n February of 2010, Amanda Rost was shopping for a new cell phone plan with her two young children at The Galleria, and sat down next to a woman with similarly aged children. A stay-at-home mom, Rost, Osage Road, was in search of friends and support. So when the woman at The Galleria mentioned a local chapter of an international moms group and suggested that she join, Rost was intrigued but hesitant. She eventually decided to give it a try, but for her first group outing, she went to the wrong fountain at The Galleria and missed the meetup.
Though a bit discouraged, Rost decided to give networking another try, and her next meetups were more successful. She became close friends with the mom she met at the bench in the mall, and the following year after joining, she became president of the group. However, over time, she felt that the organization didn’t quite meet her needs and the needs of some of the other members of the group due to tight geographic boundaries and limited evening activities.
With a chemical engineering degree from Notre Dame and MBA from UNC Chapel Hill, Rost was inspired to use her professional background to build a new organization, and 10 years ago, in February 2012, the Mt. Lebanon Moms Network was born. Its mission is perhaps more relevant now than ever: support, service and socialization.
“Being a new mom of young children can be isolating,” said Rost, now mom of four. “I don’t know how women have gotten through [the COVID-19 pandemic].”
According to a March report by the American Psychological Association, 48 percent of parents surveyed say that the level of stress in their life increased as compared to before the pandemic, and 75 percent of parents say they could have used more emotional support than they’ve received since the start of the pandemic. The report also cites social connections as a means to combat stress and stay healthy.
Despite facing challenges related to COVID, the Mt. Lebanon Moms Network continued to find a way to connect moms and offer much-needed support. For nearly 10 years, Mt. Lebanon Moms Network boasted 80 to 120 members at any time and peaked at around 150 members, according to Jennifer Ganser, Mt. Lebanon Moms Network’s Outreach Director. Due to COVID, membership numbers dipped to around 71, as the group is intended for in-person activities. “Things were on halt for a little bit,” said Ganser, of Firwood Drive, who shared that despite challenges, activities like virtual events, meal trains, and dropping items at doorsteps still took place. Recently, the group returned to in-person activities and membership has rebounded to around 95 members.
Support, socialization and service
“The group has provided me with friends and a sense of community,” said Shannon Lin, Mt. Lebanon Moms Network’s President. “I can text a mom at any time and she knows exactly what I’m going through.” After the birth of her first son in 2018, Lin, of Peters Township, became a stay-at-home mom and searched for ways to connect. She met a fellow mom at the library who suggested that she join Mt. Lebanon Moms Network. She and the mom from the library are still close and their children are the best of friends.
Whether a mom wants to socialize within the larger group or a smaller setting, members aren’t wanting for an opportunity to connect. The group organizes through a website, mtlebanonmomsnetwork.com, where moms—as well as dads and other caregivers, although the primary focus is moms—can find information on the membership application process as well as a full schedule of events. “There’s literally an event for every day of the week,” said Ganser. Activities include both family-centric daytime events as well as evening activities, when many moms look for extra support while spouses work late, and activities for moms-only socialization. Members can live anywhere geographically, although events are Lebo-centric.
For a smaller group experience, members can join “play pods” which are groups made up of two or three families, designed to allow for more close-knit socialization. These groups organize their own meetups and activities aside from the larger group. The smaller nature of the play pods has helped some members feel more comfortable with socialization during the pandemic. According to Rost, some play pods have stayed together for years.
As part of the group’s mission of support, one of the beloved and popular services is the meal trains for new moms—each member within the group receives three meals a week for two weeks after giving birth or adopting a new child. The meals are provided by other members, as each member is responsible for providing two meals a year. “As a mom of a toddler and a newborn, that was huge for me,” said Ganser. And these meals can come any way the new mom is comfortable, Ganser stated, from a home-cooked meal dropped off at a doorstep to a gift card for a food delivery service.
“During the pandemic, being pregnant was scary. It was good to know people had my back who I hadn’t even met yet,”
said Ganser. The group has also started a bi-monthly mental health initiative, mainly focused on support and resources geared toward post-partum depression and anxiety, including participation from a therapist.
In addition to providing support to members within the group, central to Mt. Lebanon Moms Network’s mission is supporting the community through service projects and donations, focusing on groups that are meaningful to the members. “If I do anything right, it’s to teach my kids to be kind and do things for others,” said Lin, who values the opportunity for her children to participate in community projects through the group. The current community focus is a book collection and donation drive for Children’s Rooms in the Courts. Past projects include a school supply drive for The Education Partnership, a Valentine’s Day craft project where kids made Valentines for The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh and Lemieux Family Center, book donations to Mt. Lebanon Public Library, donations to Mt. Lebanon Fire Department, and more.
For moms who are hopeful to build friendships and lasting bonds for themselves and their children, they may find their community of support through Mt. Lebanon Moms Network. Yet, if the lifelong bonds don’t form instantly, Rost can relate. Her advice to moms looking for community and camaraderie: “You have to put yourself out there,” she says. “Don’t give up with networking. Keep at it. You’ll find your people who you click with.”