Judy and Kara

May 2018 TeamMates of the Month:  It’s Life Changing

Judy Christensen and her mentee Kara have been matched for ten years. Having started together in third grade, the pair is now preparing Kara, a senior at Southwest, for the next step as her final days of high school move quickly toward graduation.

Thinking back on the beginning, Judy remembers first hearing about TeamMates. “I learned about [the Program] through my church.” She says, “Then, at the job I had at the time, a friend-of-a-friend came in and talked about the Program. I ended up signing up at that time.” Still getting used to both of her sons going to college, Judy was looking to stay connected with young people, “My boys and all their friends were grown. They were out of high school, in college,” she says. “We always had boys in the house—always. I just missed that and thought I’d like to keep hanging out with kids.” She seems comfortable relating to teenagers.

In fact, Judy and Kara seem incredibly comfortable together.  They have a connection. The sort of connection garnered by a decade of being friends. They are adamant, however, that they have had that connection since the very beginning. “From the first time we met there was never awkward silence.” Judy says. “Even as a little girl, she was energetic and fun. I brought a bag of stuff…”

“And I did the stuff,” Kara finishes the sentence to Judy’s delight. They are on the same wavelength—harmonized. It is easy to see. “It seemed natural,” they agree.

“I don’t think it was anything either of us did,” Judy says. “When you talk about a match, we were a match.  That’s it. We clicked.” Though their connection seems deeper than most matches.

Kara is a self-aware young woman who speaks from the heart. She remembers feeling excited when she first met her mentor and that instant, unexplained connection. 

“In my life I haven’t really trusted a lot of people, but I just trusted her right away.” Kara explains. “It’s not a thing that I’ve had happen a lot.”

Kara and Judy did the things any match might do, played games, did crafts. Judy recalls playing Mancala in the early days, “With the little glass beads.” She says. “We didn’t know how to play, but Kara would tell me ‘this is how you do it.’ She would make the rules up and she cheated all the time.” Judy laughs, “I let her cheat for a while, then I called her out and she said, ‘OK, I won’t cheat anymore.’”

“And then I cheated,” Kara says with a smile. “We don’t really play games anymore, though.” She continues, “now we talk.”

“And she shows me how to do things on my phone,” Judy adds.

They have an enduring friendship. But things haven’t always been happy go lucky. When Kara was ten-years-old her mother passed away and Judy struggled to figure out how to help her. “It was hard for me to know what to do and what my role would be. You don’t want to overstep, so I would just let her talk about it if she wanted to talk about it.”

“I feel like I closed-up a little bit.” Kara says, “There were times when I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I was only ten at the time, ‘what if she were still here?’ ‘was it really an accident?’ I’d talk to Judy about that stuff and she’d listen. Then, we’d play a game to forget about it.” She is thoughtful on this subject, “I feel like I became more of a closed-up person.” She says. “If it wasn’t for Judy I think that’s who I’d still be.”

Judy believes Kara would still be her “fun, energetic” self without her, but they are both grateful for the friendship they have developed through TeamMates. “We have a good friendship. I know I’m still an adult and she’s younger but we have a relationship built on friendship and respect.”

“It’s life-changing,” Kara continues, “absolutely life-changing. For a kid who, in second grade doesn’t really know how to trust people and then somebody comes along and it is just there, it’s perfect. Then the kid, a few years later, loses someone and that person is there for them… It’s just amazing to have that net that catches you when you fall.”

“Wow,” responds Judy, “I don’t think I can say it any better than that.”

Kara graduates this month. She and Judy plan to maintain their friendship as she transitions into the next phase of her life.