“Sometimes All You Need Is Just A Big, Long Hug”
Maddison received the Award for her commitment to improving the quality of life for children suffering from chronic or acute illness, injury, and mental health issues. Passionate about global childhood health, she is dedicated to improving the healthcare system by giving a voice to children and youth in their own healthcare journeys.
Maddison has been able to turn her ambition into a hugely successful social action campaign and is now a youth health advocate, motivational speaker, and founder of her own social enterprise, ‘HUGS’. Continue reading to learn more about Maddison’s story, her impressions on receiving the Award and her ambitious future endeavours.
At the age of 13, Maddison was hospitalized and had to undergo heart surgery. While in hospital and undergoing treatment, Maddison felt increasingly isolated, confused and invisible. She describes being minimized to a label and a diagnosis.
While doctors and nurses were whizzing around, talking over her, and treating her symptoms; they seemed oblivious to the fact that she was a person who had needs, feelings, questions, and a voice that needed to be heard. She felt powerless in her own healthcare journey. Aside from her illness, the feeling of not having a voice created additional anxiety.
And she was not alone. Looking around the hospital she found she was surrounded by equally scared kids who were having trouble finding their smiles and voice in a healthcare world of adults and machines. Just like herself, they needed more than just medical procedures and treatment- they needed some control in the uncontrollable.
At the age of 13, Maddison was hospitalized and had to undergo heart surgery.
Seeing all these kids and families who were ridden by worry and stress, all Maddison wanted to do was give all of them a big, long HUG. And so, Maddison’s mission “HUGS” was born. HUGS is a movement that promotes children’s mental health and quality of life while in hospital – through providing them with access to fun experiences, like HUG parties, and including support for their parents.
HUGS proved enormously successful right from the start, and it wasn’t long until Maddison’s efforts got noticed: The Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation contacted us at the Diana Award to tell us all about her amazing journey and to officially nominate her for the Award.
Upon receiving her award nomination, Maddison was simply overjoyed:
“When I received my Diana Award nomination, I was speechless. I literally watched the video that Tessy Ojo [CEO of The Diana Award] had sent to congratulate nominees a thousand times – just on that very first day. I couldn’t describe the emotions I was feeling, I was shocked and full of joy and to be honest with you I cried lots of happy tears. The Diana Award is so important. Youth recognition helps us realize that you are never too young to make a difference, that our voice has power, and that people will take notice and listen. The Diana Award through recognition starts a ripple effect of confidence, youth empowerment and global change.”
Receiving The Diana Award
On July 1, 2020, Maddison was joined by The Duke of Sussex, Dame Emma Thompson, Liam Payne and Miranda Hart alongside 183 inspirational children and young people to receive the highest accolade a young person can achieve for social action or humanitarian efforts – The Diana Award. Due to Covid 19, the 2020 Award was the first ever virtual Diana Award ceremony and was live streamed on The Diana Award’s YouTube channel.
Being an international award recipient and with the ceremony being online, Maddison was particularly pleased to being able to share the experience with the global community of award recipients and invite friends and family to watch along.
“With everything being virtual, I felt I was truly part of all the award recipients celebrating together around the globe. I loved seeing all the amazing things the other award recipients are doing. The music was incredible and of course it was amazing to get a message from Prince Harry – it was a really special day for me.”
Maddison with her Diana Award.
In 2020, the Award was presented by The Vamps star James McVey and saw support from a host of celebrities who honoured young changemakers from all over the world. The Duke of Sussex, on behalf of him and his brother, surprised the changemakers with a congratulatory video message, in which he praised all award recipients for their exceptional achievements:e keen to support.
“I am so incredibly proud to be part of these awards as they honour the legacy of my mother and bring out the very best in people like you. You are all doing such incredible work and at a time of great uncertainty, you have found the power and inspiration inside of you to make a positive mark on the world, and I love that The Diana Award is able to help you do it. I know that my mother has been an inspiration to many of you and I can assure you she would have been fighting your corner. Right now, we’re seeing situations around the world where division, isolation and anger are dominating as pain and trauma come to the surface. But I see the greatest hope in people like you and I’m confident about the worlds future and its ability to heal because it is in your hands.”
– The Duke of Sussex
Maddison – the HUG dealer & Youth Advocate
At the core of Maddison’s HUGS project is the idea to help get young people through their difficult health journeys and show them that they are never alone with whatever they are going through.
Maddison shows young people that they are never alone.
Under the motto “Taking on childhood illness One HUG at a time” Maddison’s HUG parties bring warmth and kindness to an otherwise scary and sterile hospital environment. With HUGS, Maddison focuses on giving the kids a break from their hospital procedures, the scary needles, IVs and encourages them to – just for a moment – be a kid again. HUG parties involve all kinds of fun things – whether that be magic shows or superhero parties or “Build a Bear”- Making nights. Maddison has even arranged to bring a unicorn into the hospital for kids to tell their wishes to.
