Holistic Moms Network – Grassroots Support for Healthy Parenting
Parenting is tough for everyone. And living holistically has challenges of its own. But being holistic and a parent, too? You may need support for that.
That’s why Executive Director Nancy Massotto created the Holistic Moms Network, a nonprofit organization that brings together holistically minded parents to share ideas and support each other. Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke by phone with Massotto to learn more about this rapidly growing, grassroots movement. — Publisher
MASSOTTO: The original chapter, which is the ongoing Essex County, NJ, chapter, was started by three holistically minded mothers. In 2002, by a stroke of luck, I met two mothers in a breastfeeding support group. We were all parenting differently in terms of choosing holistic health care options for our children; and being advocates for things like natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and eco-conscious living. We were finding it very difficult to navigate our way in parenthood without having other parents around us who felt the same way. So we teamed up to launch the original chapter in northern New Jersey and ran it for about a year.
At our first meeting, about a dozen moms came, which was really exciting. We realized it was an incredibly empowering experience for like-minded people to be in the same place and to support each other. Over the course of a year, the local chapter grew to about 80 or 90 members. Moms came from all over the place to connect with our core group, and it escalated quite a bit.
It was at that point I said to the other two founders that we should be an organization, not just a local chapter. There were clearly parents across the country who could benefit from the support, education, and information we were experiencing collectively. I suggested we launch Holistic Moms as a nonprofit national organization with chapters all over the country, and the two other moms looked at me like I was completely crazy. It was way more work than they were interested in doing. So, I took on the task of building the national organization. I’ve always been a type A personality, and there was certainly no reason to stop now. So in October 2003, I put the organization in motion.
BPGL: How many chapters do you have now?
MASSOTTO: We have about 120 active chapters in the U.S. and a couple of chapters forming in Canada. We’re not interested in expanding outside of North America right now; it’s just a little more than we could we handle at this point.
BPGL: What kind of members do you attract?
MASSOTTO: We have parents of all ages: parents of adult children, grandparents, dads, and expecting parents. It’s a really diverse population, even though we started with a focus on moms.
We encourage dads to join as well. Our online community has special boards for fathers, and we do have a few chapters that have meetings specifically for dads. Our Leadership Team is very committed to our name, Holistic Moms, but we are trying to bring more fathers in. There are quite a few who are very active. They attend a lot of meetings and events and organization, and it works out really well.
BPGL: What happens during a typical meeting? Specifically, what could I expect as a parent new to the group?
MASSOTTO: All of our meetings are based on a specific theme or topic and may or may not involve a guest speaker. A guest speaker would be a professional in health or parenting, such as an herbalist, to teach you about a certain subject, such as herbs for medicinal purposes or organic gardening. It’s usually someone from the community who has a level of expertise of knowledge to share.
If it’s your first meeting, you will be introduced to the group and the leader will explain what Holistic Moms is, what we do, and how we run. We always do introductions, because, as I said, a large part of what we do is about community, and you need to get to know each other. So we often take time to introduce ourselves to each other and talk about our holistic passions. And then you may have the guest speaker present for usually about 30 or 45 minutes. Then you have an opportunity to connect and talk more with moms who are there and learn what the community is doing.
BPGL: Let’s say I’m a mom who wants to start a chapter, what kind of support services will you give me?
MASSOTTO: We have a whole process. When you want to start a local chapter, you first apply. There is a small leader’s fee, a one-time fee that you pay to cover materials and training. First we set up a phone interview. We will sit down and talk about what Holistic Moms is, what it does, what their desire is for starting a chapter, and discuss their local community and resources that are available to them. After that they’ll receive a complete manual, which is basically a step-by-step guide on how to start a chapter. It has everything in it from how to find an appropriate meeting location, to how to write a press release, to possible meeting topics they might want to cover or activities they might want to include in their chapter.
We also send them materials: brochures, fliers, and business cards representing the Network. Then the potential leader has a conference call training, where we go over the keys to building a successful chapter. We also connect them to an online community, just for chapter leaders, where they can exchange ideas and information about running a chapter.
Once the leader has started their chapter, we offer regular support calls throughout the year on a variety of topics, such as outreach and publicity for their chapters, time management, and organizational skills, or we simply share information with the leader to help them continue to build a successful group.
