Being the youngest of four children, I always had somebody to look up to.
But, as the youngest, I never felt that I had anyone who looked up to me as I did my older sister and two brothers.
While it’s not something I really thought much about as a child, teen or young adult, as I hit my late 20s, I often wondered what it would feel like to be a role model in someone’s life.
At the time, I had two young nephews and as I sat with them I hoped one day they would think of me as someone who made a difference in the world.
At the time, I wasn’t the most outgoing person, so leading the charge to change the world wasn’t something I was going to do. So I thought of small ways I could make a difference. I don’t remember the exact year, but I was living and working in suburban Omaha, Neb. and attending a school board meeting.
On the agenda was discussion about the TeamMates mentoring program started by former University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne. I was curious, not only because I had the makings of a story, but also because it was a one-on-one program that took place in a school setting.
The TeamMates program was perfect and with Osborne involved, I knew it had to be good. Stepping outside my comfort zone was going to be hard though, and I nearly missed the deadline to sign up because of nerves.
Eventually I did sign up, went through the training, met my mentee, a seventh-grader, and we began meeting for an hour a week.
At first it was awkward, but we soon found common interests, playing cards and doing word search puzzles mostly. We’d talk some, but not a lot.
I often wondered if she liked being in the program. I guess she did, because we continued to meet and before we knew it, she was graduating. We played lots of games, talked about life and even made it through her switching high schools and me moving away, which meant talking on the phone instead of in person.
Like me, my mentee wasn’t overly vocal about her feelings, so I continued to wonder how she felt about our weekly meetings.
I got my answer on graduation day.
As she walked across the stage to get her high school diploma, there were tears. But they came even more when her mom told me the family appreciated what I did for her daughter and that I was someone she looked up to.
What the family didn’t know at the time, and what I really didn’t expect to experience myself, was what those weekly meetings did for me.
Sure, my goal was to be a role model and I believe I was. But, she was a role model to me as well. Her life wasn’t easy, but she trudged through and is now a great mother and wife.
I haven’t seen my mentee for many years, but thanks to Facebook, I get a glimpse into her life and she mine. I hope to one day see her in person again.
When I moved to Harrison County nearly two years ago, I was so glad to see there were TeamMates chapters in the area and I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many mentors. I’ve also shared my thoughts when the topic comes up.
The experience I had during those six years, and a short stint as a TeamMate in the Fort Calhoun, Neb. school district, follow me to this day. I hope to one day return to the program as a mentor. I’ve had people ask and I’ve promised them I would.
I encourage other adults to consider giving their time as well.
January is National Mentoring Month and a great time for everyone to explore the opportunities out there to make the difference in the life of a young person.
If you are interested in the TeamMates program, you have many options in Harrison County. With the recent approval of a TeamMates chapter in the Logan-Magnolia school district, Harrison County becomes the only county in the state where all school districts have a TeamMates chapter.
As I close, I want to say thanks to all the mentors, coordinators and families who are part of the organizations and those in the community that have supported it.
TeamMates has made a difference in my life, other mentors lives, but most important has given young people an adult role model.
To learn more about the TeamMates program, visit www.teammates.org.
Teresa Hoffman is the general manger of the Woodbine Twiner and Logan Herald-Observer. She can be reached via email at email@example.com