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Our Board

Tracy Pella

Co-Founder & President. Tracy is the wife of Jesse and the mother of Cooper, Cohen, Frannie, and Maybry. After the trauma of Cooper & Cohen's birth at 23 weeks, 4 days, resulting in Cohen’s passing and Cooper spending 134 days in the NICU, she was driven to start Connected Forever to help other families who have experienced a similar journey. Her family was blessed with Frannie's full term arrival. Maybry made her appearance at 34 weeks, 2 days, and spent 14 days in the NICU. Tracy is also a school psychologist and mental health therapist, who thoroughly enjoys serving children and families in the education system.

Jesse Pella

Co-Founder. Jesse is the husband of Tracy and the father of Cooper, Cohen, Frannie, and Maybry. After the trauma of Cooper & Cohen's birth at 23 weeks, 4 days, resulting in Cohen’s passing and Cooper spending 134 days in the NICU, he has a desire to help families, especially dads who have a unique role in their family’s journey of loss and prematurity. He was able to experience the full term birth of Frannie. Jesse was again the father of a preemie, when Maybry arrived at 34 weeks, 2 days. Jesse spends his days managing his family farm, including livestock and row crops.

Ryan Trauernicht

Treasurer. Ryan and his wife, Katie, have one son and one daughter.  Lila was born in July 2015 and Calvin, who after a day with loved ones is now in Heaven. Ryan and his wife reside in Beatrice, Nebraska, where Ryan works for Pinnacle Bank as a Vice President. In addition to Connected Forever, Ryan serves as a Board Member and the Vice President for Beatrice Kiwanis, President of the Beatrice Ag Committee,  Board of Directors for the Gage County United Way, is an active board member for the Gage County Young Professionals, serves on the Southeast Community College Advisory Committee and is a mentor for the TeamMates Mentoring Program.

Allyssa Hermreck

Board Member. Allyssa has a personal connection to pre-maturity from family members and friends experiencing the NICU to her sister being a passionate NICU nurse. When her friends Tracy and Jesse had their twins at 23 weeks 4 days, she became invested in their long journey and passionate about helping others who experience prematurity and infant loss. Allyssa resides in Hickman, Nebraska with her husband, Eric, and sons, Grady and Miles. She has worked in insurance for 9 years and has been part of many company and community volunteer projects such as Meals on Wheels, United Way, Junior Achievement, and is currently a Doane Alumni Board Member.

Laura Lessmann

Vice President. The sister of Jesse, Laura saw firsthand Jesse’s and Tracy’s struggle with the loss of their son, Cohen, as well as dealing with the daily uncertainty for their son Cooper. She was compelled to help other families in similar situations, especially in rural areas, where support options might be less accessible. Laura resides in Syracuse, Nebraska with her husband, Aaron, and three children Will, Lucy and Elsie. Laura brings her expertise in event management from the hospitality and non-profit sectors to lead all Connected Forever events and programs. With her background, Laura has great appreciation for all the good that nonprofit organizations provide.

Aaron Lessmann

Board Member. The brother-in-law to Jesse and Tracy, Aaron is driven to give back and help other families. Aaron resides in Syracuse, Nebraska with his wife, Laura, and three children, Will, Lucy and Elsie. Aaron brings his expertise in marketing and finance and past volunteer experience with Habitat for Humanity.

Makaela Parsons

Board Member. Makaela is a wife to Travis and Mom to two beautiful kids here on earth, Adelynn and Haven and one precious girl above named Kemptynn.  Prior to experiencing the loss of her daughter, Makaela worked in home care and hospice.  She has always found helping others on their loss journeys to be rewarding.  At 38 weeks, due to placenta abruption, she and her family experienced the raw feelings of loss themselves.  The Parsons are grateful for the love and support they received after losing Kemptynn and Makaela hopes to help other moms on a similar, unfortunate journey find peace.

Shannon Ruzicka

Board Member. Shannon experienced premature births with both of her children, Burke and Paige.  She was on hospital bed rest for 3 weeks prior to Burke's birth at 34 weeks, resulting in a 19 day NICU stay.  A little over 2 years later, Paige was delivered by emergency C-section at 28 weeks.  While Shannon and her husband were familiar with a NICU stay, it didn't make the 59 days Paige spent in the NICU any easier to endure.  Shannon also understands firsthand the impact a traumatic birth experience can have on mental health as she experienced post traumatic stress disorder and postpartum depression.  Shannon felt compelled to help other families whose lives were interrupted by the unexpected rollercoaster ride known as the NICU and began to volunteer for Connected Forever.  She is passionate about advocating for families, providing peer support, and fostering a community of support for mother's in the NICU and after their NICU discharge.  Shannon and her husband, Brad, live in Bennet with their kids. Shannon is a pediatric occupational therapist and if she is lucky to get free time she enjoys writing, photography, gardening and DIY projects around home.

Danielle Jurgens

Board Member. Danielle is married to Joe. Together they have two wonderful children Landon and Avery. Danielle has dedicated her life to helping others in her community who are facing difficult times. She currently works as the Volunteer Coordinator at Friendship Home. After experiencing a full term pregnancy with Landon she never suspected her second pregnancy would be any different. Avery was born at 25 weeks gestation and has had a long journey so far. Danielle knew that she wanted to help families going through the roller coaster that is prematurity.

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