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Junior Leaders at Mill Creek remember NICU families for Valentine’s Day

MADISON –Junior Leaders Club members at Mill Creek Elementary School want to brighten Valentine’s Day for parents and siblings of infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or NICU at Huntsville Hospital.

Their service project, “Sweet Treat for Sweet Hearts,” hopes to bring a little bit of joy to NICU families with 50 bags stuffed with handmade Valentine cards and plenty of chocolate treats.

Currently, the club has 25 members. Third-grade teacher Cara Marsico and Tosha Swearingen co-sponsor the club.

Swearingen, Reading Specialist for K-3, experienced the NICU personally. “My son Riley, now a fourth-grader and Junior Leaders Club member, spent time in the NICU after birth. He had a birth defect known as malrotation of the intestines,” Swearingen said.

“Riley had to undergo a major surgery before we could bring him home. I remember how difficult it was to see my baby so sick and not be able to hold him,” Swearingen said.

“One day, someone left us a gift basket with the most heartfelt cards. Reading the cards at Riley’s bedside brought me joy and hope! That is the goal — to bring joy and hope to families in the NICU,” she said.

For their project, Junior Leaders distributed a flier to collect candy. People responded with lots of ‘sweetheart conversation’ hearts, Reece’s Hearts and Hershey’s Hugs and Kisses. Club members made cards.

Members sent a survey to identify NICU alumni at Mill Creek. Thus far, 21 have responded. Swearingen plans to photograph them holding a NICU baby photo of themselves. Junior Leaders will share their project with doctors and nurses to thank them and show progress of former NICU babies.

In addition, the club asked the school for help. In 2021, they read aloud the book, ‘Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch’ by Eileen Spinelli, which teaches about showing kindness. Classes made cards using a template (stating) “Somebody at Mill Creek loves you!”

The members’ heartfelt messages always amaze Swearingen, like this one:

“I hope you are okay and wish for the best. Your baby boy or girl will be okay. There’s nothing to worry about. This is only one step in life. Life has a lot of steps. Don’t stress and enjoy what has and what is happening right now and what could happen in the future. Life is a rollercoaster, there are ups and downs. Sending Love.”

Junior Leaders have a good understanding about a NICU. They will realize much more on Feb. 11 when, “the NICU will come to us. Heather Green, NICU’s Family Support Specialist, will visit. She will meet with club members and show photos, videos and tiny baby diapers, heart rate monitors and other tools. For fun, the students will race to dress like a doctor and care for a stuffed NICU baby,” Swearingen said.

Junior Leaders Club accepts applications and teacher recommendations from fourth- and fifth-graders. Candidates must write an essay.

In the past, Junior Leaders have volunteered at Manna House, made dog chew-toys and beds for an animal shelter and stuffed toiletry bags for a church. Students will suggest ideas and vote for their next project.

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