After losing their mothers to cancer, Maxine Aquilina and Angie Amato set up The Jays of Sunshine, an organisation that helps children facing illnesses achieve their dreams.
Kind of puts everything into perspective. Listen up and help out. Help them succeed.
Full transcript of the podcast below:
Monique: Welcome to the woman behind with me, Monique chambers and my guests this week are two they are Jays of sunshine.
Hello. So we have Maxine Aquilina, seen you on stage. [Laughs] and Angie Amato as well. Welcome.
Maxine & Angie: Thank you for having us.
Monique: Would you like to tell us what Jays of sunshine is all about?
Maxine: Yes. Jays of sunshine is a new organization we’ve set up maybe a month ago. A dream of both of ours we had for a very long time. It’s basically an organization whereby we go to the rainbow ward at Mater dei.
Monique: What’s the rainbow ward at Mater dei ?
Maxine: The rainbow ward is a ward for children. It’s actually at the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology clinic. Okay. So it has children and young people who are undergoing treatment for cancer and all sorts of medical reasons. But the main one we get to see are cancer patients and we weekly and we play or sing or autographs and play outside or puzzles or whatever, the child who’s there the day that we arrive nd we also at the moment took an initiative and has something nice from our end, we’ve given up wish lists.
Maxine: So every patient in there at the moment has been given a wish list where they write they want a singing Father Christmas which one little boy said he wanted or from that all the way to a new MacBook. So there’s all sorts of different things and also experiences like we would like to watch events or we would like to drive a sports car, so whatever they would like to do we get done.
Monique: Fantastic ! So you’re doing that from this Christmas, it’s the first time obviously.
Maxine : It’s not even Christmas day, it’s a coincidence because we opened now and we started working with Brianna and and Jeff from Puttinu Cares this month. It was actually Angie’s idea to just do something to distract them really something to look forward to, something to think about other than treatments being in the hospital and the worry and whatever.
Monique: And giving those folks a break as well like going ahead and being able to entertain, use your skills and talent. So what sort of people are you able to convince to give you gifts, people being generous so far ?
People has been very generous. And the donations that have received has been honestly very overwhelming and incredible. So far we have managed to do everything on the wish list.
Obviously there are more patients every day sadly enough or every other week. And we have another one and we’ll get an email saying, Oh, this this boy who’s this age and wants this and we’re like, okay, quick where we’re going to get 1100 from. But I have to say Angie is right. It’s really been great. It’s been amazing.
Monique: And so if you you’re literally just sort of going door to door or you’re calling people you know, how are you actually able to.
Angie: Well we’re lucky, both Maxine and I think we know quite a lot of people who are willing to help as well. Literally we just get whatever is on the wish list. And I’m like Okay, Max I’m going to buy
I have a free hour I’m just gonna go on. No, no, I’m gonna go I’m gonna go
honestly. And I’m just like, okay, let’s go go go.
We literally got an email at three o’clock and by 25 past three, she had already bought a present
Monique: Fantastic !
Angie: Its a bit hard with an actual full time jobs but somehow, we are
coping, we are managing and we are gonna keep on managing it. Monique: So what do you do Maxine ?
Maxine: Yes, I work full time at stagecoach on the FM data production. So to say the least at the moment, it’s really flat out. And we had a London trip with the kids recently, and the pantomime coming up and all sorts of things. So I was very overwhelmed in the beginning because obviously before we actually set up, there was a lot of logo creating, filtering, video making and kind of PR and this and that. And I was like I’m going to juggle my two full time jobs. And then this one is. But I’m really lucky because Angie gets everything done and she’s completely organized. And I’d be like, did we do this? Yes, we did. I did it yesterday. Okay, great. And I do I have this? Yep. I’m on it
Monique: So what’s your proper job
Angie: I’m self employed nanny so I’m always on the go so even if it’s between clients and whatever, I find some time to organize ourselves. But yes, always running around dealing with children all day.
It’s fun. It’s been good. I can’t complain so far with the sponsorships that we’ve been given. And the general public being just interested and very supportive.
Monique: So how would people able to donate to you? How do they know what’s on the wish list? How do we get money to you?
