In the midst of a lively conversation among seven moms, 8-month-old Davney Liguori of Rockville Centre begins to coo. Happily. Mom Geri apologizes for the disruption.
"No 'Sorrys,' " says Karen Buckley, 52, a mom who is facilitating the group. "We love those sounds."
This is Geri Liguori's first time at a meeting of an organization celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Mom-mentum -- until recently known as the National Association of Mothers' Centers -- began in 1975 in Hicksville and meets in 22 locations nationwide, 12 of them on Long Island.
Each group seeks to be warm and welcoming to mothers, encouraging them to tackle personal topics and professional issues, and to learn about public policy concerning families. Most groups meet once a week in venues such as local libraries. The Mothers' Center of Southwest Nassau, which Liguori is attending, has a permanent space in an East Rockaway church so it can also offer topical workshops and even yoga classes.
Discussions include discipline, picky eating, juggling work and motherhood, caring for yourself while caring for others, marriage and money, sibling relationships and more. Last weekend, the organization sponsored its sixth annual "Miles for Mothers" 5k run/walk and kids' fun run fundraiser on the Long Beach boardwalk.
The Southwest Nassau group's center has three couches and three oversized chairs, each with comfortable cushions and mismatched upholstery. The older children are downstairs in a staffed child-care room, playing while their moms sit in a circle and bond.
The discussion question today is, "When you have a parenting concern or question, to whom do you usually turn?" Answers include their own moms, husbands, friends, and, of course, the mothers' center.
"The center has helped, definitely," says Andreia Davies, 39, of Lynbrook, who has three children, Lorenzo, 15, Maya, 5, and Nico, 2. "Coming to some of the discussion groups and hearing some of the moms -- I don't feel like it's so judgmental."
Christine Farrugia, 41, of Selden, says she loves when women feel that way. She runs weekly groups at the Middle Country Library in Centereach and at the Northport/East Northport Public Library. "The whole concept of mothers' centers is to be a nurturing, safe place to share ideas, find a shoulder to cry on if need be and just be rejuvenated," says the mother of four.
The mothers' centers sprang from Merrick social worker Patsy Turrini's 1973 research project that focused on 40 to 50 women, exploring the issues mothers faced during pregnancy and while raising their children. When the study concluded, the professionals and the mothers decided to establish a permanent mothers' center.
The first center opened in January 1975. After Lorri Slepian of Long Beach, a social worker and co-founder, mentioned the center on "The Phil Donahue Show" and a Parents magazine story featured the center during the 1980s, the group was inundated with inquiries from others wanting to form chapters and the centers replicated, according to the Mom-mentum website.
What's the biggest change to motherhood in the past 40 years? "I would say the continuing growth of the stress," says Slepian, a mother of four grown children who is now 81.
Through the years, centers have opened and closed depending on availability of meeting locations and other factors, such as the plethora of groups formed through moms connecting online or at play locations.
"There has been an ebb and flow," says Alison La Ferlita, Mom-mentum's executive director. The original Hicksville center is no longer operating, for instance. But five new groups have started recently nationwide, including one in Syosset.
The name change was meant to signal an updated vision to stay current with women’s needs, La Ferlita says. While the centers have always focused on mothers’ personal needs, La Ferlita says Mom-mentum has two other goals as well: to help moms develop professionally, and to increase awareness of legislation and policy decisions affecting families. One new effort launching this fall, for instance, is support for mothers re-entering the workforce after a prolonged absence raising children.
Individuals can either pay $50 a year to become a member of the nonprofit, which entitles them to discounted rates for certain workshops and conferences, or pay the fee charged by their local mothers’ center, which varies from location to location, says Viviana Russell, administration and communications manager for Mom-mentum. Mom-mentum is headquartered in Massapequa Park.
“Now people have such a wide variety of things. Moms are overscheduled and overbooked. It might be more challenging to find new members because there are so many choices,” says Buckley, who has been a member of the Southwest Nassau group for 20 years. But she says the mothers’ center offers something unique. “Once people come and sit in a circle and start sharing their stories, it’s unlike anything else out there. You do get to connect on a deeper level with other moms.”
Here are the Mothers' Center locations on Long Island:
* Mothers' Center of Southwest Nassau (East Rockaway)
* Mid-Suffolk Mothers' Center Circle (Ronkonkoma)
* Mothers' Center of Syosset (Syosset)
* Unity Circle Mothers' Center Group of New Cassel (Westbury)
* Mothers' Center at the Long Beach Library (Long Beach) (Two groups meet here)
* Mothers' Center at the Middle Country Public Library (Centereach) (Two groups meet here)
* Unity Circle of Hempstead (West Hempstead)
* Mothers' Center Circle at the Rockville Centre Public Library (Rockville Centre)
* Mothers' Center Circle at Northport-East Northport Public Library (East Northport)
* Midshore Mothers' Center (Massapequa)
INFO 516-939-MOMS, mom-mentum.org