Nearly $5 million in state funds goes to mentoring programs aimed at improving kids’ reading skills

By: - October 12, 2023 4:22 pm

A wave of book bans have hit school libraries in the last few years. (Getty Images)

LINCOLN — Eleven Nebraska nonprofits will get a piece of $4.87 million in state grants aimed at improving reading skills of elementary-age youths through mentoring programs.

The largest amount, $4.17 million, goes to TeamMates Mentoring, according to the Governor’s Office. TeamMates was founded in 1991 by former Husker coach and congressman Tom Osborne and his wife, Nancy.

State funding for the “READ Nebraska” grants was approved by the Nebraska Legislature earlier this year, and a similar amount is allotted for a second year. 

Gov. Jim Pillen and K.C. Belitz, director of the state Department of Economic Development, announced recipients this week.

Belitz said the investment should help students develop academic and relational skills to succeed in the workplace.

“Mentors also give kids a sense of belonging — increasing the likelihood they will remain connected to their community throughout their education and upon graduation,” he said. “In short, READ Nebraska is cultivating young leaders and encouraging their rootedness in Nebraska.”

DeMoine Adams, TeamMates CEO, said his organization has become “a movement” — serving nearly 7,000 students in 141 school districts across Nebraska — after starting with just 22 middle school students in Lincoln Public Schools.

“They say when much is given, much is required, and this grant will give TeamMates an incredible opportunity to recruit more mentors,” Adams said.

To be eligible, awardees had to be nonprofits in operation for at least 15 years and capable of providing a mentoring program aimed at elementary-age children.

Grant amounts were determined based on the number of mentors working with the respective organizations, a statement from the Governor’s Office said. The funds can be used to cover training, background checks, marketing, volunteer recruitment and other associated costs.

Applications for the second year funding are to be accepted starting next August.

This year’s recipients represent various parts of the state.

“We are a small organization with a big mission — promoting the personal development of youth through positive one-on-one mentoring,” said Jalin Gerdes of The Friends Program of Kearney.

Brenna Poindexter of Big Brothers, Big Sisters in Central Nebraska said in a statement that the funds allow for increased outreach in counties such as Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick.

“Research proves over and over again that one unconditional and caring adult, outside of a child’s parents or guardians, changes the consequences of adverse experiences,” Poindexter said. “It is exciting to take this relationship a step further and add a focus on reading.”

Akile Banister said funding to the Omaha-based Banisters Leadership Academy would strengthen mentees in the organization’s statewide NightLife program. The CEO described the program as free character and leadership development offered at no cost to K-8 graders during weekend nights.


Banisters Leadership Academy, $9,720

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lincoln, $65,450 

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Nebraska, $42,120

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands, Omaha, $237,180 

Community Connections of Lincoln County, North Platte, $12,310 

Girls Incorporated of Omaha, $45,360

MENTOR Nebraska, Omaha, $139,330 

MentoringWorks, Inc., Hastings, $47,310 

Partnership 4 Kids, Omaha, $74,520 

TeamMates Mentoring, $4.17 million

The Friends Program of Kearney, $25,920

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.