After her youngest sister, Lila, was born a micro-preemie in 2010, Madeline Pennino experienced first-hand the struggles families face. The experience inspired Madeline to form a club at Wilton High School called One Pound of Inspiration.

“After baby Lila arrived, I was very interested in the topic of prematurity,” said Pennino, a rising Wilton High School junior, adding that her sister is now “a beautiful almost-8-year-old girl who loves ballet, golf and art.”

A year after Lila was born, Madeline participated in the March of Dimes walk and said it “opened [her] eyes as to how many families were affected by premature birth.”

For her English class freshman year, Madeline said, she was tasked with finding an issue she was passionate about, relating it to the Antigone play and finding a solution to the issue.

“This jump-started my idea to start a club to raise awareness and money for preemies in honor of my sister,” she said.

The One Pound of Inspiration Club first met on one of the last days of school last year, said Madeline, who “got a few friends” and “possibly interested people” to hear her ideas for the club.

“This year, we've had an average of two meetings before school per month, discussing setting dates for bake sales, in school and out, fund-raising ideas, ideas for the future and signing up for the March of Dimes this past May,” said Madeline.

“My father also came in to speak about our experience, and more specifically, his and my mom’s with Lila in the hospital.”

Madeline also had one of the retired nurses from the Yale New Haven Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where her sister spent 97 days as an infant, speak to club members about the “difficulty and fragility of the job.”

“I also had a Thanksgiving meeting, where we read poems from a preemie book I was given by the retired nurse, and basically gave thanks for our health, others’ health, and the hope for continuous health for ourselves and our future children,” said Madeline.

The club has about 20 members, said Madeline, and raised $600 from bake sales and $720 through online fund-raising for March of Dimes this year.

“I created a team page around March, got the word out to members and their parents about the field trip to the March of Dimes walk-a-thon [and] handed out permission slips,” said Madeline.

“Before we knew it, my parents, adviser, family friend and eight other members from the club were off to the walk-a-thon.”

Madeline said they “loved the experience” and she plans to make it an annual event for the club. As for next year, Madeline said, looks forward to raising money “not only for the March of Dimes,” but also for Yale New Haven’s NICU.

“The money will go directly towards buying mattresses, sound machines, equipment, diapers and so on for their specific NICU,” she said.

Madeline said she would love to eventually create an outreach program to help local families.

“This would include maybe offering babysitting services for their other children so the parents can visit their babies in the hospitals,” she said, “and creating a volunteer meal plan, as these were enormous helps and comforts for my parents throughout their three month travels back and forth to the hospital.”