As a father of three, grandfather to eight and great-grandfather to two, Louis Mapp has been rocking babies for much of his life — and he has no plans of stopping any time soon.
Since early last year, Mapp has been helping to feed and cuddle babies at USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Mobile, Alabama, after seeing a story on a local television about the nurses and volunteers at the NICU. The story inspired Mapp to lend a helping hand (or in his case, two of them) to relieve some of the many duties that befall the hospital’s hard-working staff.
“I’m 81 years old,” Mapp tells PEOPLE, “and one of the neatest things I’ve ever done is being around those precious babies, and the nurses that take care of them.”
At least once a week over the course of a year and a half, Mapp has made the 45-minute drive from his home in Fairhope to Mobile to visit the infants — and he says he’s ready to make the trip any day of the week if the nurses need his help.
“When you walk in there, it’s hard to describe it if you’ve never been in a NICU, to see them in there and see how some are so small,” he says. “Being able to hold them, and see them smile at you, I get a lot of satisfaction out of it.”
As he holds the newborns, Mapp says he often finds himself dreaming about who they will one day become.
“I’m sitting there, holding these precious little babies, and in my mind, I think, ‘What are they gonna be when they grow up?’ ” he says. “I just imagine all kinds of things.”
To give these infants even more of a fighting chance, Mapp and his wife of 59 years, Melinda, have given the hospital an endowment of $1 million through the Mapp Family Foundation. It will be a steady source of funds for the nurses and doctors to buy equipment and other things that may not fit into their budget. Because he has seen firsthand what the staff handles day-to-day, Mapp says they will be the ones to decide what to spend the money on.
“After being there and seeing what a special place it is, and what an impact they have on people’s lives, my wife and I decided we wanted to do something for them,” Mapp says. “We have been blessed, and we said, ‘What a good place, to share some of those blessings, with the NICU.’ And the endowment will be there, long after we’re gone, to keep providing funds for them.”
One of the first things the money will be used for is to purchase special beds for the babies who weigh less than a pound, WKRG reports.
Through his foundation, Mapp — a native of Mississippi — has given out some 600 grants that have helped free clinics, drug rehab programs and food banks.
“When you get my age, I’m 81, every day, I ask the Lord, ‘Show me, somebody, where I can help them,’ ” he says. “It may not be financially, it may be giving them a ride, or making a phone call, but I figure, while I’m here on earth, I need to do everything I can to help others.”