Blue hearts are a tradition within the Cultural Care community. Kids First has a custom of quietly leaving small ceramic blue hearts in places we visit when we help children in need. Our blue hearts have been left on playgrounds, on windowsills, in gardens, and on toy shelves.
These blue hearts are a way to make a wish and add an intention for these children in need—and a chance to leave a piece of ourselves with them.
The concept of these little blue hearts extends far beyond Cultural Care’s philanthropic efforts, however—we see the same empathy, understanding, and compassion in the everyday stories of our au pairs and host families as well.
That’s why Cultural Care Kids First Foundation is honored to create the Blue Heart Award to recognize individuals who give so selflessly of themselves for the benefit of children.
The Blue Heart Award will be presented to au pairs who have provided extraordinary, compassionate care in the face of extreme adversity. By going above and beyond expectations during a difficult period, giving love and care for the members of their host family, award winners display a big heart and are truly deserving of this honor.
Cultural Care is thrilled to recognize Brazilian au pair Izabela Cruz as the first recipient of this prestigious award, for her “extraordinary and unimaginable” support of the Lill family of Mercer Island, Washington during one of the hardest times of their lives.
Their story is a remarkable one—and more than anything, a true testament to Izabela’s generosity of spirit and kind-heartedness.
“When we welcome an au pair into our home, our greatest hope is that they will love our children beyond words and hold their hands in times of need,” says Izabela’s host mom, Jenny. “An extraordinary au pair walks hand-in-hand across streets, through parks and en route to schools; they hold a child’s hand through life.
An unimaginable au pair holds a child’s hand through death.”
Izabela joined the Lill family in June 2017, knowing their youngest son, Ewan, was in ongoing treatment for leukemia. His cancer was in remission, his hair was growing back and he wore a smile that won her over. It was a big step for Izabela to match with them. After all, they were a family with four children and Ewan was going to need extra handholding—but she was willing.
According to the Lills, “Brazilian warmth shined through Izabela” as she eagerly gave Ewan the special love and care he needed.
And their time together wasn’t all sickness. Over winter break 2017, Izabela and the family laughed tirelessly while on rides at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Disney World. Everyone agreed that it was the best vacation ever. Things were going so well, Izabela extended with the Lill family for another year!
January 2018 stopped them in their tracks when Ewan’s cancer came back. Izabela sat with him when he was too tired from chemo to go to school and during times when he was so sick he threw up repeatedly into his grey buckets. But even then Izabela and Ewan didn’t stop having fun. They continued to do puzzles, play games and be goofy during his 88 days in the hospital and brief spells at home.
“I didn’t know how much fun they had until after Ewan died,” says Jenny.
Ewan passed away on May 7, 2018. A month later, Izabela shared with Jenny and the whole family all the videos and photos she had taken with him.
Videos of sword fighting and hula-hooping. Videos of her teaching him Portuguese while he wore beards made out of bubbles in the bathtub. Videos of him licking brownie batter off spoons and tossing fallen leaves in the air with his best friend while both of them laughed. Hundreds of videos and photos of him being silly, smiling, sleeping and reading. Hundreds of moments of joy his family didn’t know he experienced.
“Ewan was an easy eight-year-old to love,” reflects Jenny. “He did everything right and received the best medical treatment available. There was nothing easy about watching cancer take him away. But this story isn’t about Ewan. It’s about Izabela’s willingness to be present and participate in our family’s most painful time.”
Jenny continues: “Izabela is part of our family. She fortified the home front and made sure our other three children—Torin, Wesley and Elena—had lunches and got to school. She was there for them when they came home. She made their dinners and folded their laundry, as they scraped by with a sick brother in the hospital.”
Izabela helped keep the Lill family’s lives and activities normal. And she was there for Jenny, too—to give her a hug or a cup of tea when she came home on breaks from the hospital. She often sat, unwavering, by Ewan’s side. She held all of their hands through his death.
“Caring for a dying child is excruciating; it’s a true act of love,” says Jenny. “Izabela still holds our hands. She grieves with us. She is a family member who has lost a child.”
The Lill family knows that, like Ewan, Izabela will always be with them. She is part of their hearts forever—an extraordinary au pair who loves her host children and parents fiercely.
“I didn’t know Ewan knew how to say, ‘I love you’ in Portuguese,” says Jenny. “But thanks to Izabela, he did. He knew more love than we, his parents, knew he knew—thanks to her.
She loved him beyond words and held his hand in his time of greatest need. For that, I will always say, ‘Izabela, eu te amo.’”
Jenny’s beautiful words about Izabela—and the impact she had on their lives—have deeply moved and inspired us. We hope they inspire you, too.
Izabela will receive a certificate acknowledging the award. In addition, a donation of $1,000 USD will be made from the Cultural Care Kids First Foundation in her honor to an organization in her home country that supports children in need. As a tribute to the joy that reading brought Ewan, Izabela has decided to use the money to purchase books for a library for underserved children in Brazil.
Congratulations again to Izabela! We’re infinitely proud to call you a member of the Cultural Care Au Pair community.