They learn a lot about how to build a successful local community, but many women use the professional skills they already have. It can be very empowering for them as a leader.
BPGL: So, in addition to building chapters, you’re actually building women as leaders?
MASSOTTO: We are, and it’s interesting, because it wasn’t something I anticipated. One of the beautiful, unexpected benefits of Holistic Moms is that a lot of the parents who come to us are enormously well-accomplished women who have stepped back from their professional jobs to be parents. By becoming Holistic Moms leaders, they find the whole experience to be empowering on a personal level, because they’re using their skills and gaining a sense of purpose, passion, and motivation for what they do.
I find some really emotional responses from leaders that I did not expect. A lot of women feel disoriented when they transition from their professional careers to being an at-home mom. This has really answered that call for them, which I think is amazing. In addition to creating communities and offering moms support for holistic options, we are also helping empower them as women.
BPGL: What are your mission and purpose?
MASSOTTO: In a nutshell, our mission is to support and educate parents who are interested in holistic health and green living. We do that through grassroots community-building by creating chapters where parents can connect and learn. Holistic Moms also integrates those chapters into local areas so that business owners, practitioners, and educators who are passionate about holistic living can bring their knowledge into the group as well.
BPGL: Do you take a position on issues, or do you just provide information and let the parents form an opinion?
MASSOTTO: Our intention is to educate people about certain issues and give them the ability to make an informed decision. We’re not here to argue with people’s philosophical or religious beliefs, but certainly to provide an alternative look on lifestyle choices. We don’t want parents to blindly fall into a trap of what most people do. We find that a lot in our organization. Parents will come in saying they didn’t know XYZ is an option. They just listened to what their girlfriends, doctors, or parents said, and never even questioned it. We want people to make conscious choices.
BPGL: What are some of the first things a new mother should do? If breastfeeding is number one, what would you say is number two?
MASSOTTO: It’s not necessarily a specific set of things, because it varies so much among children. The most important aspect is that parents are educated and informed. Moms with a newborn really need to think organic in every aspect of their life. They also need to consider the products in their baby’s environment. What kind of bed are they sleeping on? What toys are they putting into their mouth? What other food is being put into their mouth, if they aren’t breastfeeding? We hope most women are breastfeeding, but certainly when they’re introducing other foods, they need to be aware of what is in them.
A lot of that is a step-by-step process, and there many different elements they need to look at in their own homes. There are so many different avenues where we can improve the health and well-being of our children. It’s a very personal, individual program for making really radical change.
BPGL: What do you think is the most important issue right now for the health of children?
MASSOTTO: Broadly, environmental toxins. Our children are being bombarded on many different levels by toxins in our food, air, and water — also, potentially, from the vaccinations they are receiving. Their bodies are being overwhelmed. The rising rates we see in children’s diseases are a factor of that burden. It’s getting to, if not already at, extremely critical levels that are not being addressed.
MASSOTTO: It is. There are many concerns about what we are putting into our bodies, for children and adults. There is a very strong disconnect between the chemicals we put into the environment and that go into our bodies, and what’s going on with our health. I think we really need to start making those connections.
BPGL: It sounds like you almost need to have a chemistry degree to be a holistic parent.
MASSOTTO: We certainly aren’t experts in all areas, and I certainly don’t profess to be. That’s one of the challenges of being a holistic-minded parent. Many people become very overwhelmed with all of the news and information about everyday elements being dangerous and toxic, they just don’t know what to do or where to start.
One of things we hope to do is really help people make small changes that work for them. Not everyone makes the same choices as a holistic mom. We are all working toward a similar goal and mission for our lives, families, and the planet, but we don’t all do it in the same manner. We believe people have to be educated and know what those options are, know the risks and benefits of all those choices, and make the best choices for their family. We definitely are not about telling people what to do.
BPGL: I’ve heard of some parents overprotecting their children from germs. Do you ever run into that problem? If so, what do you advise them to do?
