Together as Teammates

MN TeamMates helps a student build a strong and sustainable support system


There are 164,777 words in the English language that contain the letter ‘s’. Out of all of them, perhaps the most important is parents. They are the ones who bring you into this world, who care for you, and who protect you. 

But what happens when the ‘s’ disappears? What happens when someone you’ve known your entire life leaves, never to return again?

Sophomore Lola Wheeler has felt this pain. In seventh grade, her father passed away, leaving her with half of her life gone in an instant.

And she is not the only one. Thousands of students across Nebraska struggle without an adult to care for them.

To meet this overlooked need, former Huskers coach Tom Osborne founded the TeamMates Mentoring Program in 1991, which was implemented within all schools in the Millard District.

“Someone comes in from the community once a week for [the student’s] lunch hour. Our TeamMates mentors might help with homework, they might play games, or they might just eat lunch with them,” MN TeamMates coordinator Peggy Breard said.

Some of the TeamMates’ mentors have been with them since elementary school, and many times, they are the one constant support in the students’ lives.

“Most of the students [in the TeamMates program] struggle with having a constant adult person to whom they can talk to. Their mentors provide them with that sense of stability that makes them feel better about themselves and their achievements,” Breard said.

Wheeler joined this program with mentor Julie Diminico soon after her father’s death, to help her cope with her devastating loss.

“I joined the TeamMates program in seventh grade because I was recommended for it by my counselor. I’ve been with Julie ever since,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler believes that having a mentor has helped her grow tremendously, both academically and as a person.

“I’ve transferred schools a lot, and Julie has been the one person constant throughout all of these changes. It’s become a part of my routine,” Wheeler said.

But the most important part of the TeamMates experience for Wheeler is simply Diminico’s presence.

“Julie is always there for me and really knows me. I transferred to MN last year and having someone who has known me for so long has helped me get through it. Most of our lunches are just me talking and getting everything out,” Wheeler said.

Diminico also believes that she and Lola have created an unbreakable bond through their weekly meetings, which has become a necessary part of their lives.

“Lola is my girl.  To me, that means she is the most important person at MN.  When the pandemic hit and we couldn’t see each other, I was devastated.  It was hard to communicate in the same way through messages,” Diminico said.

She thinks that while there are some difficult parts of the position, it is ultimately fulfilling to see how Wheeler has grown over the years.

“Watching Lola grow as a person has helped me see how much a person can be determined to make life better. She has shown me determination, drive, and a willingness to not let difficult circumstances throw her off her course. She is a strong young lady,” Diminico said.

Diminico suggests that other adults who are interested in the TeamMates program should join.

“I am forever changed being a teammate. We should always take the time to take what we have learned and share it with others, but in this case, it meant a forever friend as well,” Diminico said.

Currently, there are around 50 students who participate in the TeamMates program at our school. However, there are many more in need of a mentor.

“We have many recruiting events for TeamMates throughout the year, so if an adult is interested in the program and has the time to commit, we would love for them to apply and join the TeamMates program,” Breard said.

As kids, we are in need of someone to guide us to success. And as Diminico has done for Wheeler, the TeamMates program allows students to gain such a person in their lives.

“She keeps me on track and takes a lot of stress away from me. While I might not always like it, she holds me accountable for my responsibilities. And for college, she’s helped me start thinking about it and start focusing on my future,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler’s life was turned upside down when that one ‘s’ disappeared from her life forever. But through the TeamMates program, she has found herself, with someone by her side to support her for years to come.