“Once, there was a little girl who has come to several of my HUG parties, she was in a wheelchair and often teased by other kids. After one of the parties, she came up to me wearing her HUG scarf and told me how she now wears her HUG as a shield to protect her from the bullies and the mean comments at school. She said that when she wears her HUG she feels supported, seen, powerful, and has the strength to stand up to her bullies.”
Maddison is keen to advocate for youth to find their voices in their own health care systems.
While Maddison’s HUG parties are highly successful and have already helped hundreds of children, she is adamant to take her social action project to the next level. Participating in The Diana Award’s professional development sessions and webinars Maddison has felt inspired to amplify the impact of her mission. Having been highly successful in raising thousands of dollars to improve children’s experiences in hospital, Maddison is driven to develop her profile in youth advocacy and making a real difference in the health care systems in her country.
“I really believe that the Diana Award has given me some of the tools, support and confidence to become a catalyst for positive and meaningful social change. Being given the opportunity to connect with other Diana Award recipients has helped me take my initiative to the next step and move out of just fundraising. Fundraising is so important in making an impact, but the real change, especially systemically happens when you combine fundraising and advocacy. By combining the two I can strive to make real fundamental changes in healthcare.”
To this end, Maddison is now keen to amplify her work in the advocacy realm and focus on making a real change in the actual hospital systems. Whether that involves talking to some of the tops of the health services groups across Canada and in her own province or whether that be running programmes and resources for some of the staff and the emergency rooms. Other than focussing on the fundamental changes in the health care systems, Maddison is equally keen to advocate for youth to find their voices in their own health care systems.
“I find that it can be really hard as a youth to understand what’s happening all around you when you are ill. I want my HUGS project to be a platform to help other children both find their voice and ignite their spark.”
The Impact of COVID-19 and Socially Distanced Hugs
With everyone around the globe feeling the impact of the pandemic we were keen to know how Maddison has experienced this past year and what impact Covid 19 has had on her HUG parties – after all hugs aren’t the most socially distanced way of engaging with one another.
“Covid actually had a huge impact on my mission at HUGS. I really had to get creative with my HUG parties. We started to put on online magic shows and virtual bingo parties. One of our favourite events was bringing in 17 Disney princesses to put on a parade outside one of the hospitals so that the kids could look out the window and play Tic-Tac-Toe with them from the comfort and the safety of their own hospital rooms.”
Maddison and her team also provided support for children and their loved ones during the pandemic. Among other things, they provided meals for families staying in hospitals and who didn’t really have time to cook after coming home from stressful days. Overwhelmingly, the feedback on socially distanced HUG initiatives has been extremely positive with some of Maddison’s interventions proving even more popular than the traditional ones: In addition to giving out HUG scarfs, Maddison started sending out pre-recorded videos to provide children with supportive messages.
“We were able to record Zoom calls so that the kids could continue receiving some encouraging messages and simply re-watch them any time they needed. So, it was kind of like a constant HUG when they needed to have it, even though it wasn’t a physical hug. A HUG is an embrace that brings love, comfort, and connection. They come in many forms. The pandemic made us find new ways to reach out to each other.”
Maddison as Author & Future Ventures
Since receiving the Diana Award, Maddison’s HUGS project has evolved into a successful social venture. An established fixture in her hometown, Maddison is now ready to expand HUGS to a national youth-driven social enterprise, with a focus on not only providing quality of life programmes, but also helping children amplify their voices and care needs through advocacy and education programmes supporting health care staff and families. We at The Diana Award are proud to learn that participating in our Development programme has really given Maddison a boost in pushing forwards:
“The Diana Award really helped me to find my passion. I keep thinking about Princess Diana’s words of young people having the power to change the world. This and learning about stories of past award recipients, really inspired me to push forward with some of my advocating work and I decided that I wanted my next HUGS project to be a platform to help other children both find their voice and ignite their spark.”
Maddison has recently published children’s empowerment book aiming to inspire and challenge children to discover their passions.
Maddison’s ambition to advocate for children’s rights and a strengthening of their voice being heard has also sparked a new professional ambition in her life: In her recently published children’s empowerment book “Your Secret Superpower ignite your SPARK”, she aims to inspire and challenge children to discover their passions and really use it to make the world a better place.
“This was an idea that was sparked after hearing all the different stories from children I was working with. I couldn’t even fathom that there were so many different issues that youth were taking on and so many ways that they were going about creating change. The book is a children’s picture book showing the many ways that children use their passions and favourite activities to make a difference in the world.”
We at The Diana Award are incredibly proud of Maddison and we look forward to accompanying her in her future mission and are keen to support her in becoming one of the world’s true global leaders and a role model for her generation!
“To me the Diana Award has truly become a family. They are a constant driving force of support, acknowledgement, and resources. It has helped me grow as a person and as a leader. Princess Diana to me is a symbol of humanity driven by her passion for human connection. I am absolutely honoured to be connected to such a beautiful person and legacy and I will work hard to uphold her values and make the Diana Award proud.”
To learn more about Maddison and her story visit her website.