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Tom and Nancy Osborne at a Husker game

Dr. Tom and Nancy Osborne at a Husker game. The Osbornes will be honored May 9 with the Lincoln Community Foundation Charity Award.

Lincoln Community Foundation will honor Dr. Tom and Nancy Osborne with the Charity Award for their vision, leadership and philanthropy at LCF’s annual Donor Recognition celebration luncheon Thursday, May 9, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Cornhusker Marriott, 333 S. 13th St.

“Tom and Nancy have dedicated themselves to ensuring that youth reach their full potential through mentorship,” said Barbara Bartle, president of Lincoln Community Foundation. “They are a shining example of servant leadership, and we are pleased to recognize them.”

Besides being active members of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church and lending their name and support to numerous local, state and national organizations, the Osbornes' charitable impact is most visible in the TeamMates Mentoring Program, which they founded in the early 1990s when 22 middle school boys were paired with Husker football players.

Tom and Nancy were inspired by an episode of "60 Minutes," where banker Eugene Lang talked about his decision to pay the college tuition for 61 graduating sixth-graders from TS 121 in Harlem, New York, if they stayed in school. Not only did he make the promise to pay, but he personally mentored any student who was open to it.

Nancy, along with Barbara Hopkins who worked for Lincoln Public Schools at the time, focused on the programming, recruiting sponsors to pay for food and eventually developing the formalized nonprofit. “Tom was the face, but Nancy was the worker bee,” said Hopkins.

The Sunday night after a bowl game, the mentors and mentees gathered at Memorial Stadium, where Tom announced to the students that they were going to send them to college. He explained that if they graduated from high school and stayed out of trouble, TeamMates would pay for college. Tom recalls, “I didn’t know how we were going to pay for it, but we raised $300,000.” Twenty-one out of the original 22 students graduated on time, and 18 went on to post-secondary education.

Eddie Brown of investor relations at Lincoln Chamber of Commerce was one of the original 22 TeamMate mentees.

“I always knew I wanted to go to college. I just didn’t know how I was going to pay for it,” Brown said. “After I made that commitment to TeamMates, and they made that commitment to me, nothing could tempt me toward a negative path.”

TeamMates now reaches 10,000 students across 163 districts in five states including Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Wyoming and South Dakota. The organization pairs both boys and girls as young as third grade with in-school mentors.

While TeamMates doesn’t provide full scholarships for mentees to attend college, the organization makes it a priority to inform TeamMates how to apply for scholarships. Last year, TeamMates graduates received $3.7 million in scholarships, which includes direct scholarships from partnering colleges and universities. Last year, 157 students were awarded a Central Office Scholarship, and individual local TeamMates chapters also give scholarships.

The organization also offers mentoring to any TeamMate student attending post-secondary education. First-generation college students drop out at a higher rate with only 65 percent continuing from year one to year two. By providing a post-secondary mentor from TeamMates, the retention improved to more than 90 percent. If a young person gets past that first year, he/she is very likely to graduate.

“Tom and Nancy believe in the power of education, and they believe in the power of young people,” said Steve Joel, LPS superintendent. “They’ve touched hundreds of lives and made a difference for those people.”

One of the original TeamMates mentors, Steve Volin, is now an orthopaedic surgeon. He recalls learning from Tom and Nancy, “If you have a capacity and ability to give back, you have an obligation to do so.”

The public is invited to attend the luncheon celebration. Tickets are available before May 2 at my.lcf.org/charity.

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L Magazine editor

Mark Schwaninger is L magazine and Neighborhood Extra editor.

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