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Mops lends moms a hand


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Tara Ellis loved spending time with her son, a boundless bundle of boyish energy named Andrew. And when she looked at newborn Rebekah, her heart did a mom's melt. Oh, she adored them, yes. But still. . . .

She needed an occasional break from the tiny hands, the shrill cries. That's when she learned about MOPS, a dose of relaxation and religion, of sympathy and support.

That's Mothers of Preschoolers, an international organization that specializes in sharing parenting wisdom, biblical scripture and the support women need for those moments when a mom's patience, like an old diaper, has had all it can take.

Ellis, 28, discovered MOPS last year. Now, her kids a year older, she's eager for another session at First Baptist Church of Snellville, which is hosting a chapter for preschool moms for a second year.

The chapter's first meeting is from 9:30 a.m. to noon Thursday. It will meet during those hours every other week until May 18, when MOPS adjourns for another summer.

For Ellis and other mothers whose children range from a few days to 5 years old, the chapter answers their need for peace, literally and spiritually.

It gives moms a break from the demands of raising preschoolers, letting them leave their children at the church's nursery. For a few hours, mothers can compare experiences and get advice from mentors who have already raised preschoolers. They also can turn to a higher power for help.

The chapter draws its inspiration from a verse in the Bible's Book of Philippians, which admonishes the faithful to "shine as lights in the world."

Ellis, whose son is now 2 1/2 and her daughter 1, intends to do just that.

"This is a good place for feedback" from other mothers, said Ellis, who attended the chapter's organizational meeting Thursday at the church. "It's also a good break from my children."

About 30 women sat at tables and reviewed plans for the coming MOPS season. They ranged from young women to grandmothers, who were there to offer advice and who freely admitted that their grandchildren are perfect.

Organizers expect 50 or more participants who will pay a $20 registration fee to join, said Debbie Davidson, one of the chapter's coordinators. A mom --- her daughters, Anna and Ashlyn, are 3 and 1, respectively --- Davidson was a MOPS regular last year, and she came away convinced that good things happen when mothers gather at church to support each other.

"It's a great way to build friendships," Davidson said.

Based in Denver, MOPS traces its origins to 1973, when eight women in Wheat Ridge, Colo., began meeting at a local church to share scripture and mothering advice. Over the years, MOPS spread to other churches, until it incorporated during the 1980s as a nonprofit organization. MOPS also went international during the 1980s when it expanded into Canada.

MOPS is big time now, with a line of inspirational books and apparel. MOPS-chartered groups meet in more than 3,800 churches across the nation and in 32 other countries. According to the organization's Web site, more than 60 chapters meet within 50 miles of downtown Atlanta. Eighteen are in Gwinnett.

Snellville First Baptist is planning lunch or breakfast for each meeting, said Carol Shinpoch, who is married to the Rev. Russ Shinpoch, the church's senior pastor. Each meeting, she said, will focus on topics that can bedevil parents --- public or private education, discipline, sibling rivalry, to name a few.

"We want to reach people in the community," Shinpoch said.

She's also coordinating the chapter's mentors, the moms who no longer have preschoolers to chase. One is Starla Harbin, 33. She has an 11-year-old son, Crosby, and 6-year-old daughter, Karis, and clearly recalls those days when she would have appreciated some divine intervention to keep her preschoolers in line. She didn't have a MOPS chapter back then.

"This is a wonderful ministry for young mothers," she said. "It's a safe place for them to come and bring their children."

To learn more about the Snellville chapter, e-mail jdaa4@bellsouth.net or telephone 770-982-0026. For information about the location of MOPS chapters, visit the organization's Web site, www.mops.org.

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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