Angie: So at the moment, people are just offering any donations between five euro to 500 euro with all sorts of things. And we have a Facebook page Jays of sunshine. And to be fair, we haven’t even had to reach out and say we have to buy a BMW bike for a little boy, can you please help us ? We’ve had enough funds to actually just go and do it. So the minute we run out of money, obviously we’re gonna go, O o help us.
That boy wants to do a picnic. We arrange party of some sort to kind of raise money. But so far, so good. So touch wood we carry on. Maybe it’s not just the Christmas period making everybody really generous.
Monique: It could be the other way actually. Because Christmas everyone has so many other things to do.
Maxine: People are just fantastic. People are amzing. And we are very, very blessed in that respect. And I think the little updates that we put on Facebook with the permission obviously of the families of children who are happy to be on Facebook gives the people a bit of insight into what we’re actually doing. You read an article, oh, these guys are doing this. But okay, where’s the proof? I mean obviously, Angie being the actual Angel, she has all the receipts and all the books. And if anyone had to just walk in and be like, Okay, let me see just everything written down to the last two cents.
But it’s mainly through social media that we can show what we’re doing. And not for everyone, obviously, because there are some cases because there are some parents who are like no I don’t want or to some young people who have social media themselves and their
friends don’t know, things like that. So there’s a lot of that happening. But the few that we can show were very happy to show.
Monique: And through the Facebook page as well. People can do donation ?
Maxine: Yes, at the moment, we’re in the process of actually opening up an official organization with the bank account but as you know, these things take time.
I say, the nicest possible way. And so at the moment, we have a revenue account and Angie’s personal account which the money is going to, but again we keep on the record, yes, everything’s documented. So no one can come and flag something up but we can’t accept at this stage any corporate donations just yet so no big big big ones just these litte ones for now. But hopefully, in the future when we’re open officially we can accept big ones. So everyone donate to us big people, keep your cheque book open.
Monique: Lots of things get into these companies straightaway after Christmas.
Angie: The thing something that we started and thought, okay, we can do this, this, this, this and this. And then we suddenly realized everybody wants a happy Christmas, there’s so many parties at the rainbow ward. There’s so many events, and so many presents and so many this. So we thought, okay, let’s take a step back. And let all these ideas that we’ve just written down happen in March, people forget yes, everyone goes back to their normal life. And that’s it. Yeah, still, we’re gonna keep it. I’m gonna go there every week.
Monique: So just the two of you doing the entertaining as well so far, managed to rope in anyone else ?
Angie: We’ve had a lot of people approaching us and saying that love to help out and volunteer. So Maxine and I are going to organize kind of little event to for basically anyone who’s interested in volunteering,
they can come, okay, will speak to them, explain what we’re doing, how it works, what you need to do, what you can’t do and then we have an application form for anyone who likes to volunteer after they listen to us, and they say yes and they see what we actually want to do and then fill an application form and hopefully we’ll build a team.
Maxine: Yes, we kind of went on the stream and was like, Okay, let’s open let’s do this, this and the other and then didn’t realize just how big this is getting. We just woke up and we had over 1600 followers and donations, and I mean, all the rest of the human emotion and I kind of everything that has happened along the way just really overwhelmed. And then we have to sit down. And in fact, our current right man is doing our PR. And so she was like, you have to grow and this is growing, and you have to grow with it. So you need to think volunteers, you need to think how does this stand without us two in it?
Maxine: So I think that would obviously in the future put the pressure off us so if Angie is abroad it’s not just myself. So yes, and Angie said why don’t we do an event whereby we have a kind of informal meeting about what we want to do and what we do and to recruit volunteers.
Monique: Yes it’s not only making sure that they have the skills to do it. But also it can’t be easy to go into a children’s hospital.
Angie: Yes I don’t think people actually realize I mean, to be fair, I didn’t realize myself and seeing my mom go through hair cancer and losing hair was horrible. But then when you see it on children, it’s totally different. You see these young people, they haven’t lived their lives and they’re going through what they’re going through. And I don’t think people actually understand that it takes a lot of strength to be around these people. So I think that’s why I think we need this sort of meeting to kind of inform people how it is and because it’s not just
going into hospital and playing with any kind of person. You know what i mean? It takes a lot, it takes a lot, It’s taken a lot out of me so far.
