When Vesta Schneider moved to Weehawken a few years ago, she was a stay-at-home mom with a toddler daughter, Evangelina, and a 6-month-old boy, Gavin. In the middle of winter, she was stuck in the house catering to their needs. And she knew no one.
In May of 2010, she took matters into her own hands by creating an online support groups for parents called Humpty Dumpty Parent. “I didn’t really know much about creating a website,” she said, “but I knew what I wanted it to provide.” She Skyped with her internet-savvy friend Gedinas Sukys from Lithuania, and soon she had “a little website going.”
With research, networking, and a whole lot of personal motivation, that “little website” amassed around 200 registered members in only a few weeks. To date, the site has around 700.
Most of the members are mommies, she said, but there are a few daddies, too. They hail from Weehawken and the surrounding area, with a small percentage from New York City as well.
“It’s still a small group in my eyes, but I want it to be a place where parents can come to really connect,” Schneider said. “A lot of parents are stuck at home with their children and they feel lost – they don’t know what to do with themselves, and I want this to be a place where they can come together.”
Not just play dates
At first, Schneider and her growing group of mostly moms had “play dates” that either met at places like Weehawken’s Hamilton Park in warmer weather, or one of the group member’s homes in the cold or the rain.
As the members chatted, they began to discuss the challenges parenting presented and what they needed from their community. Schneider listened. While she took care of her own kids at home, she searched the internet for services she could bring to her group.
“I started looking for good people who would be willing to work with us so that we could bring information and knowledge to the play dates,” Schneider said.
She has held clothing swaps where moms bring in clothes their children have outgrown and take what they need rather than throwing them out. She has arranged trips into New York City to children’s museums and has invited several childhood specialists to speak to the group. The most popular, she said, was family therapist Magda Occhione, who taught moms how to deal with temper tantrums.
“Parents sometimes don’t know what to do, and Magda offered to teach this class to our group,” she said. Occhione also contributes free articles to Schneider’s website on growing pain topics such as sharing, time-outs, bedtime, and even childhood anxiety.
“There are a lot of transplants here, and [Humpty Dumpty Parent] makes it easy for us to find each other.” –Julia Guenther
Humpty Dumpty Parents holds around six events per month. One of the advantages to having so many interested parents, Schneider said, is that she is able to bargain with organizations that then offer their services for a discounted price.
Weehawkenite Julia Guenther was one of the first members to join Schneider’s group. They met at Gregory Park when she was with her nearly 3-year-old son Lars. Guenther is appreciative of the variety of events available.
One of her favorites was a music class Schneider arranged, which was actually offered to participants for free in exchange for advertising on the Humpty Dumpty website. “[Classes] can be expensive,” Guenther said, “and a lot of those classes you go into blindly and pay in advance without knowing what you’re paying for. Vesta takes care of that for us.”
Discounts aren’t the only benefit to having such a large group of parents.
“What’s key to the group is that when you have a small child, it’s important to have a network of people you can call family even though they’re not family by blood,” Guenther said. “There are a lot of transplants here, and Vesta’s group makes it easy for us to find each other.”
Lori Edelman has her own group called “New and Expectant Moms and Dads of Edgewater N.J.,” and like Schneider’s group, members live all over; including in Weehawken. Her website operates through Meetup.com. She and Schneider often collaborate to make even more services available to everyone involved.
Edelman’s son has special needs, and through the groups she has found other parents who she can connect to for support and advice.
“The activities are great,” Edelman said, “but what I get the most out of are the people that I’ve met. Having the support and the connections with Vesta and the parents has been super helpful.”
For more information, visit www.humptydumptyparent.com.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.