Every year, Norfolk TeamMates coordinator Susie Buss sees students graduate and head to college, partly thanks to scholarships from TeamMates.
Buss has been involved for more than seven years and has seen TeamMates’ impact firsthand through initiatives like its scholarship program. Last year, it boosted students’ postsecondary academic pursuits by providing $6,000 in scholarships.
“I had one girl, she had really tough circumstances … for her, I don’t think she would have gone to college (without mentor support) and she’s very smart,” Buss said. “She talked about being a vet or doctor. She graduated in the top 5% while working.
“Just going to college is such a big step and even when you have your parents who have been through that, it’s challenging to figure that out. Her mentor encouraged her and said, ‘You need to go to college.’ She’s doing great.”
The TeamMates chapter, which has officially been around for more than 20 years, matches students in fifth through 12th grades with adult mentors for an hourlong meeting per week. These meetings make a big difference in students’ lives, she said, especially in an age of social media and fewer face-to-face conversations.
“It seems like a lot of kids don’t have an adult they can just talk to and have that relationship where they’re just talking,” she said. “... When they have an adult friend they can share things with, I think it makes a huge difference.”
The Norfolk Area United Way supports 13% of the Norfolk TeamMates chapter, which helps Buss focus more fully on the program instead of fundraising.
This means she can put more efforts into events like meet-and-greets, social gatherings and volunteer events.
“A lot of people think we’re part of the school, but we’re our own nonprofit,” Buss said. “Getting funding from the United Way helps tremendously by taking that burden off fundraising.”
The TeamMates chapter is hoping to make it to 100 mentor-mentee matches, which it’s reached in prior years.
“Last year we had 93 matches,” Buss said. “Our goal is to get to 100 if we can each year. It’s not that there aren’t students, it’s finding people to mentor. We always need male mentors.”