Maddie (Donaghy) Francis
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I am so proud and so honoured to say that I am a Westfield Local Hero for 2020!


Thank you so much to Westfield Plenty Valley for this honour. Thank you to my beautiful fellow NICU Mum who is always the first to jump in + help me with NICU Cheer & who nominated me for this award - Bree you are simply the best!  I am so grateful to all my beautiful friends, family & NICU Cheer supporters who always have our back & who voted/shared my nomination - your support means the world to me.

With this award win NICU Cheer which will be getting a huge boost of $10,000 by the end of the month from  This win has allowed us to expand to cover the 5th and final NICU in Melbourne, we will be adding an Easter delivery for the 1st time next year and so much more. Huge congratulations to Josie and Deborah, my fellow winners who will also be receiving a $10k boost to their causes too. The work they do for Cancer fundraising and helping the homeless is so inspiring & in all sincerity I am so honoured to be considered alongside them for this award.

If you know me it will come as no surprise that I am on the constant verge of happy tears today, this award + the end of Melbourne lock-down being announced just yesterday means I could just burst with excitement. This would have been absolutely wonderful news in any year, but to have this happen in 2020 this hardest of all years that any of us in Melbourne have ever faced is just phenomenal ...

Last, but definitely not least... thank you to my wonderfully supportive husband Aaron.  Without him I couldn't do NICU Cheer at all, without his help our 223 Father's Day bags would never have gone out as we could have no volunteer helpers this year... he supports me, he encourages me and he is quite simply the best life partner, friend, husband I could ever have hoped for.

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Westfield Local Heroes is a recognition and awards program that connects and enriches communities in Australia and New Zealand. The program discovers and celebrates individuals who make a positive impact to their local community and/or environment.

Westfield Local Heroes are nominated and voted for by their communities, with the three top finalists per Westfield centre each awarded a $10,000 grant for their affiliated organisation. If Maddie is successful, NICU Cheer will be able to expand its service to all five of the tertiary level NICUs across Melbourne and add more delivery days.

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Maddie Francis was inspired to help other parents of premature babies after her son Ashton arrived 10 weeks early and spent 6.5 weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of the Mercy Hospital. His emergency entry into the world started on Mother’s Day, so Maddie understands how exceptionally hard it is to be there on special days.


She created NICU Cheer in 2016 with a goal of bringing some joy to parents spending Christmas Day in the same NICU.


After placing a call-out for donations on Facebook, she created 61 gift bags the first year, filled with items she would have found helpful, such as snacks, toiletries, premature clothing and toys for older kids. “Being in the NICU is traumatising, isolating and heartbreaking,” says Maddie. “We want parents to know they are not alone.”


Last Christmas, Maddie delivered 188 gift bags, three huge staff hampers and three Santa sacks to three NICUs. These were full of toys, books and games for the siblings to enjoy.

Donations now flow in from corporate donors, helping Maddie achieve her aim of providing bags of consistent quality so no family gets less than another.


Her tireless work contacting companies for donations also means the bags have quadrupled in size. “Although it doesn’t pay me wages, I’ve never been prouder or happier to call this my full-time job,” says Maddie.


The team are now in preparation mode to complete 223 Father’s Day bags and have added

a fourth hospital to their rounds, The Royal Children’s.

[Bio Short]


Maddie Francis knows firsthand how traumatising and isolating it feels to have a premature baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). She established NICU Cheer to provide gift bags to cheer parents up on Christmas Day after her 2of 4son Ashton was born early. She works full-time securing donations for the beautifully presented bags.“Being in the NICU is traumatising, isolating and heartbreaking,” says Maddie. “We want parents to know they are not alone.”

Early in 2020 I found out that a fellow NICU Mum had nominated me for the Westfield Local Heroes award and I was quite simply blown away. I know it's all the clichés, but I really was so honoured, so humbled and so proud that a fellow NICU mum whom I look up to thought of me.


I love doing NICU Cheer so much that sometimes I do forget that it is actually "work" and that other people like what I do too.

Thank you to all who voted.

Winners announced 27 October 2020.

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