While pregnant with her 6-year-old son Maverick, Los Angeles mom Yasmine Delawari Johnson wanted to make a difference. She was already volunteering at the Alliance for Children's Rights, an organization that protects the rights of kids in need, but she wanted to do more.
The Alliance of Moms, which has grown its network of local moms over the last two years, aims to break the cycle of babies born to teen girls in foster care. And the numbers are staggering: 75 percent of girls in foster care are pregnant before the age of 21, and AOM wants to educate and empower those young moms.
With events such as its twice-yearly Raising Baby program, which happens on September 24 and focuses on infant care and early brain development, these LA moms are making an enormous impact on the community.
We spoke to Johnson, mom of four, about her involvement and what part of volunteering has stuck with her the most.
What inspired you to found the Alliance of Moms?
When I was pregnant with my son Maverick, I looked around at my incredibly blessed life and recognized that my son was being born into a very different life than many other children. I knew the only difference between my baby and another baby was luck and circumstances. I decided to volunteer for the Alliance for Children’s Rights, doing “intake,” where I screened the calls that came in for help. I was pregnant and hearing stories every day that broke my heart, but I also understood that by finding the Alliance for Children’s Rights, these families would finally get the advocacy they deserved. The experience allowed me to be excited about the fun parts of pregnancy while opening my heart to what really matters for all kids: love, safety and the right to experience the innocence of childhood.
I continued my work with the Alliance for Children’s Rights by joining their board. As a mom, I was also connecting with my friends on the deep level of motherhood (with all of its joys and challenges!). We recognized that we had an opportunity to harness our collective resources, insight and compassion to help some of the most vulnerable moms out there—teen mothers in foster care. That common bond became the impetus for the creation of the Alliance of Moms.
Tell us about an experience with one of the pregnant or young foster-care mothers that has stuck with you.
We have a program called "Raising Foodies" where we offer a nutritional and affordable cooking class taught by top chefs while some Alliance of Moms volunteer moms care for the young foster mothers’ kids. Our other volunteers set a beautiful table, and we enjoy a wonderful dinner party eating the menu that was just cooked. It is an intimate gathering, usually about 12 of us total. We sit side-by-side, mom-to-mom, and connect over food and motherhood.
At one of our first "Raising Foodies" dinners, I was seated next to a lovely but deeply introverted young mother. Let’s call her Marissa. Marissa shared about her young daughter, who had been detained into foster care and was only recently released back to her care. As Marissa sat with me, I watched her open up with each story of what she was experiencing for the first time with her little girl—morning kisses, wobbling attempts at standing on her own, making little videos of her little one “dancing” to music. This young woman, who had seemed to almost disappear when she walked in, was coming to life and wanted to be heard.
As we learned more about Marissa’s history, we found that her life had been informed by trauma that would shatter any one of us—and yet simply being listened to, being considered and feeling like she now had a community created changes that were immediate and lasting.
We are women, we are mothers, and we all want the same for our children.
What has surprised you the most about creating this community of volunteer moms?
What has surprised me most is not really a surprise at all. From the outside, our member moms’ and foster teen moms’ lives look radically different, but as we come together, we connect over the common bonds we all share. We are women, we are mothers, and we all want the same for our children. A young mother who has been in foster care, and may have experienced abuse or having been sex trafficked, wants her child to dream and be safe, just like us. Whether they’re growing up with privilege or a group home, our children want their mother’s love and attention. They want to be astronauts and presidents, they melt down when they are tired and they want to play tickle monster, and probably prefer a popsicle to spinach.
What's your advice for moms who also want to found a charitable or community-based organization that helps people in need?
Ask yourself if there is a need first. Is someone already doing what you imagine and are they doing it well? If yes, work with them. Starting a charitable endeavor like Alliance of Moms is a full-time volunteer endeavor forJules, Danika and myself. You must deeply believe in what you are fighting for, because you will have to ask yourself if you can justify the time away from your children. I would love to be able to say that my dedication to Alliance of Moms has not impacted my time with my family, but that is simply not true.
Thankfully, I have an unbelievably supportive husband. My older children are proud and understand, and my younger kids definitely have moments where they don’t want Mommy working or going to another meeting. I talk to them about my work. They know that Mommy helps other mommies and their kids be able to enjoy the same things that we enjoy. We also talk a lot about how it’s our job as people to help each other out in the world.
Where do you hope the Alliance of Moms is in five or 10 years?
I would love to see the model of AOM used across the nation. There are moms all over the country, and there are pregnant and parenting teens in every state. We have more kids in foster care in Los Angeles than anywhere in the United States. I believe if we can find a successful and impactful model here, we can create a scalable model for other moms to launch.