I think we all know a beautiful little preemie baby or maybe you are one yourself! November is Prematurity Awareness Month®! I thought I would share my Q & A with Heather McKinnis (Director, Preemie Parent Mentor Program) at Graham’s Foundation!
Robin:How did Graham’s Foundation start?
Heather: Graham’s Foundation was founded by Nick and Jennifer Hall in 2009 after the delivery of their twins, Reese and Graham, at 25 weeks 3 days. Graham’s time with his parents lasted a short 45 days and Reese came home from the hospital after a 4 month NICU journey. They began Graham’s Foundation to offer resources, programs and connections to parents of preemies so that they are supported, empowered and hopeful throughout their journey. Our foundation is committed to a world where no parent goes through the journey of prematurity alone. Since its beginning, Graham’s Foundation has sent thousands of NICU care packages across the world. We also have a remembrance care package for parents who have experienced the pain of losing a child.
In the past couple of years, our foundation has expanded to include a Preemie Parent Mentor Program. The focus of this program is to connect parents with trained mentors who are preemie parents and grandparents themselves. Each of our mentors has experienced unique NICU journeys and are available to connect, one on one, with parents across the country. Connections are made through email, phone calls, skype or facetime and in person if the mentor is located close to the parent in need.Our foundation is run by preemie parents, for preemie parents. We have a great amount of volunteer opportunities. Our NICU Ambassador program allows parents to work with both Graham’s Foundation and their local NICUs. These ambassadors help us spread the word that there are support options out there for parents. They do not have to take this journey alone.
Robin: When a friend of family member has a preemie- what can we do to help?
Heather: My first encouragement would be to send then one of our NICU care packages. These care packages are designed with new preemie parents in mind. They come with information about resources, knit hats for their preemie, a bonding blanket, and a bracelet. Many parents feel isolated and alone during their NICU journey. I would also encourage them to check out our website and the profiles of our mentor volunteers. You can also send the director of the Mentor Program an email at email@example.com. Often, new preemie parents feel alone, nothing about their experience is as they had planned. When my son was born at 25 weeks, we had never met another family who spent time in the NICU. It was lonely and very overwhelming. Our mentor program helps parents connect with mentors who know how scary each day in the NICU can be. We can offer encouragement and understanding. And we can also share tips on how friends and family can support new parents, how to advocate for their baby and how to stay healthy while spending long hours in the hospital.
In general, friends and family can help by bringing meals, helping care for older siblings, sending encouraging words and just being available. Every parent has different needs. Listen and be open to help in any way that they need. We have a complete list of ideas for how to help a new preemie parent here: http://www.grahamsfoundation.org/how-you-can-help-preemie-parents.html.
And always celebrate the beautiful new life that has just entered the world, even if it happened much too soon.
Robin:How can we get involved and help?
Heather:One of the best ways to support preemie parents is by supporting organizations that help preemie parents. Graham’s Foundation is a non-profit organization and we rely on the support of individuals and businesses to fulfill our mission. Our website has many ways that parents can give. Donations can be made online, by phone or mail. People can sponsor care packages, donate items for care packages, donate their Pampers Gifts to Grow Points (through Pampers.com) or take part in any of our other special promotions (http://www.grahamsfoundation.org/Special_Promotions.html). Amazon shoppers can also select Graham’s Foundation through Amazon Smile and a portion of their purchase will go to support preemie parents.
FYI: This is an amazing way to give back this holiday season- Robin
Robin:With Christmas around the corner, any ideas or special gifts of parents of preemies?
Heather:I would encourage shoppers to visit our Preemie Parent Gear shop. We have several items made specifically for preemie parents and grandparents. Proceeds go to supporting our mission. http://www.grahamsfoundation.org/preemie_parent_gear.html.