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.
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.
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.
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.”