Village Park moms group keeps community connected

A collection of selfies of some of the Village Park mom crew.

In a time of stay-at-home orders and quarantines, a group of moms in the Village Park Rec Club 1 neighborhood of Encinitas have banded together to care for their community and for one another. The mom’s crew of about 40 moms has built an active virtual community network to ensure their families stay tightly tied together even though they must keep their distance. Among the moms there are almost 100 kids, with more on the way.

“It truly takes a village to keep a neighborhood connected and caring,” said Brittany Hurd, a Village Park Rec Club 1 HOA board member. “These moms are making it happen.”

Village Park mom Ryann Cacciotti moved to the neighborhood in 2013 and she said at the time there were about five kids on her street—now there are about 20 kids under the age of 10 on her street alone. With the growing number of younger families, a concerted effort had been starting to build in the neighborhood, one of “I’m keeping an eye on your kids and you’re keeping an eye on my kids.”

“With COVID, that’s when we all really came together even though we didn’t have as close a connection,” said Cacciotti, likening the experience to a favorite saying: “The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. It’s what you’re made of, not the circumstances.”

In possibly the worst and strangest of circumstances of a global pandemic, the moms grew closer, leaned on and supported one another.

The moms started by forming a simple text chain to communicate with each other. The creative juices started flowing almost immediately—school closures were announced on March 13 and Cacciotti said by St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 the group had its first challenge up and running. Everyone was encouraged to draw in sidewalk chalk or place a shamrock somewhere on their home so when families got outside for some fresh air they had a bit of luck to look for on their walks. In the early days of the pandemic, moms coordinated safe sidewalk activities like scavenger hunts with different themes. For a fun dance and lip sync challenge, families sang and danced in their homes and a neighbor edited all of the videos together.

Cacciotti said a big thing was to make sure every mom didn’t feel like they had to participate in every daily thing: “It’s not about adding stress, it’s about creating a community to make things easier.”

Eventually, the text chain moved to WhatsApp messaging to be more inclusive. Families who weren’t already acquainted were introduced to one another and there were exchanges of ideas and hand-me-downs. The group ensured no one was left behind—if a mom saw someone they didn’t know at the playground or park when they reopened, they said hello and got them set up in the group.

For Halloween, the moms brainstormed how they could still celebrate the holiday safely as a neighborhood. Those who felt comfortable participated in a socially distanced and masked parade through the streets, everyone starting at their own homes and walking around to see each other’s costumes. Some neighbors set up tables for safe candy distribution at the end of their driveways.

Hurd said since they started in March there has not been an increase in-person activities, it has just been a valuable open communication channel.

“It is virtual and contactless but it is personal,” Hurd said.

More than just swapping ideas and safely exchanging items, the women are checking in with each other and seeing if anyone needs any help. When a neighborhood family lost their mother/grandmother to cancer, the moms organized a food train and offerings of support for the grieving family.

For the holidays the moms have decided to extend their reach beyond their neighborhood streets, adopting a family through the North County Lifeline organization.

Mom Heather Glabe has all kinds of fun ideas for the next month including a holiday lights challenge with prizes and a charitable element, as well as a virtual caroling night on Zoom. She envisions asking all of the families to get cozy in their pajamas with cookies and cocoa to sing songs, together yet apart.

That togetherness is what means the most to group member Courtney Fong. Growing up, she lived in a close and tight-knit community and that was something she really missed in her 20s and 30s, when people tend to live a more transient lifestyle and might never know their neighbors. Now with her family living in Village Park, it is important to her that her kids know at least one person on every street— she loves that there is a true sense of security and care for one another.

“The moms group has been a lifeline,” Fong said. “We may be physically alone but we are not alone. Sometimes there are people that really need to hear that.”

Glabe said she hopes their group will inspire other neighborhoods to form their own squads. Her biggest piece of advice is being open to meeting new people and making an effort to include everyone. It all starts with “Hello.”