Arrya and Marlene

November 2023 TeamMates of the Month: Promises Kept

When taller-than-average, fourth-grade Arrya met her mentor, Marlene, the first thing that crossed her mind was, “I was hoping she would be taller.”

Marlene laughs, “She was tall even as a little girl. When we met, she was already taller than me.” 

Arrya admits to feeling self-conscious about her height for as long as she can remember, but that isn’t what Marlene remembers about meeting her.

“I just remember how sweet and polite and easy she was to talk to from the get go. The facilitator had said ‘She is pretty quiet and shy. It may take her a long time to talk to you.’ but we didn’t have that awkward period of time.”

Arrya remembers being comfortable with Marlene almost immediately, 

“My starting thing was her happy-go-lucky personality. Her smile, her laugh, makes me so happy.”

Busy hands might have made room for their connection too.

“We did a whole bunch of different things,” says Arrya. We would color. We played board games. Oh yeah…and we did this little craft thing with hearts (the felt hearts service project that TeamMates co-sponsors with Cancer Partners of Nebraska).”

“I’ve told Marlene a whole bunch of stuff about my past and she was open-eared about it and talked to me about different scenarios and that helped me. When I’m comfortable, I talk. A lot.”

Creating a safe space is one of the most important things a mentor can do.

“I think I told Arrya, ‘This is a safe place. You can say whatever you want and I’m not going to go repeat it to people and no judgment.’ We both get mad when the bell rings,” adds Marlene. “We’re like, what?…already?”

Arrya has carried a lot on her tall shoulders.

“I’ve gotten so much responsibility since I was really little and that has made me feel more grown in a way. When I was younger, being a kid wasn’t really a thing. I kinda had to be my own adult for myself because I wasn’t really getting that [from anyone else].”

The way Arrya handles that responsibility has surprised Marlene.

“Her ability to be resilient in some tough situations and to juggle all these family dynamics and to still face the day and be a good person has impressed me.” 

Having a safe place to just be a child was helpful for Arrya too.

“Talking about my past and then also the activities made me feel like a kid again, because at home I don’t really get to do those things, because I have other responsibilities. So, being able to do some of that does redeem some of my childhood.”

As high school approached, Arrya was bracing for the end of the friendship.

“I’m used to people coming in and out of my life a lot. I was so shocked and surprised and so happy when Marlene said she was gonna be with me in high school.”

Marlene laughs, “I told her, ‘Of course! You’re stuck with me!’ She has wonderful goals for her life and I want to help her get there.”

Arrya depends on Marlene for her listening ear and that is a gift for them both.

“As a talker and as an extrovert, it’s very good for me to really practice on my listening and doing less talking,” says Marlene. “And, it’s okay to just have those quiet moments of pause and no one saying anything. You’re just processing.”

Arrya is glad for the mutual gift too, “No one else that I know is the same way. Not my friends. Not anyone else in my family. They’re not good listeners. But this one is.”

She nods at Marlene.