For many mothers, especially those with young children, the days at home can be very lonely.
That’s where Merry McKeown found herself in 2016 when she moved to Mahomet.
McKeown, whose husband was in the military, moved to Mahomet after living in Atlanta, GA where she found connection through a group called “Grant Park Network” where parents were able to find families with similar-aged children and do activities together. McKeown said she enjoyed socializing her then infant with other infants through this network.
When McKeown came to Mahomet, she joined the Mahomet Tots Group, which met at Bridle Brook during the school year. Although she really enjoyed making friends through this group, mothers began to see that there was a developmental discrepancy between children who were 18 months, 2.5 years old and infants.
McKeown got with Mahomet Tots organizer Tara Allen to suggest they start a social group like the Grant Park Network in Mahomet. On July 1, the Village of Mahomet Park Network was launched.
“I brought this idea up to her that maybe we could have something like this in Mahomet,” McKeown said.
With a daughter entering kindergarten for the 2017-2018 school year, McKeown said she has only met a handful of the 200 children and parents her daughter will grow up with.
“And imagine all these other kindergartners who didn’t go to preschool, didn’t have that socialization,” she said. “And if we had this network, a mom could just go out to the park and just know there was someone else there. You wouldn’t feel too nervous or scared about joining because it’s just inclusive to everyone in the community.”
Allen felt similarly to McKeown when she first moved to Mahomet with two young children. During her first winter here, she even signed up for a breastfeeding class, although she hadn’t breast fed in a year just because she wanted to get out of the house.
To remedy her need to be around other people, Allen started Mahomet Tots in February 2016.
“It has been an amazing 18 months,” she said. “I has been magical.”
Aside from the fact that Mahomet Tots is outgrowing the Bridle Brook location, she has also seen a need to bring children in similar age groups together.
In designing the Village of Mahomet Parent Network, Allen put together five age groups for children age infant to 5 so that the children within the group would enter kindergarten together. As a parent contacts the VMPN, they are placed in a group with their child(ren) to receive information about playdates and nannies or babysitters.
By bringing parents together, the women also hope that mothers will be able to connect and share information about raising children in today’s world.
“As a new parent, you’re just floundering,” McKeown said.
She also said sometimes it’s difficult to ask older generations how to care for a baby because times were so different then.
“When we were younger, our parents put us to sleep on our bellies,” she said. “But now we put babies to sleep on their backs.”
McKeown and Allen said during the summer months, each playgroup might meet once a month, but during the school year, they may meet more often. The women also said they’d like to see quarterly get together for the whole group in the future so that more people can get to know one another.
VMPN has had requests to start playgroups for school-aged children, but both Allen and McKeown said they can only focus on getting started with preschool-aged children at this point in time.