When Tracy and Jesse Pella lost their son in 2011 due to premature birth, they realized that there was a lack of resources available for families in their situation.  In August of 2014, the Pellas started a nonprofit organization “Connected Forever” in order to support Nebraska families whose children were born prematurely.
The Pellas’ son, Cohen, passed away at birth.  His twin brother, Cooper, was given less than a one percent chance to live without a life-altering disability.  Cooper spent 134 days in the St. Elizabeth Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and he is now a completely healthy, active little boy.
Connected Forever was founded to support families in loss and also those with children who had to spend time in the NICU.
Their goal is to provide resources, education, and emotional support to Nebraska families.  They offer NICU financial assistance grants to families due to the financial burden of a NICU stay.  Grants will be awarded to 11 families on March 1 for those who had NICU stays in 2016.
They are launching a mentorship program as a resource for families to connect with others who are experiencing that journey.  
Tracy Pella said, “We have financial assistance for families for funerals and burial, so we can help families either have a funeral, pay for the plot and/or headstone.  There’s no stipulations on income or anything like that.  We also will have mentors for that side of things.  In this last year, we gave 2 cuddle cots to hospitals and our goal is to get a couple more here shortly into local hospitals.”
Cuddle cots slow down the body’s changes after death and allow families to spend some more time with their children for the 48-72 hours that hospitals allow families to stay at the hospital with their babies.  Connected Forever has donated cuddle cots to St. Elizabeth and UNMC.  They plan to do more.
Tracy Pella said she is most excited about their growth. “We’ve added a lot of programming and reached a lot more families in the last year, and that growth doesn’t seem to be slowing down.  Last year we helped 5 with nicu assistance and this year it is 11.  The infant loss for burials, we’ve helped 4 families just in the last 3 months.  We’re meeting that need and raising awareness for prematurity and infant loss.”
The Pellas live outside of Tecumseh, and they are organizing their annual dinner and fundraiser to be held at Kimmel Event Center March 18.  The event will draw families from all over the area.  Businesses and families can sponsor the event (with three levels to choose from).  Pella Locker in Tecumseh has already signed up as a gold sponsor of the event.  The deadline for sponsorship is March 1.
A BBQ dinner with live auction and silent auction will be served at 6p.m.  The deadline to purchase tickets is March 11; they are $30 for adults and $10 for children ages 3-12.  Children under 3 are free.  Each ticket includes a raffle ticket, and they can be purchased at www.connected4ever.org