Nine years ago, when Angela Benz lived in Florida, she was a stay-at-home mom whose sole company every day was her nine-month-old daughter.
"I knew nobody," she recalls. "I can remember just walking the streets, hoping to run into somebody who was pushing a stroller too."
As it turned out, Benz ran into dozens of such folks all at the same time. They were members of a local chapter of The MOMS Club the only national support group designed for all at-home moms, regardless of religion, previous employment, or the age and number of their children.
"When I found The MOMS Club, I immediately started attending every function, and even joined the board, because I needed that support," Benz says. "I needed to hear, 'Yes, it's okay that you're a stay-at-home mom.' I needed to socialize. I needed to find out from other mothers that my children were doing everything in the same way as their children."
Benz stuck with her Florida MOMS Club until two years ago, when she and her family moved to Payson and history began to repeat itself.
"When we got here, my husband and I didn't know anyone, and neither did our three kids," she says. "So I thought that creating a Payson chapter of The MOMS Club would be a good way for all of us to make new friends."
The strategy worked. Today, The MOMS Club of Payson boasts some 30 members, all of them as happy to be members as their leader, Angela Benz, was nine years ago.
"I had worked for about the first two years of my 4-year-old daughter's life," says Sue Becker, now the local chapter's membership vice-president. "But when we moved here about two-and-a-half years ago, that was the first time I'd ever been a stay-at-home mom. I'd been looking for something to get involved in and I saw one of Angela's ads in the paper and became her first Payson member.
"I'm a little on the shy side, so for me to walk up to somebody and introduce myself and start scheduling gatherings is hard for me," Becker says. "But to join a club where activities were set up for me was great. I just hopped right in and now, all the best friends I have in town I met through The MOMS Club.
"Also," Becker points out, "how many social gatherings are there for moms where they are not only allowed, but encouraged, to bring their kids? This was exactly what I'd been hoping to find."
The original MOMS Club was created in 1983, when Mary James, an at-home mother in California, decided she was ready to break up the monotony of being home alone. Upon discovering that there were no other organizations that met during the day which allowed her to come with her baby and preschooler, James started a brand new organization.
That first chapter was so successful, James and some other volunteers began helping mothers start MOMS Clubs across the country and around the world. According to the organization's website (www.momsclub.org), there are now more than 1,250 chapters with more than 63,000 members across the United States.
All those individual clubs, including the Payson version, offer a cornucopia of monthly events guaranteed to get stay-at-home moms out of the house and socially stimulated, including:
Monthly daytime meetings with speakers, discussions and other programs from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on the last Thursday of each month at the First Assembly of God Church near Green Valley Park.
Casual get-togethers in parks and members' homes.
Family parties around the holidays (such as an upcoming Valentines bash for moms and dads) or just for fun throughout the year.
"Lunch Bunch" gatherings and other events for both mothers and children.
Playgroups for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children.
Activity groups like arts and crafts, bowling, cooking, and a monthly "Mom's Night Out."
Service projects benefiting underprivileged children in the community.
"We usually do about two or three of those projects a year," Benz says. "We last adopted a family with six kids through the Angel Tree program. We fulfilled all of their wishes, and got them some extra things, too. They had no heat or blankets, so we got them heaters, some quilts and bedding."
Moms aren't the only adult members of a family who can benefit from an association with this group, Becker said.
"My husband works down in the Valley, so he didn't know too many people when we moved here, either," she says. "But through the MOMS Club, he's met some other husbands and now he has some new golf partners."
The MOMS Club of Payson is sponsoring an open-house membership drive Thursday, Jan. 31, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the First Assembly of God Church near Green Valley Park. Guest speaker Susan Williams, CISW, will lead a discussion on child discipline. Free child care will be provided to nonclub members.
For membership forms or more information, call Sue Becker at 472-6709 or Leah Leneberg at 468-1617.