Life Stories of the Dream Team

In Mahtomedi, Minn., the Dream Team isn’t made up of 12 NBA legends known for their dazzling moves on the court and their celebrity off it. Instead, in Mahtomedi, the Dream Team is a dozen girls and their Young Life leader who, for four successful seasons throughout their high school careers, made the Coffee Cottage their home court and the Bible their playbook.

Gretchen Morrow had begun student teaching in Mahtomedi High School when she ran into an old friend and Young Life volunteer in the school cafeteria. Soon afterward, she realized that teaching wasn’t meant for her. “I liked English,” Morrow said. “But I loved high school kids.” This love took Morrow into Young Life as a part-time staff member. And later, that love would bring her into the lives of three freshman girls — Kate Nussbaum, Kathryn Bevin and Maren Maland — when they began a Bible study together at the school library. Soon others, like Sara Ryan, joined and they began meeting at a local coffee shop.

Coffee Cottage girls
Every Thursday for three years, the girls met at 6:30 a.m. and began calling themselves the Coffee Cottage girls. They became regulars at the coffee shop, along with bus drivers and a group of older men who lingered over the daily newspaper. With “monster-moos” — hot chocolate with a caramel twist — in mugs and Bibles on the table, the girls studied Mark, James, Philippians and life. Sara said of that time, “Never in my life have I had so many meaningful conversations and, later, reflections and calls to prayer. I felt safe yet challenged, comfortable yet stretched and it seemed like God directed me to the Dream Team.”

Not long after they began to gather, other girls joined them. By the end of their sophomore year, the group totaled eight.

The unique un-clique
Part of the challenge that sophomore year was to keep the doors open to this group that was becoming tightly knit together. Kate said, “It was a challenge to keep the transparency and intimacy of the group and still embrace new girls who wanted to join us.” But Morrow encouraged them to let God handle that concern. They did, and even into their senior year, the girls welcomed new members to the Dream Team.

Eventually the group consisted of 17 girls, and they could no longer continue to gather at the Coffee Cottage without displacing the other regulars. So senior year, they started meeting at the home of Taylor Yohn. The girls brought bagels, and with continuing hospitality, the Yohns provided orange juice, yogurt and coffee. Here, the moniker “Coffee Cottage girls” no longer described them. Instead, Morrow dubbed them the “Dream Team,” both because of the blessing they’d become and also to encourage them to think beyond their senior year to what kind of women they dreamed of becoming.

Beyond themselves
Throughout their years together, the girls gathered for more than Bible studies. They also got together for sleepovers, ice skating or just to play board games. Sometimes Morrow organized nights of themed fun — like the night they all dressed up and took a Flamenco dance lesson. Morrow explained that the Flamenco is a powerful dance celebrating strong women; exactly the vision she had for the Dream Team.

She envisioned a group of young women with the strength and self-confidence to see beyond themselves. Throughout their time together the girls served at senior centers and hunger centers. Once they lent their support to a church that was hosting a “Spa Day” for clients who lived in a shelter for battered women. The girls volunteered to treat the children of these women to a spa day of their own, complete with paraffin wax treatments and manicures.

Kate said, “Because of our mutual support and accountability, we had the courage to express our faith in radical ways.” Morrow asked them to consider the legacy each could leave in their school by reaching out to younger girls. The Dream Team started to meet Morrow’s challenge by inviting a group of underclassmen to a family comedy club.

That kind of outward thinking continued as the Dream Team invited and brought younger girls to Young Life club, spent time with them in the lunchroom and simply called by name younger girls who many seniors might overlook. Kate Nussbaum remembers how much of high school is about being recognized — being known. She and the Dream Team tried to be aware of underclassmen sitting alone at lunch and then joined them. “We wanted to show the same energy toward everyone and let kids see something different about us and wonder ‘why.’”

Cabin time
The event that stands out most in the girls’ memories, though, is the weekend at “The Cabin.” In the spring of their senior year the girls set out in three cars for Morrow’s cabin up north. The weekend was characterized by laughter, good food, goofiness and raw emotion. On that Saturday morning the members of the Dream Team talked about the reality of their group gatherings ending and the changes that college would bring. Sara remembers it as a time when they vulnerably shared what was on their hearts without fear of judgment. “It reminds me of the great things that can come out of fellowship, as God wants us to support each other,” she said.

Despite their tears and fears, Morrow was confident they were prepared for the future. She constantly emphasized two things: Christ’s unconditional love for them and the importance of spending time alone with Him.

The life stories of the Dream Team
So that each girl could remember and reflect on Christ’s unconditional love for them, Morrow asked that they each write the story of their faith journey. The girls recounted how they came to know Christ, how the Dream Team helped their faith to grow and where they hoped to go in life. Over several weeks, each girl shared her story during their last few Bible studies together. Afterward, Morrow compiled and bound their stories into a book called, The Life Stories of the Dream Team.

The book has become an anchor and a call to prayer for the Dream Team now that they have parted for college. For Jen Scanlan, who packed the book on “kind of a whim,” it is a precious belonging. She said, “If I had to pick the one thing I’m glad I took with me to college, it would be The Life Stories.”

But the book is just the tangible reminder of what the Dream Team took with them when they separated and went to college, where the girls have continued in various types of ministry opportunities, including Young Life leader training, Bible studies and Big Brother/Big Sister. Along with The Life Stories, each girl also packed up memories of dancing, laughing, praying and serving. They took with them a certain knowledge of God’s extravagant love, and trust in His perfect plan. And, as Sara said, they tucked away the evidence that “friendship rooted in God will reach depths deeper than you can imagine.”

From the sidelines and behind the counter: a parent perspective

For Steve and Kay Nussbaum, Young Life was an answer to prayer. So much so that Steve Nussbaum now leads the adult committee in their area. He recalled with a laugh, though, how one parent wasn’t too sure about Gretchen Morrow meeting with her daughter. This concerned parent dropped off her daughter one dark morning and then proceeded to copy Morrow’s license plate number — just in case. Of course her fears were unfounded and the couple became ardent supporters of Morrow and the Dream Team.

Nussbaum’s appreciation for Morrow is readily apparent. He said, “In a world full of conflicting to destructive messages, ‘You are what you wear, or what you look like,’ having a young woman of faith modeling godly living really drew us in as parents.”

Young Life has taught this parent that, “We don’t have to go it alone. Young Life is walking alongside parents as well as teenagers. We need adults around our young people to be there in a different way than we can be. Gretchen was that for us.”

Unknown to them, Morrow and her girls inspired another parent: the owner of the Coffee Cottage. Laura Whitney said, “It was so powerful for all of us to see these young ladies with Bibles in front of them really focusing on each other and what was in front of them. Whitney, a mother of five, recently attended an area Young Life meeting about WyldLife with the hope her 13-year-old daughter, Ellie, can find the same kind of friends, focus and fellowship that the Dream Team shared. “They had an impact on all of us — me, our employees and our regular customers,” Whitney said. “It was a joy to have them in our little store.”