For six years my wedding dress – a symbol of one of the happiest days of my life – hung in our guest room closet with no apparent destiny in sight. That is, until I discovered an amazing local organization called NICU Helping Hands.
NICU Helping Hands is a local, non-profit, organization that began in the summer of 2010 as a grassroots effort to provide education, support and most importantly a helping (loving) hand during one of the most heart wrenching journeys that someone could ever have to make.
Even in the midst of her preparation for a big fundraiser, I had the pleasure of getting to speak with the Director and Founder of NICU Helping Hands, Lisa Grubbs. She was kind enough to carve out time from her already over-loaded schedule to answer a few questions about the organization.
When WFAA’s Janet St. James’ story, “Volunteers make gowns for babies who never make it home” went live back in March, no one – not even Lisa – could have predicted how incredible the response would be.
Prior to the story, families in need typically learned about the services offered by NICU Helping Hands via a social worker or physician who knew about them. After the story broke, their website and Facebook presence went from approximately 1,100 followers to over 20,000 followers in a matter of days.
“The WFAA story went viral,” said Lisa. “We went from 20 to 30 visits to the website a day to thousands. We actually had to do some things to the site so that it could handle all the traffic!”
“What that tells us is that there is a huge need for families to be able to engage with people who will listen to what they are saying about their experiences and who will care for those families in a thoughtful, emotionally sound way. We give bereaved families a voice – the okay to say ‘this was my child and s/he counted and mattered.’”
Over the years, Lisa and her “team” – one full-time staff member who is the Program Facilitator – have heard hundreds and hundreds of stories from gown donors. As one donor lamented, “30 years ago, I lost my child, the hospital worker took her away from me, and I never saw her again. This is why I’m donating my gown.”
When I asked Lisa how they choose which families to help, she quickly replied, “Anybody who asks. We’ve never said “no” to a family. That is my commitment. Our goal is to be a ‘yes’ organization.”
The Angel Gowns program is just one facet of this ‘yes’ organization’s repertoire:
Their signature program is Project NICU, an in-hospital support program that helps address the educational and emotional needs of families who have experienced a delivery that results in a NICU admission.
They also have a One-on-One Mentoring Program that pairs a seasoned, graduated NICU parent with a new NICU parent, so they have a peer to talk to and get support and strength from. Their services continue once a family is out of the NICU as well.
NICU Mom Connect is for graduate mothers to network or connect with other moms who have come out of a NICU experience. “It’s a social group but also a peer group that understands what you’re going through” explained Lisa.
After listening to Lisa passionately describe each facet of the organization, I couldn’t believe that, short of just one employee, she does all this single-handedly and with volunteers only!
Because of this, they are always in search of individual, local and corporate sponsors to help build their financial support base so they can continue to offer all these services. As Lisa put it, “We don’t (and won’t) charge families anything for these services because they already have million dollar babies to support.”
When I asked about plans to expand to other cities, Lisa laughed. “That’s the popular question right now. I get asked that about five or six times a day.”
Although a woman who used to volunteer locally with NICU Mom Connect has since moved to Kansas and started a local chapter there (including oversight of an Angel Gowns program), this is more of an exception than the rule. “It’s a test site for us because I know her and she knows us. We’re an actual non-profit organization, so we have certain standards that we have (and want) to meet. There are so many things that need to be considered as it pertains to liability, insurance, standards, guidelines (for non-profit status), local buy-in, etc.”
Lisa made it clear that she doesn’t take this “job” lightly. Of all people she realizes the great impact these programs have, and she wants to maintain the integrity of the organization.
“I believe in local non-profits and local support. When you raise money and have local volunteers, you serve your community very well.”
That being said, the Angel Gown program was the first that provided both local and national support (remember, they’ve never turned down a request for a gown!). And if you’re wondering how big of a contribution you’d need to make in order to have a positive effect on lives, then you should know that even just $10 will package four gowns for four families.
If you’d like to donate – time, money, your wedding dress – to NICU Helping Hands, click here.
If you have sewing talents and would like to be a volunteer seamstress, click here.
Or simply check out the NICU Helping Hands Facebook page for all the up-to-date information on an amazing, local organization.