June 2, 2011

Hooray for ‘Other Mothers’!

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Women at 3:48 pm by dinaheng

There is no substitute for the love and support of parents, but when a biological mother or father isn’t around, who fills in the gap?

For some, the parental figure may be a grandparent, uncle or aunt. Others may turn to foster parents, teachers, or caring neighbors. To recognize these “Other Mothers,” SOS Children’s Villages is holding its first annual “Other Mothers Contest” between the traditional Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Teresa Scanlan, Miss America 2011, and other celebrity judges will select 10 finalists shortly, and the public will vote online to select the Other Mother of the Year and runners-up. The results will be announced on June 16, before Father’s Day.

“There are many people in our lives who don’t fit on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day cards,” says Heather Paul, CEO of the U.S. headquarters of SOS Children’s Villages. “In this economy, many people are returning home, and there are more than six million grandparents who have their grandchildren living with them now.

“Twenty percent of those arrangements don’t have the parents in the home, so that speaks to the challenges and difficulties parents are facing today. With so many of our troops overseas, you see a lot of grandparents filling in there, too. Grandparents who serve as surrogate parents is a growing trend.”

SOS Children’s Villages is a large NGO in Europe that’s starting to make its name known in the United States. The organization, dedicated to raising children who are without parental care, operates 518 villages in 132 countries.

There may be 15 to 20 houses in any given village, with trained surrogate mothers who provide a family environment for children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned. SOS Children’s Villages’ priority is to keep siblings together, and also provides day care, family support services, counseling and vocational training to neighboring communities.

There are three SOS Children’s Villages in the United States based in Broward County, Fla., Lockport, Ill. and South Chicago, Ill.

“The first U.S. village opened 17 years ago in Florida, where a family court judge was saddened by children falling through the cracks,” Paul says. “She knew someone who’d heard of SOS Children’s Villages in Europe, and helped to open one here. SOS was started in 1949 by a young medical student who had lost his mother when he was young. He was struck by the devastation of orphans at every turn after the war, and started the first village in Austria.”

In the United States, SOS Children’s Villages serve roughly 400 children in Florida and Illinois, all of whom are foster children in the system.

“We do our best to stabilize them,” Paul says. “The average stay is two to three years. They leave because of adoption or family reunification. For those who stay with us until they become adults, we insist they get a high school degree. Since the backbone of all SOS Villages is the trained surrogate mother, we thought it was important to recognize all ‘Other Mothers.’ ”

Donated prizes for The Other Mothers Contest include a family of Schwinn bicycles, a 4  day/3 night getaway to one of Marriott’s Residence Inns, Amway gift baskets, Barnes & Noble NOOK Color Reader’s Tablets and Love Quotes scarves.

If you’d like to read about the nominees and vote for your favorite, check out www.Sos-Usa.org/OtherMothers.

It’s one vote that is sure to matter.




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