When it comes to fairytales, everyone roots for a happy ending. Here at TeamMates, we have had a few fairytales of our own, but we have had the privilege of watching a magical connection flourish right in front of us with Ellie and Lauren. Their relationship grew to be a lifelong dream come true for the both of them.
Ellie and Lauren matched when Lauren was in the 5th grade at Thayer Central in Hebron, NE. Lauren’s mother, Allyson, led to create the legacy of the TeamMates chapter there, so she jumped right into it being among the first group of mentees to go through this chapter. Lauren was proud to be a part of this journey all the way through high school but was also grateful to get to watch her peers benefit from this amazing experience right beside her. She also had an appreciation for the program having a school-based aspect because of the boundaries that provided between mentor and mentee.
Specifically, Lauren said, “Being a support to them in that space of school is so important because it has an impact on attendance and graduation. Kids can rely on school when they might not be able to rely on other things, so being one or one of many people who they can count on can impact them through the rest of their life when they eventually get out of school.”
Ellie truly met Lauren’s expectations when it came to being another support system in her life while she was in school and for years after. When she first saw Ellie, she was a little weary about how it was going to go because at the time, she wanted a “hip, young girl”, but it ended up being the best connection of her life. Ellie taught her things like crochet, cursive, and hand-writing letters, and she might not have gotten to experience those things if she wasn’t matched with Ellie. Most importantly, Ellie taught her the significance of showing up.
“A memory that comes to mind would be that she always came to my school events, and one in particular was a high school volleyball game for breast cancer awareness. We had these little volleyballs to throw out into the crowd. Most people threw them to their parents or boyfriends or friends, but I threw mine to Ellie. It just made the most sense because she was the most impactful person in my life at the time. It was such a small community that everyone knew everything that would happen to anyone, and during the time when my parents were getting a divorce there was lots of judgement. Ellie didn’t care about anything other than supporting me. She didn’t ask questions if I didn’t want to talk, and just listened when I did want to. She continued to show up and be there no matter what,” Lauren affirmed.
Even after Lauren graduated from high school, Ellie continued being a supporter to her even if it was more from the sidelines. Lauren checked in as much as she could through the years and was connected with Ellie’s family on social media. She knew that Ellie was always proud of her regardless of how much time passed, whether they talked or not, and no matter what she was doing. Ellie and Lauren were in each other’s lives for almost 15 years, from the time Lauren was in 5th grade until her junior year in college. In the Fall of 2021, Ellie passed away, and Lauren was one of the first people outside of Ellie’s immediate family to hear the news.
Although Ellie didn’t get the chance to share her story, her daughter, Connie, was able to be her voice. Connie knew her mother would make a great mentor because of how naturally caring she was as a person. She always gave back to people, and she joined TeamMates in the first place to be able to give someone an ear, advice, and everything else she could offer. In Connie’s words, Ellie was a “dynamo”, and lived each day like one. She wanted to feel important, but also wanted to give that feeling to her mentee, which she did with Lauren.
Connie said, “She was open, loving and never judged people for who they are. She got so lucky with Lauren; she was more like a granddaughter to Mom. It was a through and through positive experience, and she truly, truly loved Lauren like one of her own.”
Lauren’s bond to TeamMates and to Ellie influenced her connections to other aspects throughout her life. She is working towards her master’s degree at UNO for social work, is employed at Alpha School, is the President of the Alumni chapter of her sorority, and is hoping to get her Mental Health Practitioner license at a clinical level. That commitment to showing up for her has implemented a “be there” mentality for her career, her friends, her family and now for her mentee. Going from mentee to mentor has brought Lauren a full-circle sense of clarity, she has realized that mentors learn and benefit from their mentee just as much, and she has used what she learned from Ellie to help her navigate this new chapter in her life with her mentee, Nonie.
Lauren shared, “Nonie is my favorite person. I always feel energized after leaving her. Sometimes it can feel like a lot of work to go there and do it, but once I do, it was like all I needed to get through the rest of my day. With Nonie, I try to meet her where she’s at and talk to her like any kid should be talked to from an adult because I feel like I was held to a very high standard. Just listening, being supportive and being there in general can make all the difference. I had tears in my eyes seeing her for the first time after Covid because of how much excitement I had to get to interact with her again. I can’t imagine what it was like for Ellie to watch me grow up because it is bittersweet getting to watch Nonie as she grows. I know that Ellie was so proud of me even when I didn’t get to talk to her, and I’m the same way with Nonie. I am so proud of her no matter what, and I feel like there was a reason why I was connected to her. Ellie and Nonie’s names are so similar that it feels like it was meant to be.”
Ellie loved each and every time she got to see Lauren, and she always looked forward to the next meeting. According to Connie, the program meant a great deal to her, and being a part of it is more than worth your while because everyone has something to offer a kid. Lauren is so grateful to be able to share her story, and to hear the real impact that being a part of this organization has brought to people. She describes it as being “the best thing she’s been involved in over the years”, but at TeamMates Mentoring, we are simply the binding of the storybook that is made up your fairytale experiences as mentor and mentee.