The Working Moms Spotlight Series in partnership with Just Ask Boo shines a light on outstanding local, working Moms. These women are making waves in local business while also contributing their time and talent to meaningful causes in their community.
This month we are delighted to feature the founders of ICU baby, Elizabeth Simonton and Nichole Aldrich. ICU baby is a Miami-based non-profit organization dedicated to offering emotional and financial support to families with babies in the NICU.
Elizabeth and Nichole understand firsthand the difficulties associated with having children in the NICU. Their organization is a labor of love, undergirded with passion to offer hope to families in the NICU.
Without further ado, meet Elizabeth Simonton and Nichole Aldrich…
Elizabeth & Nichole, we are grateful to have you share your story. Let’s get started! Tell us more about ICU baby and what inspired you to start the organization.
I was previously an attorney and owned a local small business. Taking a right turn into non-profit work happened completely by chance. When my third child spent time in the NICU I noticed there was very little support for the babies’ families. Many NICU babies were not visited by their parents. At the time, I did not understand that it was because of a multitude of reasons including: economics, siblings at home, work, etc.
Ultimately, ICU baby began as an effort to help alleviate burdens parents face that prevent them from visiting their baby. What began as a passion project now has become a 40+ hour per week “volunteer” job. We are not paid for our work but rather serve as full time volunteers, with pleasure. It humbles me to think of how many people we have helped in just the few years since we founded the organization.
Seeing that there was no local philanthropic organization supporting families with a baby in the NICU could not go ignored. NICU families are in dire need of support and we, as a Miami community, need to support them. ICU baby was “born” because it was needed. Thankfully Nichole, Ani Buraglia, Leah Jayanetti and Melissa White at the Key Biscayne Community Foundation were quick to support the idea and have lead us to where the organization is now.
I lost my baby Matthew in the NICU. It was the most terrifying and ultimately devestating time in my life. I want to honor him by helping other NICU moms and dads who are going through the same experience. The work we do with ICU baby allows me to do exactly that.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
When we started ICU baby, the first year was spent building our organization. Once we started supporting families in the hospital, visiting the NICU and seeing really sick babies like mine was, this was an obstacle. Especially stepping foot in the NICU at Holtz Children’s Hospital, the same hospital where my baby died. However, seeing the faces of the NICU moms light up when we arrived for our weekly visits because they needed someone to talk to, helped me overcome my challenge. So many people have been touched by a NICU experience.
I recently read that 10-15% of babies born in the United States each year (that’s roughly half a million) spend time in the NICU. This statistic tells me that your organization is meeting a very real need for many families.
What does ICU baby look like day-to-day?
The ICU baby volunteer teams spend every Wednesday in the NICUs of Baptist Health System’s South Miami Hospital and Holtz Children’s Hospital at UM/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. Volunteers have NICU experience themselves and go bedside-to-bedside to be with the parents that are visiting their baby, offering them the emotional support that they need and carrying out ICU baby’s programs. ICU baby supplements the transportation costs for low income families home-to-hospital, invites families to in-hospital catered meals so they can meet each other and get a bite to eat, provides families with the items they need to care for their baby in-hospital and, in bereavement cases, offer a memorial gift and emotional support.
The most special and grounding part of my week is spending time with the families. I have never met parents with a stronger spirit than in the NICU. You see so much love there and many miracles. The most rewarding part of my work is knowing that parents feel supported during a time when they are so scared and lonely.
Where do you draw inspiration for ICU baby?
There are many terrific organizations nationwide and here in Miami that I monitor very closely. I learn from what they are doing exceptionally well and try to emulate and execute those plans with ICU baby.
There is no other South Florida organization that supports NICU families so we look outside of our State at organizations with a similar mission. For example, Miracle Babies is an organization on the West Coast doing a great job supporting NICU families, as is Project Sweat Peas in the North East. Here in Miami I value the incredible fundraising efforts of the Little Lighthouse Foundation and Live Like Bella. Both organizations do a spectacular job to engage our community in their cause to help our city’s children.
My inspiration comes from the moms I work with in the NICU who are so strong day in and day out. I get ideas from my ICU baby partner Beth, other non-profit organizations, articles I read and from friends and family.
Starting a non-profit from scratch is not an easy task, especially as already busy Moms! What advice do you have for moms stepping back into the workforce or dreaming of starting their own business or non-profit?
Starting this non-profit from scratch out of passion and compassion was the most creative thing I have ever done. Some people supported me from the get-go and others were slower on the uptake. There will always be people who doubt an idea you have, especially when it is a novel one. We have had a small team that has been instrumental in getting ICU baby off the ground. These women and our friends who have supported us monetarily recognized the need to support NICU families as well and have made ICU baby what is has become.
To Moms considering starting a business or entering the workforce again I should say, you have to put yourself back out there. It is very hard and often humbling, but have confidence in how much you have grown personally by becoming a Mother. You bring a whole new grouping of skill sets to the table along with the professional skills you developed before becoming a Mother.
You may have to start with some of the basics again. Understand that it will take a bit to reacllimate. No matter what, do not under value yourself. Work hard and it will be rewarded.
Find your passion. Do what you love and what you’re good at. During the long days of stress, don’t lose your passion or let go of your dreams.
How has being a mother influenced your role in business and what challenges have you faced?
As a mother, I feel like the CEO in the house, juggling a thousand things at home and at school. This experience allows me and other moms to do anything! It has made me more organized and able to wear many hats in our organization. Specifically with ICU baby, being a mother helps me relate to the parents we support in the NICU.
I love being a mom to my 3 young children. However, when I went “back to work” with ICU baby, it was very challenging to not be the same mom I had been for 8 years. My children were used to me picking them up every day after school, and being at every sports game, family dinner and school activity. It was an adjustment and still is as ICU baby grows and is more demanding of my time. Yet the rewards outweigh the challenges. We’re making a difference in the lives of babies and families and my children are seeing how important it is to do good in this world and to help others.
As a Mother you learn to work efficiently. You make the most of every minute of the time your children are asleep or at school, so you can maximize your quality time with them when they are with you. And you learn to work at night! Decisions that I make on a day-to-day basis are with that efficiency in mind. I believe it is what has allowed ICU baby to accomplish what we have in such a short time.
My biggest challenge as a working Mom is balance. There is always one more email to write or one more meeting to attend. The work will always be there, but an attorney I worked with once told me that children spell “love” T-I-M-E. So with very little exception, I am with my children as much as possible.
What resources would you recommend for Moms?
The Economist Magazine – women do not know enough about world events. We can learn from them and should be less cognizant of pop culture and more cognizant of what is occurring in the world that surrounds us AND the world that our children will be growing up in. I would also suggest Mommy-and-Me classes as it is a great way to meet other very interesting women who are home with the children.
I would suggest connecting with other Mom friends who have older children. They can be the best resource!
Ok ladies, now for our lightning round with a few fun “get to know you questions.” What’s your favorite go-to spot for “me” time in Miami?
What 3 things make you smile or 3 of life’s simple joys?
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
What words of wisdom do you live by?
Ladies, thank you for your time and for the important work you’re doing!
Visit the links below to read previous Working Moms Spotlights.
September Spotlight: Melissa Medina
October Spotlight: Camila Canabal
November Spotlight: Carolyn Mara