Our People

 *** This page is a work-in-progress and is actively being worked on - more details to follow ***

Light on paid staff but heavy on volunteer commitment and resources, we strive to find the right balance to maximise the support to families and their precious babies.
As we're all about people (helping and supporting people), we felt it was the right thing to give you an insight into the team - read the details provided by the people themselves.

In addition to the below, you can read about some of our great volunteers on this page.
 

Rachel Friend

Executive Director
Rachel has been a part of The Neonatal Trust team since 2016.  During this time she has been dedicated to making a difficult start in life that little bit easier for the families of NICU babies. Rachel and her team work collaboratively with the Auckland NICU to support the families during and after their NICU journey.

Her passion for NICU, the families and their babies has been born out of her own first-hand experience of being a NICU Mum to Reuben who was born at 24 weeks gestation weighing 665g in 2013. Having experienced four months in NICU herself, Rachel is well placed to empathise with the families who find themselves on the unexpected rollercoaster ride that is NICU.

As part of her role at the Trust, Rachel advocates for NICU families on a number of panels as a consumer representative and has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about prematurity and the support needed for families in NICU and SCBU.

Outside of the Trust, Rachel is married to Phil, Mum to Reuben and Step-Mum to Marlow and Henley which makes for a busy household. So when she’s not at work or chasing around after her boys and their pets, Rachel likes to exercise when she gets the opportunity as well as indulge her love of coffee, books and red wine!

 

Janna Sanford

Support Co-ordinator (Part-time)
Janna has one feisty daughter, Frankie, who was born in 2018 at 30 weeks.  Frankie weighed 1160g and spent 57 days in Auckland NICU. Janna has recently decided not to return to her (more than) full time job and was so excited to have an opportunity to give back to the Neonatal Trust and provide support to other NICU mums.  She understands how important the support of others is to navigating a journey through NICU and beyond.  While not finding much time for hobbies at the moment, Janna enjoys all sorts of crafting, cake decorating, reading and binge-watching gripping Netflix series and movies with husband Phil.

 

Jen Rochac

Support Co-ordinator (Part-time)
Jen is a mum of two gorgeous children Cole and Charley.  My daughter, our youngest, was born at 24 weeks and 3 days and spent 4 months in the Auckland NICU under the care of the most extraordinary NICU team and parent could ask for. Originally I come from Vancouver Canada but call New Zealand home and enjoy being able to help out other families who are currently in NICU.

 

Justine Brooker

Operations Manager (Part-time)
Justine is a born and bred Wellingtonian and mother of four boisterous boys.  The Neonatal Unit became like family to Justine with all of her sons being born early.   This has fed Justine’s motivation to help others in similar situations.   Her passion for The Neonatal Trust truly developed after the early arrival of her youngest son Harlow, who was born at 24 weeks. Being able to support families during what can often be a daunting and stressful time is why Justine is now devoted to raising awareness for The Trust and supporting neonatal families.
In her spare time when she isn't busy with her family, you can usually find her exercising at boot camp, running or enjoying a coffee with friends.  

Prior to joining The Neonatal Trust, Justine shared the story of son Harlows arrival as part of the 2014 World Prematurity Day awareness activity. You can read the article here.

 

Samantha Bennett

Fundraising Co-ordinator (Part-time)
Sam is mum to 11 year old Oliver and 9 year old Ava, who was born at 34 weeks weighing 2100g and spent just over 2 weeks in the Wellington NICU. Being able to use her marketing and fundraising experience to help families going through the rollercoaster of a neonatal journey was the key reason Sam joined The Neonatal Trust team.  

Previously Sam has worked in a variety of marketing and research roles, predominately for banks and financial institutions.  In her spare time Sam is a bit of a gym bunny and enjoys spending time with family, especially supporting her kids in the activities they love - cricket, netball, football and dance!

 

Kathryn Akozu 

Developmental Playgroup Co-ordinator (Part-time)
Kathryn is the Developmental Playgroup coordinator for the Auckland branch which meets fortnightly to provide support to parents who have had a baby in NICU or SCBU. Kathryn and her husband Simon have two children, Amelia and Ethan. Amelia was born in September 2015 at 31 weeks gestation and had quite a rocky time in NICU, despite that she is a happy and healthy little girl who is the boss of their household.

Kathryn regularly attended the developmental playgroup with Amelia and describes the playgroup as being a ‘life saver’, especially in the early months when you need the support the most. It is a group of like-minded parents who just get it, and you don’t have to spend 15 minutes trying to explain how old your baby is. Kathryn loves being a part of the playgroup again and helping families navigate the journey after NICU. Kathryn works part time as Town Planner and loves to spend her free time with her family, baking, going to the gym and drinking coffee with her friends while their kids play.

 

Sandhya Lala

Support Co-ordinator (Part-time)
Sandhya is married to Mahesh and Mum to Milan, Dhruv and Sajel. Sandhya's journey with The Trust began in 2007 with the birth of Milan who was born at 34 weeks weighing in at 1850 g and later continued with the birth of Sajel born at 33 weeks weighing in at 1500g. These two experiences with their combined highs and lows formed the desire to give back to the Neonatal Trust and support other families going through their own NICU journey. 

When she isn't busy with her family, Sandhya likes to hang out with her friends eating chocolate, drinking coffee and doing the odd bit of exercise.

 

Sarah Richards

Support Co-ordinator (Part-Time)
Sarah and her partner Abish are kept well busy by 4 little ones; Nixon, Zoey, Cole & Cody. Twins Cole & Cody were delivered at 27 weeks in 2017 after developing TTTS. They spent 99 days in Auckland NICU & Waitakere SCBU. This time was filled with ups and downs, Cole especially had a rocky journey.
 
The Neonatal Trust was not only a great support system during their hospital stay but also for life afterwards. Sarah and her boys regularly attended the developmental playgroup and also the coffee confidential group, a space to talk with others who just ‘got it’ was very therapeutic. It was with the entire experience above that the desire to give back was forged, so when the opportunity came to join the Neonatal Trust there was no hesitation.
 
In addition to the Neonatal Trust, Sarah is a Graphic Designer by trade, photographic hobbyist and sleep deprived coffee drinker. While not chasing after her little terrors like the tiny tornados they are, she likes to embrace the simple pleasures like a house that stays tidy for more than 10 minutes, HOT cups of coffee, or just some good ol’ friends and family time.
 
 

Gina Turnbull

Support Co-coordinator (Part-time)

Gina is mum to Emilia born at 27 weeks weighing 650g and spent 72days in NICU.  Emilia is now an energetic and very chatty 4 year old who loves to boss her dad Laurie and mum around.    Gina had very stressful and hard first year with her Dad passing away just 2 weeks after getting home with Emilia from NICU. But there have got through it and come out on the other side.    You wouldn’t be able to tell that Emilia had a rocky start she loves to read, play babies with friends/cousins, zoom around in her bike and jump on the trampoline.

Meeting other mothers at the development playgroup really helped especially in the first few months.  A few of the mothers have gone on to become good friends and our 4 year olds love to catchup and have playdates.  The playgroup was the only place I could talk to mums who had gone on similar journey.  It was also great being able to talk to Janet and be reassured that Emilia was meeting her milestones. 

As a family we love going on mini adventure’s camping, hiking, travelling and lots of time at the beach during summer.  In my spare time I love catching up with friends while the kids play, baking with Emilia, drinking lots of black tea and going for walks.

 

 

 

Thank you to The Neonatal Trust's Partners