A fish is slimy and slippery and smelly, and that makes for much screaming when one slips its hook and flops around on the deck.

But the delight outweighed the horror last week when members of Bellevue's TeamMates program hauled in several baby large-mouth bass and excited voices pierced the sunny skies over Eugene T. Mahoney State Park.

It was their second encounter with the ancient arts, having an hour or so earlier attempted – with some success – to hit targets with bows and arrows.

The third day of the Bellevue TeamMates summer camp still had some way to go, holding out the prospect of three hours of swimming from 1 to 4 p.m. before heading home and preparing for Thursday's activities.

These are different days for the Bellevue chapter of TeamMates, the youth mentoring organization founded in 1991 by former University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne and his wife, Nancy.

The chapter recently became its own 501(c)3 charitable organization within the TeamMates network.

Bellevue TeamMates President Jane Erickson said the change has allowed the chapter to establish its own governing board and plan a busier schedule.

It will retain its close ties to the Bellevue Public Schools where it has a presence in 16 of 21 schools, but will have a more independent existence.

Charitable status will also make it easier for residents, businesses and other organizations to donate money to help TeamMates provide educational programs, scholarships and summer camp opportunities.

As the newly constituted chapter nears the end of its first year, Erickson said the search is on for adults willing to give an hour a week to children who could use a little support.

The chapter currently has 130 youths matched with 130 adults, and about 100 children waiting in line, she said.

The goal for the coming year is to increase that number to 160 matches.

Amy Rohlfs, the program's coordinator at Lewis and Clark Middle School, has been with TeamMates for 16 years.

“I got involved because I saw the need kids have for a positive adult role model,” Rohlfs said. “I have stayed involved because I have seen the difference that makes in kids.”

She said there were about eight matches in her school last year, and there is room for more.

Melanie Carr, who has been a TeamMates mentor for five years, said parents can always use a helping hand, someone trustworthy to whom their children might more easily open up. She has two mentees, with one about to graduate, and so is looking for another.

“They often won't open up to their parents but they will us,” she said. “It's mainly just having someone to come to talk to and share with.”

TeamMates mentors spend one a hour a week with their mentee during the school year, always in a school building.

Erickson said how that hour is filled is up to the mentor and the mentee.

They might just talk. They might read. They might work together on a task or on learning an important life skill.

The point, Erickson said, is the relationship, not the activity.

“Every kid deserves to have somebody in their life, an extra cheerlearer, an extra somebody who can take time to talk or play a game, or help them develop a resume, or learn how to do a job interview,” she said. “It's really helping them to focus.”

TeamMates volunteers do not take their assigned children on trips or outings, she said, unless they are group outings — a policy that protects both the volunteer and the child.

Erickson said the Bellevue program emphasizes children's strengths, and gives guidance that will prove helpful as they advance through the school system and approach adulthood.

The schedule for last week's summer camp reflected that philosophy.

There is fun, of course, and the week ended with an afternoon at FunPlex in Omaha, but in between there were activities designed to spur thought about fast-approaching futures.

They toured Ellison Technologies in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Metropolitan Community College, toured the Douglas County Youth Center correctional facility and did volunteer work at a beagle and basset hound sanctuary and at the Open Door Mission.

Many teenagers swim through adolescence with little difficulty, Erickson said, navigating the waters of academic challenge and social interaction with ease. But many don't, and that is where TeamMates comes in.

“We don't take the place of parents by any means,” Erickson said.

“We just provide another caring adult to let the students know there is someone out there who cares, and wants to see them succeed and become young men and women of character.”

The Bellevue chapter does not have its own website, but the overall TeamMates program can be found at www.teammates.org.

Persons interested in the Bellevue program can call Maureen McNamara at 402-293-5000 or email her at maureen.mcnamara@bpsne.net.

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