Monique: You seem being able to look the kids in the eye and sort of not well up I suppose, be able to do the job that you’re trying to do there.
Angie: I went to give a present to one of the boys and we write a little personal note to each child when we give them the present and his mom told me read it out. He started reading it, and suddenly she just burst out crying, he burst out crying, and I’m there setting up his Nintendo. And I’m like Nope, nope. Don’t cry. Hold in, Hold in.
Maxine: But I think it’s fine and it’s also important to show the families that we are human and we’ve gone through not the same thing with similar because I did lose my mother to cancer last year. So that’s kind of our bond. Like, as friends, we were best friends before. But then this happened to both of us at different times and that kind of went, it doesn’t, that’s where the whole Jays of sunshine came. We can go we can talk about in detail if you wish after, but it is well to even to just tell anyone who’s willing to volunteer that it’s okay. If it’s not for you. It’s a voluntary thing. You really have to want to do it and have to be able to do it and I’ve had people going I cannot absolutely help you by being there but I would love to give you donations.
Monique: Yes use their car, use their garage storage use whatever people are gonna be able to do something
Angie: And make cake,its great. I have a lovely guy who’s making a lovely cake for us just aound this Christmas so definitely welcome and even for the parents may be having a cup of coffee in hospital.
Yeah, it takes a lot.
Maxine : And Angie said it very well. It’s suddenly a whole different ball game when it’s a child.
Monique: But on the other hand, that probably makes you feel complete responsible to it, that it’s not a fad. It’s not a whim. It’s not something to help you with your own grief, it’s actually something that you now know, is really needed. And the more people you can get in the better
Angie: Yeah, and I think what these children really need is time, they just need people, they’re in the hospital just doing treatment, sometimes five days.
Yeah, I mean, they stay there five days straight now. I mean, I don’t like going in for a day, let alone, for an appointment, let alone, going there having to do the treatment. So really and truly, it’s lovely people go in now Christmas time, and they’re like, yes, yes, yes, I’m going to go and get them presents. And we’re going to throw a party for them. And then the rest of the year you forget all about them.
Angie: And so I think more than presence and things. People need to give their time to these children, which is what we’re trying and working towards yeah.
Monique: So you go in, you sort of have sort of chats and you do performances, that’s what your typical visit is ?
Maxine: I was with a boy called Kane and he’s three and he loves animals. And my brain went to Okay, I work at stagecoach and stage which have classes for parents and baby and they’re called many stages and they have puppets. I thought I could bring the mini stage puppets and the music just so the rainbow ward on a Wednesday morning and spend an hour singing with him and that’s exactly what I did and I told him the week before that i was going to bring a crocodile i was going to bring an elephant i was going to bring a lion and he was like Woah ! I was imagining myself walking with a jungle, and it was a lovely moment. And in fact, in an interview, I said, it was probably a highlight so far where I put my head into his room, his
sister on his bed and his mom. And she was desperately trying to get him drink this medicine or whatever it was, and his eyes just lit up like this. And his mom said, you see I told you she’d come and I said, I’ll come next Wednesday I’ll be here and he had been asking for Monday but he didn’t get the concept of Wednesday then I was like I’ll be here next Wednesday and I went and obviously Wednesday’s my morning off. And that’s why I said Wednesday I’m going to be there, and it was so lovely. We just spent an hour singing and repeating sounds like Row, row, row, your boat, the crocodile, and he just I mean, to the point why try and leave? No, no. Five more minutes. Five more minutes. I was like oohh, Okay, good.
It’s really lovely. And even for the parents. Actually, I’m like I’m just gonna go have a cup of tea
Monique: It looks it gives them a bit of space, like he’s happy for a minute. He’s been looked after. That’s it .
And Engjoying, he’s not just being looked after but he’s like actually enjoying himself.
Maxine: And he’s distracted. And the nurses come in, and they’re prodding and poking. And they’re doing this and he hasn’t even realized, and then he, he needed to take something through syringe into his mouth, and he didn’t want anyone to do it but me and I was like, oh, wow, okay, created some sort of bond here with him. So even if I just made him smile for five minutes, that’s enough. Yeah, especially the older ones , I mean they’re a little more difficult because you can be a child and sit on the floor for a three year old but what would you do for a thirty year old.