MASSOTTO: I do think there is a little bit of germ-phobia, but it’s not so much the germs we should be focusing on. We should be concentrating on preventive health. It’s all about the immune system — what we can do to make our bodies as strong as possible. There are always going to be germs in the world, no matter what we do. The question is, can we withstand those germs, or can’t we? If we are living an unhealthy lifestyle — a lot of which has to do with nutrition, stress, or the air we breathe and chemicals in our environment – we are weakening our immune system. Looking at it from a holistic approach is looking at the whole equation, not just focusing on germs.
BPGL: Do you collaborate with any other organizations?
MASSOTTO: We do, some. We are philosophically aligned with a number of groups, because we share a lot of different philosophies. A holistic philosophy is so overarching, it encompasses so many different aspects. We have collaborated with a lot of different organizations on special projects or education campaigns to move things forward. We support many different groups, like La Leche League, for breastfeeding promotion. There is an enormous amount of potential for Holistic Moms working with other organizations on many different levels.
BPGL: Do you do any lobbying?
MASSOTTO: No. We are a 501(c)3, so we aren’t in a position to lobby. We do know our members have been locally active, getting involved in their communities, but it’s not a position that we can get involved in because of our status.
BPGL: Why did you choose to be a 501(c)3, rather than a for-profit entity?
MASSOTTO: For a lot of different reasons. We want to further our mission and purpose in a way that furthers our credibility. We believe we are here to serve the public good in a very large way, in terms of education and support. Nonprofit status is what represents our mission and purpose.
BPGL: How do you survive financially?
MASSOTTO: We struggle. We’re a membership-based organization. Membership is our predominate financial resource at this point. We have started a sponsorship program, which is hopefully going to help bring more financial resources to us. And we have some other options in terms of fundraising. We do hope to get into grants from foundations, but we are still a very small and new operation. Holistic Moms is lucky enough to have a lot of wonderful people volunteer their time and effort to make the organization work. But expanding our financial base is certainly one of our objectives for the future.
BPGL: What other challenges are you faced with? What were some of the things you’ve overcome?
MASSOTTO: Clearly, the biggest challenge is building the organization from the ground up. I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations in the past, but never started one from the bottom. It’s been a real learning experience. One of the greatest challenges we’ve faced is that our growth has outpaced us a little bit. I established a website around October 2003, when we started, and within three days of putting up the website, someone contacted me saying they wanted to start a chapter. I just sat there and said, “Wow, I don’t even have a process for this yet.” It wasn’t even ready; we were just kind of playing with it. We’ve been playing catchup ever since.
We ended our first year with 20-some chapters in 14 states. It was just mind-boggling. But we’ve been fortunate to attract a really dynamic group of people, who are inspired by the mission and purpose of our organization. They’ve been willing to volunteer a lot of time to make Holistic Moms grow and fill all of these ideas we have. There is certainly no lack of ideas for us; it’s a matter of having the finances to make that all happen. It’s been a good challenge in a sense, that we have so much to do and so much interest, it’s hard to keep up. It’s certainly a challenge we want to have.
BPGL: How do people hear about your organization?
MASSOTTO: People predominately hear about us through word of mouth and the internet. We’ve made very valuable connections with holistic practitioners, business owners, and people who are trying to live green and sustainable. Social marketing has been great for our network, because it is a very social, personal approach. We grow so fast from moms reaching out to other moms.
BPGL: Do you have an annual meeting or conference?
MASSOTTO: We do. It’s called the Natural Living Conference. It’s held every year in October, and will be in October again this year. We try to bring in speakers of interest to our members. We also have vendors, exhibitors, and sponsors. It’s a pretty custom event and has been very successful and popular with our members. Information for our conference is on our website and annualconference.holisticmoms.org.
BPGL: What else would you like parents to know about the Holistic Moms Network?
MASSOTTO: One thing I like to make people understand is that it doesn’t matter how holistic or how green someone is when they’re deciding if they want to be a part of the Holistic Moms community. Parents will say “I didn’t have my children naturally,” or “I didn’t breastfeed,” but it doesn’t really apply. It doesn’t matter what choices you’ve made along the way, or whether or not you’re achieving or struggling with your goals. We welcome a really diverse membership into our group. It’s all about the goals and objectives you have. Wanting to live more consciously for yourself and planet is a journey. Some of us have been on the journey for a long time, some have just started, and others are in the middle. We want people to come with an open mind and take what works for them.
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