Howard County has about 16,500 stay-at-home moms, and many are finding support in a group called the MOMS Club.
Recently, the Columbia chapter of Moms Offering Moms Support grew so large -- 200 members -- that a sister chapter was formed in the River Hill/Clarksville area. About 40 members make up the new group, which started in February, membership coordinator Linda Spano said.
FOR THE RECORD - In an article about MOMS Clubs in the Howard County edition of The Sun on April 11, a California woman who organized a core group of parents that blossomed into 1,000 national and international chapters was incorrectly identified. The woman's name is Mary B. James. The Sun regrets the errors.
"This is a different community. It's new and has a lot of energy and moms looking to communicate with other stay-home moms," she said.
Included in the Columbia chapter are a pharmacist, an attorney, a public relations director and a runner-up in an Annapolis bodybuilding contest.
"They're not all married to wealthy men with money flying into their hands," said Spano. She said 98 percent of the members have college degrees, 35 percent have multiple degrees and some work part time.
She said the main purpose for the nonprofit MOMS club is to give support to other stay-at-home parents.
"We help support reasons for staying at home," she said. "Parents can speak their minds and learn parenting skills -- it refreshes their purpose for staying home."
Mary B. Simms, a California woman who decided to leave her job and stay home with her children, created the MOMS club in 1983. Simms organized a group of parents to support each other, and that core group blossomed into 1,000 national and international chapters. The club has 60,000 members worldwide.
Spano's and Simms' stories are similar. Spano has three children, Nicholas, 4, Jacklyn, 2, and Christopher, 6 months. Before joining the club, she worked in public relations and marketing.
"I couldn't see myself leaving my baby, and I wanted to explore the possibility of staying at home and being an active mom," she said. "It's a new profession to devote your time at home to your children."
Some dads also belong to the club, said Mary Anderson, who handles media inquiries. She said the club organizes outings, book and cooking clubs, a moms' night out and visits to retirement homes.
The River Hill chapter holds monthly meetings on the second Thursday of each month at the Linden Linthicum United Methodist Church in Clarksville.
Play groups are organized to get the children together while parents converse.
Gina Harrison held a play group at her Clarksville home last month, where six mothers and 13 children got together. She said she was surprised that her house was still standing when everyone left.
"I thought the children would make a big mess, but they did really well and everyone got along," Harrison said as two of the children banged away on her piano.
With the differences in ages, it can be hard to plan activities to please all the children. So Harrison spent the previous night cutting out paper shamrocks for the older children to color. She owns a Nintendo video game set, which held the interest of her older son, Ryan, 4, and Spano's son, Nicholas.
Harrison has two other children, Jack, 2, and Sofia, 1. Her baby sitter couldn't add another infant to her day care when Harrison was pregnant with Sofia, so she decided to leave her job as a marketing manager.
"Trying to find a sitter was too difficult, and I needed to get out and meet other moms," Harrison said.
Amy Rabinowitz of River Hill, the club's president, decided to stay at home to take care of her two children -- Emily, 3, and Brian, 1 -- when the family moved from New Jersey, where she was a preschool teacher.
"I felt like my children shouldn't be in an institution setting. Time is valuable, they grow up so fast," she said. "The more active you become, the better it is for your children and yourself."
The MOMS club is about more than playtime. Irene Thompson's main duty is to find charities the club can support.
"I'd like to focus on feeding the homeless by bringing them canned food or casseroles or collecting things for victims of domestic violence," said Thompson, who has a 3-year-old, Matthew, and a 17-month-old, Jenna.
Risa Snyder of Pointers Run in River Hill plans to return to work when her children are in school. Mother of Rebecca, 9 months, and Jacob, 3, she now runs an accounting firm part time in her home.
Snyder is treasurer for the River Hill chapter and is responsible for collecting $20 a year from each member.
The club earns most of its money through dues and renewal fees, which go toward copying and mailing a monthly newsletter, providing snacks at meetings and a welcome brunch for new members.
Spano said Howard County police could teach children about dialing 911, the dangers of strangers and fingerprint the children for an emergency database.
Spano is encouraging club members and others to attend the "Million Mom March" on Mother's Day in Washington to lobby for locks on guns and stronger gun-control laws.
For membership inquiries for the Columbia or River Hill chapters, call Linda Spano at 410-997-0682. To learn more about the Million Mom March, log on to www.millionmommarch.com or call 888-989-6667.