They know as well, they understand what’s going on, what they’re going through, that’s a bit harder but i made them smile on Friday.
Monique: What presents did you deliver this weekend ?
Angie: We delivered a police motorbike, battery operated one for a six year old who had been asking for it for three or four months according
to his parents. And we delivered two mac books, old ones to two 13 year olds.
One of them is just incredibly clever and studies sciences and looking to go into medicine and other one is IT and I was like oh that’s why you wanted this computer then.
They were really happy, really happy with it which was amazing. And even just the messages that their parents send us off this just like, Okay, this, this is exactly what why we’re here. We want to do something, it’s really giving, it’s really helping.
Monique: Yes, coz it’s not just money because money is kind of easy to give, you’re giving your time on a regular basis and running around and being thoughtful enough to actually write a note it’s quite something, I don’t know of any other charity organization that does that kind of thing.
Maxine: That’s the difference exactly that we get to know and we want to know what they like what they don’t like. And for example, lovely girl Nirvana was undergoing treatment at the moment. We had a surprise party for her confirmation. And we’ve got to know that she likes graphics design. So Angie went and bought all these and then if you’ve seen them very cool, like coloring books, but for adults other is just sort of meditation mindfulness, isn’t it? Yeah. And then, like, these really cool patterns she got all these really cool colors. And so it’s a personal touch. It’s not just has a scarf it’s, we know that you love doing this. And I think that’s the nicer thing to get to know them to get to know what they like and don’t like.
It’s not because it’s Christmas if you come and go. I mean, if you come into the hospital much.
Monique: So what made you come up with the idea in the first place ?
Maxine: I have to say, I didn’t come up with anything. I had worked with a lovely woman called Lou Chia who runs, it was an ethical giggles, which I worked at, that’s how Angie and I actually became best friends just worked in this nursery, and this is going back 2009 is
now closed. And she runs first steps, which is a huge nursery. And I learned I have to say, and I always say it, I learned everything I know about kids, and especially kind of babies from her which is incredible. And at the same time, she was 25 and she opened her own business. And she used to work at the rainbow ward which was back then in Marta dei. And she said, I go and volunteer. And I just I want to do that, I’ve always wanted to be in some sort of charity and especially with kids. So we still go every week or twice a week if we could. And I thought I love that heartbreaking as was I loved it. But then I moved away from giggles and started working on stagecoaching career change that my masters and all sorts of things since then. And then in the meantime, Angie’s mom got sick and passed away and then my mom did too. It was so funny because both of us, me and Angie, and Angie was like I am not my living focus, you can’t say it that way. But I just don’t feel like you have a purpose. What’s my purpose and I was just Ok I need to do something, I need to do something today.
We started going to church together we started going to youth group together, we started to read mindful books. And just trying to fill obviously, when someone so close to you as a mother passes away, it’s like I said, feel that I still feel as if I have one of my limbs missing or have a big hole in my stomach. I don’t feel complete without them. So it’s not that this is filling that hole. But it’s a sense of, I need to give back if I have to pass away tomorrow, what have I done in this world and then both of us told each other the same thing. I said, you make a difference to families every single day you are working and looking after almost bringing up certain children and I think, that’s but it’s a deeper one. And then she would say the same said, You inspire kids. And you teach them all the time. And you give them confidence and I was thinking it’s stupid. So what’s missing? What’s missing? And then one day we just decided and we said okay, this is what we’re going to do. That was last year, literally a year ago. And we found it today. We just kind of dropped it.
Angie: I couldn’t.
Maxine: I wasn’t, you weren’t probably able to. I had my fair lady and her mama mia. And then I went away for a month because actually I broke my body broke. And I think I needed rest and I hadn’t really dealt with my mother passing away cuz that was in September and I went straight into work and life, trips and then shows and all sorts of things. And I told myself, okay fix your heart, fix your head and then it just bubbled up again. And it didn’t go anywhere.
And then I kind of tend to hold back a bit until i need a kick in the bump.
Angie: And I gave her that kick. [Laughs]
Maxine: And now our dear friend Lippo who set up our meeting at the rainbow ward with Andriana and Brannie and I was like I know nothing, we don’t have a logo, nothing to show them, i have no plans, I don’t know what’s going to happen and she was like, Maxine, we have everything and shut up .
