This article was originally published in our Winter 2013 Issue.
Having lived with a parent who struggled with post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), Fay Maddision is on a mission to help military and first responder families through her newly formed organization, Natasha’s Wood Foundation.
Named after Fay’s beloved child heroine Natasha, Fay’s foundation is set up to raise money to fund programs that support military families in the area of mental health.
She questions, “why do people ask for help when they are breaking? Doesn’t it build resilience (for the person) when you help someone before they break.” It is that pursuit; to have resources in place to help military families before they break that drives the military spouse.
Married to Vice Admiral Paul Maddison Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy for 26 years, Fay has lived the military life, following her husband through 11 postings while raising their two children Audrey, 23, and Brendan, 14.
A native of Australia, Fay has personally experienced the effects of mental illness while growing up. Her father, an Australian Second World War veteran struggled with PTSD. She knows firsthand what it’s like to “walk on egg shells,” so she didn’t disturb the false sense of peace in her home. She recalls her father’s angry outbursts and being aggressive toward her mom verbally and physically.
“My saving grace was theatre,” notes Fay who discovered it at 12. “There was this little theatre I went to and once I was on stage I found my voice again.” She shares that it was challenging living at home. She became quiet because “she didn’t want to upset her dad.”
“I was so shy at home because I didn’t want to speak out of turn and get him going.” The silence also carried on to school. “Once I discovered theatre it was like therapy,” she admits. After high school Fay kept active in the arts, but eventually left Australia to pursue employment opportunities in South Asia.
While living in Hong Kong Fay was introduced to Vice Admiral Maddison. The couple met in 1984 when Fay’s roommate set them up on a blind date while the vice admiral was on a port visit to the country. The couple hit it off and married in 1986.
Over the years Fay has faced the gamut of military challenges. Having arrived in England pregnant, Fay said goodbye to her husband as he went to sea with NATO, leaving Fay alone. When her daughter decided to make her entrance into the world Fay took a cab to the hospital. Fortunately, her husband was able to return to England to be with Fay when Audrey arrived.
It is the combination of her love of the arts, her own personal experience and her passion to assist military spouses which has motivated her to create a financially sustainable foundation that gives back to the community she loves and understands.
She explains during the writer’s strike in the United States five years ago she was inspired to write the Natasha’s Wood screenplay. Since then she has also crafted three first reader picture books: Twiglets First Birthday, A Pollen Fairy named Squirt and The Moon-Fairy. She is also in the throes of completing her first novel and has the first 200 pages completed. On top of writing she has also created a clothing line to complement the books and screenplay.
“We have not released the latter two books for public reading yet, because we are in discussions with a book publisher,” explains Fay. “Of course, as soon as we are through these very exciting discussions we will release the other two books.”
Fay says military families will relate to Natasha because it is real military life. The storyline depicts how Natasha and her family cope while her dad is away at sea. Natasha eventually seeks comfort from her loneliness in a beautiful, magical wood; hence Natasha’s Wood.
“This project is about family and women supporting other great women,” notes Fay. “Military families and their amazing little heroes, their children. Natasha’s Wood Foundation is about sustainability in giving back to those that wear the unseen uniform, the family and the children.”
Using her twitter account, @fairy_aware, and Facebook page to create a buzz about her story and foundation Fay currently has over 1,200 followers on twitter and has tweeted over 19,000 messages. Over the last few weeks her friends on the Natasha’s Wood Facebook page have been treated to excerpts from her novel. She has also experienced what she calls “fairy magic” from Britain, Canada and the United States where people are sending her fairy dolls, fairy replicas and fairy art.
“I believe that the fairy dolls made by a mother, Nina Bricker and her daughter Emily in Toronto, (the doll and fairy tapestry from the United Kingdom) are amazing,” shares Fay. “To have complete strangers as far away as the United Kingdom send the foundation gifts as a fundraiser, is a real testimony to those that are aware and support us in our mission to help others.”
She notes, “I think, a gift from a stranger in a distant country through noticing my little fairy tweet and Natasha’s Wood Foundation Facebook shows me that people in our allied countries are taking note of this very small “fairy” idea and growing into one big ball of fabulous fairy fun, all for our military families.” She plans to have the foundation assist military families in allied countries.
Joining her and serving on the foundation board of directors is Adrian Burns, a Royal Canadian Navy Honorary Captain and fellow military spouse Manuela Lacroix.
