In the United States, 12.8 percent of babies are born premature every year. Parents of premature babies often find themselves suddenly in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), feeling worried, scared, and alone. Liz Tolin, founder and director of Toby’s Showers for Babies created a non-profit organization to address the needs of parents of babies born prematurely or those who need constant medical care. These parents often spend days, weeks, or months with their babies in the NICU before they can go home.

Liz knows how it feels first hand. When she was pregnant with her son Toby, she and her husband lived in rural Hungary where she worked for NATO. At 20 weeks, she knew something was not right with her baby and began to try and find specialists. Initially, those in Hungary told her that her baby was not viable and would not live. She was told the same after seeing specialists in Vienna. That’s when she and her husband returned to the United States to seek better healthcare. Doctors here saw that her baby was indeed viable, although he was born prematurely.

Because Toby needed quite a bit of care early on in the NICU, Liz decided to start a Facebook page to keep friends and family up to date about his progress. Suddenly the page took off and she had 1,000 followers asking what they could do to help.

“The support was incredible,” said Liz. “Because we had good healthcare, a place to stay, and a strong support structure, we didn’t find ourselves in dire need of much, but I spoke with doctors and nurses about finding a way to provide for others in my same situation. That’s where Toby’s Shower for Babies came in. We decided to create baby baskets for incoming NICU families.”

The basket contains a tie fleece blanket for baby’s isolette, a hand-dyed swaddling blanket, a stuffed animal, a couple of books for parents to read to their babies, and a picture frame with card stock to save those precious tiny hand and footprints. In an emergency, these kinds of items are rarely thought of. Often families who come from farther away don’t have time to prepare for everything, so this was Liz’s way of giving back.  

Liz believes the books in the basket are especially important because research shows that reading to your baby helps parents connect, and hearing soothing voices improves the infant’s brain development.

“While parents don’t get to take their babies home right away, these baskets can help their hospital rooms feel a tad less sterile and a little more warm and inviting,” added Liz. “As a result, parents feel supported, and less alone.”

Starting the Non-Profit Organization

Liz hatched the idea to start a 501 C 3 before she and her husband and baby left the NICU. People began donating to their cause and five weeks later, they had baskets ready for distribution. The organization is 100 percent volunteer driven and all funding goes to the baskets.

“We typically hold community events where people can donate their time to help cut materials and stuff baskets,” said Liz.

There are five board members who manage day-to-day operations, and events are posted on Facebook, as well as through news agencies, such as 9News in Denver. Toby’s Showers for Babies serves the following hospitals:

  • Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children
  • Rose Medical Center
  • University of Colorado Hospital Anschutz Medical Campus
  • Wyoming Medical Center
  • Cheyenne Regional Medical Center

To date, Toby’s Showers for Babies has provided 3,508 baskets for area hospitals.

“Feedback has been positive so far,” said Liz. “We hear parents express their gratitude, who say that the basket brightens their day. They feel like there’s a support team behind them to help celebrate the fact that they have a baby.”

Goals for the Future

Liz hopes to expand grant funding and partnerships in the future working with Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation.

“We’d like to have the bandwidth to support Children’s Hospital as well, but that is double the work that we currently do,” said Liz. “We hope to achieve our expansion goals by getting more exposure over time.”

The organization’s annual Champagne Ball is held to raise funds through ticket sales and an auction. This year, the gala will be celebrating the organization’s five-year anniversary and will be held May 25, 2019 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver.

And if you wondered about how Toby’s doing today, he will turn five in April. While he’s smart and thriving, he’s still small for his age. He has a daily injection of growth hormones to help the pace of growth and the family is doing well.

For more information about the organization’s programs and services, visit: Toby’s Shower for Babies.