So I kind of walked in. And I was like, Thank God
They were just so welcoming, and they just looked at us. And they said, Go for it. Whatever you want to do. Just do it.
Angie: Sometimes you make 101 excuses because you’re scared of yourself more than of what there is ahead. So I wasn’t scared of anything already saying Oh, sorry. Okay, fine. Thank you very much. Goodbye. I think I was just scared of whether am I going to be able to do this? Is this going to be something that’s going to work and within 20 minutes we had already planned the party for ago. So we’re like Okay this is working.
Monique: And with fire in your belly once you got that you know it’s not going to go around .
Angie: No it didn’t. I mean if you think about that, that was 10 years ago when i first walked into the ward. Exciting.
Monique: So next year, you’re hoping to get this little gang together of extra trainees, entertainers and team and whatever you’re looking for anything else in particular, as an organization yourself? Do you need any new premises ? vehicles? Obviously volunteers do all sorts of things. But is there something else that is like if we only have that it would make things really easy for us?
Maxine: At the moment I don’t really think so. If we could, we would have asked to have another eight hours a day. Just extend the day, that would be amazing. No, I think like we said if we can grow in numbers and build a team it wouldn’t all fall on Angie per say to go and shop or it wouldn’t , and maybe somebody would offer I can go pick that up and we would be like oh amazing.
Maxine: I mean, obviously, it’s something we just going on along with. So recently, I got in touch with juniors and they very kindly gave me one of the toys, I just have to go pick it up which was amazing. And I think what we would be looking for, if any of the listeners out there could help, would be sponsorship from like I don’t want to mention anyone in particular, in this day and age kids want iPads and iPhones and IMAX and technology. And it’s not a coloring book anymore. And I would like the new iPad in gold.
And you’re like ooh that’s expensive. So I mean, recently on Friday, we spent I put it on the Facebook page over 3000 I can’t remember the exact amount just in one day because of these three presents that we bought. And that’s fine. But I am always so fearful of Oh God what happens when they stop donating.
Monique: I don’t think people are going to.
Angie: I hope so, but there is a sort of fear. Monique: You can’t say No, ofcourse
Angie: Then that’s the thing. I mean, people approaching us and they have what you have to put a limit on these wish list. But this is the point we don’t want to put a limit
If somene says I want go to Disneyland Paris. I’ll say I’m going to take you there. I’m gonna do my best if it means in a year. I’m going to do my best to get you there.
Monique: Some people want a singing Santa. Maxine: Which Believe it or not I cannot find. Monique: It’s a doll not a real Santa. You dress up [Laughs]
Monique: I know I’ve seen a toy. It’s an almost live site. It will bring a smile to his face.
There’s a Santa there in the shop and he just makes me laugh. So just take a video for him maybe.
Maxine: We couldn’t find one but one of my acting friends is going to come and dress up as wanted to sing for him.[Laughs] Monique: Perfect !
Angie: But yes, I think our next step would be to try and find some sort of sponsorship that can help us with technology which would be very helpful.
Monique: That’s what kids like. It’s not like they’re asking for anything out of the ordinary.
Angie: Thing is when they asked the rainbow ward itself, they have so many amazing things like puzzles and games and autographs and things. So if they are there, they don’t need to bring anything there’s
everything. So people are offering donation of toys and things and I sent you do have to be a little careful. I mean, yes you can watch something that a million times but still.
Yes, that you need to take to the ward that stuff as wonderful as these kind of half used toys and clothes and things we don’t really need that it’s more the specific items on this list.
Maxine: And a lot are technology and that’s the most expensive and most difficult ones to get.
Monique: Okay, so we’ll see.
We’ll see what we can do. Pull some heartstrings.
Angie: Just go on our page and just realize what we’re doing. See the families are reaching out to and the kids were meeting and the fight that they are fighting every single day and if that just means you giving us even 50% off of your computers my goodness what a difference it would make to so many people for so long. It’s not just something that will go they would keep it for ages.
Monique: It’s a computer at the end of the day or something it’s really making a difference to the quality of life.
Maxine: Especially the older ones who are studying then that’s cool. And when I asked what you’re going to use it for both the young people we met on Friday. No I have exams and I’m studying
And I thought he was going to say like I’m going to use Photoshop and I’m going to go Facebook and watch Netflix on my new laptop instead of saying like I’m going to study. I was like oh.