“I am proud to say I will be sitting on the foundation,” shares Adrian who brings a broad range of experience in business, broadcast journalism and the arts. Her resume includes having been a commissioner of the Canadian Radio and Television Communications Commission and the Copyright Board of Canada, a business broadcaster, vice chair of the National Arts Center and presently, board member of Shaw Communications and president of the real state company Western Limited.
Having moved a few times over the course of her career, Adrian has also experienced leaving her support network and the people she loves.
“A new community like Ottawa only welcomes you when they know you are making a commitment to stay and work for its betterment,” the Honorary Captain explains. “That is understandable but hard to accomplish when you are being a parent, learning a new job and dealing with loneliness.”
She adds, “Doing all of that and then having your husband or wife absent for their military duties over long periods of times is excruciating. I really care about how those families must suffer and the stress they must constantly endure.”
Manuela has also experienced many military moves after leaving her family in Germany in 1984 to be with her husband combat engineer Major Greg Lacroix, a former Canadian Forces Chief Warrant Officer. The couple married in 1983 and have a daughter.
“Having moved from coast to coast to coast, I understand the lifestyle and the situations that families are dealing with,” explains Manuela.
Manuela’s motivation for joining the foundation is to give back to military families. “Deriving from my past and present experiences, I want to ensure that they have all the support services they need,” she explains.
One of her goals is to encourage military families to ask for help; to let them know that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. “And to also teach people not to judge others by taking the time to get to know each other and to understand everyone’s unique qualities,” says Manuela.
Although the military community is relatively new to Adrian, having been made an Honorary Captain this past September she notes “you stand a lot taller when you are in this uniform.” As an Honorary Captain she has been assigned to Navy personnel enhancing their lives she feels she can do that by working with the Natasha’s Wood Foundation.
When it comes to the foundation and helping military families and first responders Adrian says it’s simple. “In terms of the families I think it is awareness and support and the support would be morale and financial,” says Adrian.
Noting her role in the foundation Adrian explains, “military families are about relationships and the success of a foundation to help military families is no less about relationships. I intend to further those for the betterment of the foundation.”
For Manuela, she sees the foundation making a difference for young military spouses with the offering of support and services for their unique situations, especially with regard to mental health. Also her experience in accounting, business, and governance will be a great asset for the foundation.
We want “to ensure that they are not alone,” she explains. “That might mean we are innovative, moving forward and thinking outside the box on what we can do for the families.”
Manuela says her biggest challenge, as a military spouse, was dealing with her husband being away and not having family around. However, she admits, “with every challenge comes new opportunities. I really believe I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the opportunities I have had through my husband’s career, which has been a wonderful experience.”
To overcome the lack of family assistance at each posting, Manuela created a strong support network consisting of military spouses and the community she resided in that included ties to the local Military Family Resource Centres where she was a director on the board. She stresses the importance for military families to come forward and ask for support and to understand that asking for assistance is a strength and not a weakness.
And that is one of the messages Fay is hoping to send with the creation of the Natasha’s Wood brand. She is also hoping to create awareness about military families and what they endure while their loved one is away to those who live outside of the military community. She refers to the movie A Beautiful Mind and how it educated people about mental illness.
To engage youth, the foundation is seeking children’s artwork for the first in a series of three first reader picture books. Manuela was instrumental in launching the Natasha’s Wood art contest in September 2011. She introduced Fay and the Natasha’s Wood project to the National Capital Military Family Resource Centre (NCMFRC) which jumped on board to assist the foundation in promoting the contest. At the time Manuela was the board chair at the NCMFRC.
Gratefully, Fay notes the foundation recently received permission from the Yellow Ribbon Campaign to use the trademarked ribbon. Once the first reader picture books are published, the Yellow Ribbon Campaign will receive all the profits from the books, minus production costs.
“For the first three children’s books, not a cent will come through my hands or the foundation. All the money will be given to the Yellow Ribbon office and they will gift it to help moms with young children. We will also help youth projects that work with military families,” explains Fay who would like to see an arts program available to military children to channel their feelings.
Along with having the wisdom of Adrian and Manuela by her side, Fay is eternally grateful for the support of Maureen Boyd, Admiral Jennifer Bennett, Fred and Nali George, Caroline Neasmith, fairy doll makers and artists Nina and Emily Bricker. She would also like to thank CWO Ralph Mercer, Rick Austin, Shelley and Rachael Butler, Caterina Perry and all of her wonderful MFRC Europe team; Irene Fox and Rhiannon Fox for the fairy tapestry, professional fairy-doll maker Mamta Mertner, Petty Officer (ret) Richard Austin, Greg Kane, Porter Airlines and SHAW for their support.
For more information, please visit Natasha’s Wood Foundation.
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