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Inspiring Conversations with Ellen Shane

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ellen Shane.

Ellen, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
A tragedy in my life – and that of our family – changed me forever. Our third and youngest child, Emily, was tragically murdered on April 3, 2010. She was thirteen yours old and in eighth grade. Through Emily’s academic struggles, I learned firsthand that there was no recourse within the school system to provide the assistance she required to pass her classes.

She inspired our family to create a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity with a specific focus: a program to provide less fortunate students who risk failure in middle school with the individual, intensive and necessary support they need to succeed. The Emily Shane Foundation’s SEA (Successful Educational Achievement) Program was the response to my desire to keep Emily’s memory alive by doing something that would help others and that also would be significant to her. Our Foundation’s motto, “Pass it Forward,” reflects Emily’s spirit. She was known for her kindness and empathy. This is showcased in the middle schoolers we support, who perform one good deed or act of kindness per SEA Program session.

There are many students who “don’t fit the mold” or risk “falling through the cracks” like Emily. Financial limitations should not dictate a child’s ability to pass their classes. Our goal is to help these students with all subjects in which they risk failure, emphasize and teach critical organizational and study skills, and provide them a caring and compassionate mentor/tutor who they can come to trust and rely on. Our mentor/tutors guide struggling students so they can reach them their academic potential.

My work for the SEA Program has become my life’s passion. The Emily Shane Foundation is now in its ninth year of operation. In addition, I have studied grief extensively and have a private grief support practice. I help anyone dealing with loss, and in particular the loss of a child. Lastly, I have written a children’s book, “Emily’s Gift.” It is a true story of how Emily brought dogs into our family and is the first in a series of books about our family’s dogs. It is interesting to me that my life’s direction and purpose only became clear after Emily’s death. Her legacy lives on through the foundation that bears her name.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I think when you start something, especially in my case, where I was driven both by grief and a desire to fill a need in the educational system that I personally experienced through Emily, there are bound to be challenges. Initially, I did not have a strategic plan or any sort of business outline. I was fueled by a determination to create something meaningful and needed by so many children who fit Emily’s profile. I learned as I went along. For example, at first, I did not realize that after vetting and hiring our mentor/tutors (mostly university students and recent grads), they would require a formal training to be effective. Early on, I teamed up with a middle school teacher who had much experience, having taught middle school for over 40 years. He helped me craft a mentor/tutor training, in addition to a student orientation for our SEA Program middle schoolers.

In this way, the students know what to expect prior to their first session. The mentor/tutors understand what is expected of them in conducting their sessions and learn that we much more than a “homework help” program.

Another major challenge at the outset was obtaining the 501(c)3 nonprofit designation. It required funding I did not have, yet it was essential. I had to learn as I went along and boldly pushed ahead, dealing with each challenge and finding solutions. I reached out to others, seeking advice, and help. A philanthropist who knew my husband kindly surprised us and donated the funds necessary to apply for 501(c)3 status. While there were and always will be challenges, I have learned that if you believe in what you are doing, stay positive and focused, dedication and persistence will yield success. In addition, while roadblocks and struggles are part of any business, there are also “gifts” that come your way – often unexpected – that help you in pursuing your mission.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
The work of the Emily Shane Foundation is very close to my heart. The lack of resources to help children like Emily left us with no choice but to seek outside academic support. Without that help, Emily would have floundered. Our foundation’s specific focus is on students like Emily. They are in the mainstream classroom in middle school and are at risk of failing their classes. As we serve a disadvantaged population, risk of failure could be the result of numerous factors including a home-life situation, social issues, being below grade level in one or more subjects in addition to any combination of these and other factors.

As the educational system does have the capacity to provide the one-on-one, intensive support necessary to remedy this circumstance, our SEA Program exists as a way to “level the playing field.” A student in need of outside support should have access to it, regardless of whether their family is able to afford it. To help set a child on a positive path for their future is our greatest success and what we strive to accomplish. What sets us apart is that we are not a basic tutoring program. We have a very unique and specific approach that combines academic tutoring and mentorship, in addition to a focus on the skill set necessary to be a successful student. These skills include organizational and study skills. We solely support middle school students, as this is a critical and pivotal time to help set them on track.

Do you have any advice for those looking to network or find a mentor?
Today, with the plethora of digital access to many different applications and programs, the ability to network has never been easier. When we began the Emily Shane Foundation’s SEA Program, this was not as pervasive as it is today. At the beginning, I relied on both old and newer contacts, referrals, and conducted many in-person meetings and outreach. Today, I use a combination of these different approaches. Of course, during the pandemic, online networking is clearly the only possibility until normalcy returns.


  • Just $20 provides a SEA student support for a week of sessions.
  • $500 will cover a half year of mentoring and tutoring for a student.
  • $1000 will provide a student in need with an entire year of academic support in SEA Program.

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