Monique: That kind of puts you to really kind of shame. [Laughs] To say it really makes you believe in their spirit, you know how strong they are. I don’t know they’re going through and they’re still determined like oh yeah this is over I’m going to be passing exams and I’m going to be fine.
Angie: They are in the middle at the moment and how did you catch up because my friends wrote all my notes for whole two months and the teachers gave me everything and I’m just catching up.
Maxine: Yeah but I think when you’re so funny we went through that I mean I did a masters and Angie went through her life she she began she was the pillar now of her family with her brother and her father who suffered a stroke five years ago no longer sorry oh my gosh I’m stuck in the post. It was almost 10 years ago I mean he’s great and his up and they just all fighters like this you can tell but being there with the lady now she’s the woman of the house and I used to look at her and I think the I mean I remember the her mother’s funeral she didn’t didn’t cry and she looked beautiful and she wore white and turquoise and I I still was where’d you get the strength from and to she was that my party a month before mom passed away and I was just looking at her like I could never do that I could absolutely never do that and then I got hit in the face with it and three years later. And then people tell me the same thing that I’v heard myself.
Monique: To really dig and find it as a child is the younger children don’t really understand I guess but then like says the teenagers may understand what’s going on.
Maxine: But you do have an incredible way of fighting and and carrying on so I think that’s the actual thing that keeps you going
Monique: And that’s why I’ve just realized something Jays of sunshine yes why Jays ?
Angie: I came up with that. [Laughs] Basically Maxine’s mother is Jackie know and my mom was Juliet. When we’re discussing this a year ago and so we’re ok so what are we gonna be called and I said well I’d like to keep, Jay in there
somewhere, would like to be ray of sunshine. And my exactwords in fact, that voice note that we have and saved are i would love us to be a ray of sunshine in a very cloudy day for, some families and children. I’m thinking maybe we can call ourselves rays of sunshine, or is that too long what do you think? And she said I like the rays of sunshine and I send me too this is a combination of whatsapp conversation that I’m showing with them to show it funny or dedicated to our Mamas The Jay because Jackie Aqualina and Juliet Amato so I was like oh my god. Ridiculous. She wrote the Jays of sunshine. And then we went kind of around the houses going, Okay, maybe what about this what about that, nothing more to say its just Jays of sunshine.
Maxine: Because literally, that’s all we want to be. If you think about a really cloudy day and you have one tiny little ray, just one that comes through the window or comes from whatever it is. That’s it. If we get that, that’s enough. That’s enough. Even if it’s this much.
Monique: I love clouds actually. [Laughs] Maxine: I absolutely love the winter and the rain but I mean when
you look at it the other way if the cloud dis on your head yeah.
Monique: It was a really nice story. Actually. It actually makes you smile when you think about it.
Maxine: And I think my personal link to it as well as I really liked that was walking into the rainbow. And there was a quote outside that said, life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain. And I was like, This is so amazing. I said for so many different things. And it was as we went into our meeting that I first saw because I hadn’t been to the rainbow meeting. And I just loved it. Because my mom was nuts. And the minute the first rain kept, she hated summer, the minute it rained for the first time, we would all be no worries and raincoats and just go out with the dogs and go for a walk dance in the rain. And so when she got diagnosed and she kept this kind of smile on her face that she kept working. And she made me go to my master’s degree and actually like you’re
absolutely not going, not not going. And I have to kind of push through and I thought, Okay, I got an I said that. That’s very nice. And I got the strength from somebody who was fighting her own battle which is quite amazing. But you learn how to dance in the rain. And I think us being able to do something after being gone through so much and so much heartbreaks I think it is the the dancing in the rain. Autism is the making of lemonade. You know, when life gives you lemons? Yes. And at least in this way we can share lemoande with other people that we are making.
Monique: Yeah, I think you’re doing an absolutely absolutely amazing thing.
Maxine & Angie: Thank you
Monique: Like seriously, high fives
We’re going to help you as much as we can. So that’s Maxine and Angie Jays of sunshine, Facebook page is Jays of sunshine, yes. Get on it now.
Angie: Please, please. [Laughs]