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Moms Helping Moms

Capitol Hill Group Offers Support to Hill Mothers

On a recent fall day, a klatch of Capitol Hill moms with toddlers in tow gathered in Kathy HoganBruen’s cheerful yellow living room for the weekly meeting of Wobblers and Waddlers.

It didn’t take long for these women to settle down to business. And as their children — ranging from 14 to 16 months — moved about the room, pushing colorful toy dump trucks and grocery carts, slamming cupboard doors, and generally indulging in their remaining days of babydom, the conversation easily drifted from the trials of teething to the relative merits of local hair stylists.

A little more than a year ago, each of these women was facing the sometimes daunting task of first-time motherhood, and all were in need of a little guidance.

Enter Moms on the Hill, a group of moms (and even some dads) that facilitates play dates, moms’ nights out and a variety of other activities for parents and children living in the Capitol community.

“It was really a lifesaver because I had no idea what I was doing,” admitted Jennifer Howard, as her daughter Lela Trainer happily inched her way alongside the sofa.

Bringing Up Baby

Moms on the Hill got its start in 2000 when a group of new moms “in various stages of shell shock” began organizing Hill play groups a few times a week, said co-founder Jen DeMayo.

“Before I had a kid, I just didn’t realize how isolating being home with a baby could be,” added DeMayo, who quit her job at a nonprofit to stay home after the birth of her son Miko three years ago.

As the group grew in numbers, an invitation-only Yahoo Web site and listserv were created to organize outings and activities and post child-rearing information. About a year ago, MOTH launched a public Web site —www.momsonthehill.com — to provide general information on the group and how to get involved.

New members come to the group primarily through other members — and are often invited to join after meeting at local parks.

“The reason you have to be invited to join is purely for the safety of the kids,” explained Gina Boling, whose son Bobby is a member of the Wobblers and Waddlers group.

The only qualifications for membership are parenthood and Hill residency, and there are no dues.

“We kinda want to retain the neighborhood, parent quality to it,” DeMayo said.

The group hosts several play groups for all ages at local parks, such as Stanton and Garfield, but it has also subdivided into specific age groups ranging from newborn to 24 months, which meet at different venues depending on the week.

Beyond the play groups, members have also organized into committees, such as Hill Action, which has lobbied for extended lighting and other improvements at Lincoln Park, collected cellphones for women in high-risk domestic violence situations, and helped out with the annual Hilloween celebration at Eastern Market for Capitol kids. The committee also hosts a weekly story hour at the Northeast Branch Library.

And through the club’s Meals on Wheels program — which delivers dinners to newly delivered moms up to three nights a week — the group hopes to ease the first, most difficult days after childbirth.

“When I had my second baby, I didn’t cook dinner for two months,” DeMayo recalled.

Capitol Growth

The success of Moms on the Hill is largely a function of the recent influx of 20- and 30-something professionals, many just starting families, to the Hill neighborhood.

“Six years ago I’d go to the park and it was just me and the homeless people really,” said member Taryn Jacobs. “Now there’s just swarms of toddlers.”

The increasing demand for slots at sought-after Capitol Hill Cluster School campuses such as Peabody and Watkins motivated parents on the club’s education committee to explore the idea of starting a charter school on or near the Hill, said group member Sarah Richardson, who also serves as the charter school’s treasurer.

While a separate nonprofit entity, Two Rivers Public Charter School Inc., was formed in April — the school is awaiting final approval from the D.C. Public Charter School Board — several of its board members are also Moms on the Hill members.

Still, not everybody in the group supports the idea of a charter school, and members are careful to differentiate between the group and Two Rivers.

“There are people who are opposed to the idea of a charter school philosophically,” said DeMayo. “MOTHs can’t be a charter school.”

But given that many of the group’s children are approaching school age, it’s no surprise that the state of public education on Capitol Hill has become a focus of some members.

Along these lines, Moms on the Hill will host its second annual school information night Nov. 14 at Results The Gym on Capitol Hill from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., with more than 40 Ward 6 pre-schools, elementary schools and childcare facilities represented.

Expanding the Playing Field

While the group boasts an e-mail membership of nearly 600, it has also faced some criticism that its more active members, at least, tend to be predominantly white, middle- to upper-income individuals.

“When I go I’m usually the only African-American there,” said Jacobs, a mother of two. “I get a lot of looks [like], ‘How can you stay home?’”

And even DeMayo concedes, “If you would go to Stanton Park on a Monday, you would see a bunch of white moms,” although she is quick to add that the group is diverse and even includes several same-sex couples.

With that in mind, Kristine Enderle, chairwoman of the Hill Action committee, said the panel is in the process of setting up a play group between the club’s children and the children of homeless women at a hospitality center run by the Capitol Hill Ministry Group. The weekly sessions, Enderle explained, are one way MOTH hopes to expand its outreach beyond what can be a somewhat insular group.

“We’re hoping it’s a small way people can get involved,” Enderle said. “We really want to convince people that we really are an inclusive group.”

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