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HobbyTown USA gives back through mentorship program

By Nick Bullock
Published: November 25, 2013
Sixth-grader Peeter Ruckara meets with his mentor, Bill Graeve, every Wednesday during the school year at 12:45 p.m. sharp. They have done so since January 2012. Always on Wednesday, always at 12:45 p.m.

But every Wednesday when Graeve drove to Peeter’s school, the school staff had to call the boy and remind him that his mentor had arrived.

“I just thought he was a typical kid who was very forgetful,” said Graeve, vice president of finance for HobbyTown USA. “Because at that age when I was a kid, I would have forgotten everything.”

As it turned out, Peeter wasn’t forgetful. Graeve found out the truth later from the coordinator at TeamMates, the mentorship program that paired Peeter with Graeve. Peeter was so afraid that Graeve wouldn’t show and that he’d be let down, he would wait until the school staff told him Graeve had arrived before going to meet him.

Graeve was astounded. “You have to build that trust,” he said.

With the stability of their mentor-mentee relationship established, the two now get along famously, Graeve said. They were even named September 2013 TeamMates of the Month.

TeamMates is a mentoring program started in 1991 in Lincoln, Neb., by the in-laws of HobbyTown USA President Bob Wilke. It now provides mentors to more than 4,000 mentees across Nebraska and Iowa.

HobbyTown, also based in Lincoln, has partnered with TeamMates for several years and has 15 staff members who participate in the program, Wilke said.

“I think most people want to help their community in some way,” he said.

HobbyTown employees who volunteer as mentors are vetted by TeamMates and surveyed on their personalities in order to find a good match in a mentee.

Peeter and Graeve were paired together almost two years ago. They meet for a little less than an hour each week, always individually. They usually play card games and board games or talk about football.

“He’s a sixth-grader, you know?” Graeve said. “They all think they’re going to play in the NFL.”

Peeter’s older sister attends Notre Dame University, and Graeve is a big Fighting Irish fan. Peeter, on the other hand, is an Oregon Ducks fan, having grown up in Oregon, Graeve said.

Sometimes they talk about family. Sometimes they talk about Boy Scouts. Sometimes they just throw a football around. Occasionally Graeve will bring a radio-controlled car along for Peeter to drive. “I’ll tell him to test it our for us,” Graeve said. “He’s got a very important job.”

Graeve’s job as a mentor is simply to establish a trusting, stable relationship with Peeter. And Graeve knows a bit about stability: He has worked at HobbyTown for 22 years.

As for trust?

Peeter “made a comment to me one day,” Graeve said. “He said, ‘When I graduate from St. Joe’s and go to Pius’ — a Catholic high school — ‘will you still be my TeamMate?’

“I said, ‘Sure I would be.’ ”