Our People

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 all the NICUs and SCBUs throughout New Zealand.

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!

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!

Jen Rochac

Support Co-ordinator Auckland (Part-time)

Jen is a mum of two gorgeous children Cole and Charley.  Her daughter, 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 from Vancouver Canada but she calls New Zealand home and enjoys being able to help out other families who are currently in NICU.

Gina Turnbull

Support Co-coordinator Auckland (Part-time)

Gina is mum to Emilia born at 27 weeks in 2015, weighing 650g and spent 72days in NICU. Emilia is energetic and very chatty  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.

Sarah Richards

Support Co-ordinator Auckland (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.

Jadey Drury

Family Support Co-ordinator Waikato (Part-time)

Jadey is a mum of two, Four year old Frankie who was born at 28 weeks and spent 76 days in Wellington NICU and 7 days in Whanganui SCBU and Two Year old Ivy who is the sass queen of the family.

Jadey received so much support from The Neonatal Trust when she was a long way from home after having Frankie. It was here that her want to help others started. She has so much passion to support families in the unit during their journeys and afterwards.

Jadey is originally from the UK and has lived in NZ for 8 years, her and her husband spent the first few years exploring all NZ has to offer, it was at this point they decided this was where they wanted to raise a family.

When she isn’t working with the neonatal trust or running around after her little ones she is either styling hair, events and weddings or snapping pictures.

Sandhya Lala

Support Co-ordinator Auckland (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.

Laura Butler

Support Co-ordinator Auckland (Part-time) 

The first Laura knew of the Neonatal Trust was when she gave birth to her son Eddie in Auckland Women’s Hospital at 26 weeks 2 days gestation after her waters broke at 25 weeks 3 days. Eddie was a tiny 990grams at birth, but managed to get himself home from North Shore SCBU at 37 weeks, weighing in at a hefty 3.36kg! His journey along with what his mum and dad have experienced, and are still experiencing 3 years later, has inspired his mum to give back to the trust and support other families who are only just starting their journey.

Outside of the Trust, Laura is married to Ben, mum of 3 year old Eddie, and works full time in advertising. The whole family like to head out of Auckland on the weekend and spend plenty time with family and friends.

Jess Neilson

Support Co-ordinator Middlemore (Part-time)

Jess is a mum of one – Toby who was born at 25+5 and spent 108 days in the unit at Middlemore hospital. 

Jess trained as a early childhood teacher but has been at home with Toby since he came home from the hospital. When the job for support coordinator at Middlemore hospital, Jess jumped at the chance to help families navigate one of the most difficult yet rewarding time in their lives. Toby keeps Jess very busy with therapy sessions and play groups but she loves to read and watch TV.