Newsletter gives stay-at-home mothers a way to network WEST COLUMBIA

February 03, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

If you asked Melissa Simmens five years ago to predict what she would be doing with her time today, "newsletter publisher" would not have even been on the long list of options.

Mrs. Simmens, 28, didn't fancy herself a stay-at-home mother back then either.

But times change and so do people. Mrs. Simmens, a former chemistry lab technician at W.R. Grace & Co. in Columbia, is now publisher of Mother's Exchange, a monthly newsletter aimed at providing stay-at-home mothers a way to network.

"It was really out of my own necessity for a network of other mothers that I decided to do this," says Mrs. Simmens, a resident of the village of Harper's Choice with her husband, John, and their two children, 2 1/2 -year-old Stephanie and 5-month-old Molly.

"Being a mother at home is a whole different world. Mothers really need some help adjusting, especially in finding things to keep their kids busy," says Mrs. Simmens, who manages keeping her children busy while writing, editing and distributing her newsletter.

She gets help on editing from her husband, who worked at his college newspaper, and from her mother, Phyllis Corry, who has a word processor service.

Mother's Exchange provides ideas on craft and cooking activities that moms can organize to keep children active in the house, child safety tips, a free classified section strictly for mothers, and a listing of free or low-cost child-oriented activities in Howard County.

Mrs. Simmens picks a theme for each issue. For example, in the February issue, Mrs. Simmens listed a recipe for making heart-shaped shortbread cookies that's easy enough for most children to follow, and instructions for making simple Valentine greetings attached to a magnet so the receiver can post it on a refrigerator or other appliance.

The issue also lists children's events scheduled at local libraries, as well as concerts and sing-alongs.

The classified section of this month's issue features ads for clothing and housewares, as well as a listing of local mother's clubs.

After launching the six-page newsletter issue in December, Mrs. Simmens is attempting to build a subscription list, charging $12 for 12 issues.

While she's landed only about 20 subscribers so far, Ms. Simmens says interest in the publication appears strong, judging by the number of phone calls she gets from readers after "several hundred" of the first editions were distributed in county libraries and Columbia community centers.

"I have a lot of mothers calling me up with ideas for each issue," says Mrs. Simmens. "The part of the newsletter that appears to have the most interest are the places to go and do things with kids and the free classifieds."

Mrs. Simmens, who grew up in Columbia, says most mothers she talks to say they are hungry for activity ideas outside the home that are either free or low-cost.

"The Columbia-Howard County area really has a lot of programs and activities for kids, but some of them are expensive," she says. "Stay-at-home mothers usually have given up their jobs to raise their children and that means a loss of some income for the family. So activities that aren't expensive are a priority."

Many readers have suggested that Mrs. Simmens consider including reviews of restaurants and other public establishments that parents with young children might frequent. Readers want the reviews to rate establishments based on whether they are "child friendly," she says.

"Some places just aren't geared for kids," she says. "Parents want to know if the restaurant has bathrooms big enough to change a child, or if a program's activities are worthwhile."

Mrs. Simmens says she's not sure if she will include such reviews soon but thinks the idea has merit for the future.

"Right now, the main thing the mothers tell me they like is that they have a source to network through," the publisher says.

Also looking to the future, Mrs. Simmens hopes to run ads from home-based businesses run by mothers in Howard County and generate a question-and-answer mailbox for mothers to exchange child-rearing and -activity information.

"The newsletter will evolve, but one thing that won't change is everything in the newsletter will be very local and mother-and-child oriented," she says. "That's what will give people the community flavor I think they are looking for."

For more information, write Mother's Exchange, P.O. Box 812, Columbia, Md. 21044

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