Marie and Shayla

September 2018 TeamMates of the Month: From “Crazy Lunch Lady” to Trusted Friend

Marie noticed Shayla in the lunch line at Park Middle School. Most days she was the last child to go through, taking her tray to the farthest table to eat alone.

One day, Marie decided to approach Shayla. “Hello,” she said. “No lunch today without a smile!” Marie waited, wondering how the girl would react.

Peeking through her long hair, Shayla gave Marie a look of disbelief, but when she sensed the sincerity of the request, she pasted a fake smile on her face. That was the beginning of their four-year relationship.

The next day, Shayla returned to Marie’s serving line in the lunchroom. “Can I have a smile, please?” Marie once again requested. Shayla, now more familiar with the routine, accommodated Marie.

Day three, Shayla smiled without prompting. “What’s your name?” Marie asked, and she learned the name of a quiet girl who would later become her TeamMate and friend.

Day four, Shayla came to Marie’s lunch line with a peer in tow. “This is the lady who makes me smile!” That was when Shayla was 12, and four years later, Marie continues to make her smile.

No longer a shy middle-schooler, Shayla has found her niche at Lincoln High School. As a junior, she uses her musical prowess in marching band and other musical groups, serving as a band counselor to younger band members. Once a struggling student, Shayla has blossomed academically and hopes to take Advanced Placement classes this school year.

Marie was instrumental in Shayla’s academic transformation. When Shayla was stressed about assignments, Marie encouraged her pull out the work to “talk it through” together. Every meeting and activity became an opportunity for learning and fun. Now, Shayla confidently manages high school life, finding ways to cope with challenges.

After her encounter with the “crazy lunch lady,” Shayla approached the TeamMates facilitator at Park Middle School to request Marie as her TeamMates mentor. Marie and the facilitator completed the required steps to make the match a reality.

Shayla and Marie’s favorite memory occurred during a weekly December meeting at Park when it was too cold to walk outdoors. As a change of pace, Marie and Shayla decided to sing holiday carols in the commons area. Others gathered around to enjoy the beautiful merging of their voices. Those hearing were impacted by their unified song. The two enjoy sharing unexpected experiences as they build their bond.

“Age makes no difference in friendship,” says Shayla, who admits that connecting wasn’t always easy.

Shayla has struggled with periodic mood swings and disengagement, but the two consistently met, finding common interest in music and being “nerds.” In most cases, they ended up laughing together, even on the hard days. “When you find that connection, it’s like going from boring chess to crazy Yahtzee!” says Shayla.

“I get that,” Marie responds. Their bond is cemented. The two plan to be TeamMates through Shayla’s graduation. During her college years, she plans to attend UNL, majoring in music education and minoring in creative writing. In the meantime, the match will continue to “be crazy together,” in the best way possible, accepting and supporting one another regardless of what life offers.