Soon after her first daughter was born, Nicole Harris was home grappling with the challenges of being a new mom when at 10 a.m., her doorbell rang. There on her doorstep was Maria Smith, balancing two young children and a big bowl of chili.
It was Harris' first introduction to the food brigade, a tradition of Mocha Moms, to prep and deliver meals to members who have newborns. For Harris, then a single mom, the organization was a lifeline.
"I was looking to make connections with other moms who looked like me and were going through the same challenges I was going through," said Harris who joined Mocha Moms in 2009.
Now as president of the Atlanta chapter, Harris said she hopes to give back to the organization that helped her so much.
"I found decade long friendships and the camaraderie of other moms," Harris said. Smith who delivered her first food brigade meal has been a member of Mocha Moms since 2007 and currently serves as vice-president of the Atlanta chapter.
This year, Mocha Moms, the nation's largest support group for moms of color, celebrates its 20th anniversary. The Atlanta chapter will help mark the occasion and celebrate Mother's Day, on May 5 with a Hat Social and Tea Party for 30 residents at A.G. Rhodes Nursing Home in Atlanta. The event includes a fashion show featuring residents of A.G. Rhodes modeling alongside Mocha Moms kids. On May 7, the Atlanta Mocha Moms take their own turn in the spotlight with their annual spring tea at the St. Regis hotel.
In its 20-year history, while the mission of Mocha Moms has remained the same, the organization has evolved in important ways.
First founded in Maryland in 1997 by a group of African-American stay-at-home moms, Mocha Moms was launched as a newsletter. It would soon become a non-profit organization designed to support stay-at-home moms of color with more than 100 chapters nationwide.
The Atlanta chapter was formed in 2004 and included moms across metro Atlanta from Alpharetta all the way to South Fulton. It grew to over 300 members before splitting into county specific chapters -- Cobb, DeKalb, Clayton, South Fulton, North Fulton -- to better meet the needs of moms in each geographic area.
Smith joined the Atlanta chapter in 2007 a month before her first child was born. Before she became a mom, she had been a television producer for the Oprah Winfrey show. The show did a segment on Mocha Moms and Smith decided then and there that she would join when she had children. After relocating from Chicago to Atlanta, Smith reached out to Mocha Moms for support.
"I knew I would need support and other people who had been down that road. I don’t have any family in Atlanta. I needed people around me," she said.
Through the years, Smith, now the mom of four children ranging in age from 10 to almost 5, found she needed a range of support from her fellow Mocha Moms at different periods of motherhood.
"When I had my second, third and fourth children, Mocha Moms kept my other children. Without having a grandma to drop them off to, it was like, 'Okay I’m in labor, who can keep my kids?'" she said. Another Mocha Mom who is a mother of five needed help when she broke her leg and was unable to get around easily. Fellow Mocha Moms came to her rescue, Smith said.
Back then, the Atlanta chapter was huge, said Smith, who served as president of the organization from 2008 to 2010. Those were the years when members began to splinter into county level chapters. It was also during the recession when many Mocha Moms began returning to work, Smith said, some out of necessity and some by choice.
The mission of Mocha Moms has stayed the same -- sisterhood, service and support -- but the change marked a major shift in the organization away from its historic roots, said Harris.
"When I joined I was one of a few working moms," said Harris. Now working moms are more the norm than the exception in the Atlanta chapter which has more than 70 members who are stay-at-home moms, single moms, professionals, entrepreneurs, professors and educators.
"The shift was very natural because we were all kind of in that shift ourselves because of the economy," Smith said. "Having a broad redefining of Mocha Moms has helped more people come into the fold."
Monthly support meetings, once held during the day, now have an evening option for moms who need to attend after work. They also launched a Home Alone Network for moms who work from home. Each chapter tailors its offerings and functions to its membership. Chapters that have more members with younger children, for example, may focus on playdates and child focused activities.
Another important tenet of Mocha Moms is service. The national organization offers opportunities for community service through a partnership with Shot At Life, an non-profit that helps ensure children have proper immunizations, but locally, the Atlanta chapter is always on the lookout for ways to give back.
Last year, the group held a pizza playdate at a local shelter during which Mocha Moms chatted with moms in the shelter about everything from child rearing to updating their resumes while the kids played and did craft projects.
This year, the event at A.G. Rhodes presented Mocha Moms and their children the chance to interact with an older generation. "We look for things that are a win-win for everybody," Smith said. "With the seniors we will get as much giving to them as they will get from us."