founder.

Osborne made his comments on Tuesday at Grand Island’s Community Fieldhouse at an event designed to convince more people to become TeamMates. At first, Osborne estimated that the Grand Island chapter might have as many as 140 matches between students and adults.

But Chapter Coordinator Nancy Jones said, “We have 120 matches. We’d like to have 140 matches.”

For Osborne, the point was not whether the Grand Island chapter has 120 matches or 140. At either number, the Grand Island chapter has room to grow substantially in the number of matches between students and adult mentors.

People in small Nebraska communities have embraced the TeamMates program, said Osborne, who pointed out that there are many towns of about 1,000 residents that have 50, 60 or 70 matches.

Young people in small communities encounter the same problems as young people in Omaha and Lincoln, Osborne said. There is no safe haven.

In the late 1960s, when he began coaching and recruiting high school athletes to come to the University of Nebraska, it was rare to see a young person who was not part of a two-parent household, Osborne said. Now only 46 percent of young people grow up in a two-parent home.

He noted that some single parents do a great job. But statistically, the chances that a young person will get into some kind of difficulty may double, triple or even quadruple, depending on the particular category, if only one parent is in the home. Osborne said the chances of dropping out of high school, getting involved with drugs, committing a crime, becoming a gang member or being part of a teenage pregnancy all increase if a child is part of a single-parent household.

Osborne said that, when he was growing up, methamphetamine, cocaine and gangs were simply unheard of in the more rural parts of the state. He also expressed concern about the violence and hyper-sexuality that can be found in certain segments of the media, whether that be movies, video games or the Internet.

Osborne said this country is sending people who may be more vulnerable because they come from a single-parent household into a more treacherous or even dangerous environment when they leave home.

TeamMates is a school-based match program that asks an adult to spend an hour a week during the school year as a mentor to a student. Osborne said that’s enough for 85 percent of TeamMates students to have increased school attendance. That increased attendance, in turn, leads to fewer office referrals, higher grades and increased high school graduation rates.

The biggest challenge America faces is not the economy, not Al-Qaida and not ISIS, although those are all important issues, Osborne said. The biggest challenge is what the country is going for its youth because that will determine the future of America.

While young people face many potential pitfalls, mentors must give them the ability “to hold it together” if America’s future is to be as bright as its past, Osborne said.

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I have covered local education issues for The Independent since January 1990 and have worked for The independent since 1978.

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