Motherhood is better together: Why two Detroit women started a community to support moms

When Jalyn Spencer-Harris and Alex Fluegel first met in a business planning class through the Build Institute, they discovered they had a lot in common. They were mothers, aspiring entrepreneurs, and disappointed with the lack of resources and a quality support system for moms in Detroit. 

So they each searched for ways to create it. Eventually, Spencer-Harris and Fluegel joined forces to establish Detroit Mama Hub, a community offering support and education to moms-to-be and mothers of babies and young children.

Spencer-Harris is a Detroit native who was living in Baltimore when she had her son, Zen, 17 years ago. In Baltimore, she took advantage of and enjoyed the different prenatal education and fitness resources available—along with a strong network of mom friends. After she returned to Detroit and had her daughter, Violet, who's now 4 years old, Spencer-Harris saw the difference in the level of support and options available to mothers here. And she didn't want to have to drive out to the suburbs to find it.

"My frustration is what led me to think about creating something like that here in the city," says Spencer-Harris, who pitched her idea for Detroit Mama Hub to the city's Motor City Match program and received an award for a free business planning class. 

Alex Fluegel and Jalyn Spencer-Harris, founders of Mama Hub Hub
 
Meanwhile, Fluegel had difficulty finding part-time flexible childcare for her daughter when she moved to Detroit two years ago from Grand Rapids, where she found quality resources for parents to be more accessible. 

"When I was freelancing, I think I spent 30 days straight where me and my daughter were never separated," says Fluegel, a single mom to 4-year-old Sadie and a freelance web and marketing consultant who also works at a yoga studio and a bar. When she couldn't find childcare that fit her needs, she took a business planning class to explore starting her own co-working/childcare business. 

Detroit Mama Hub began hosting programs in May. Over the summer, at events like Open Streets Detroit and the Detroit Latin Festival, Detroit Mama Hub's baby comfort stations offered mothers a place to nurse, change diapers, and rest. In November, they held a fair to introduce new and expecting moms to baby and birth experts, businesses, and organizations. 

Detroit Mama Hub also hosts a monthly co-working series at Ponyride, a nonprofit that rents out space to entrepreneurs and other organizations. Childcare is provided during the three-hour co-working period, which is followed by a mom's circle playgroup. Detroit Mama Hub also organizes play dates and workshops for moms. Spencer-Harris, who works part-time as a lactation consultant, holds a monthly breastfeeding support group at her home.

Fluegel and Spencer-Harris aim to create spaces where they can provide affirmation and help moms develop their instinct. Detroit Mama Hub's motto is "Motherhood is better together."

"There's so many conflicting opinions, so many different reasons to second-guess what you might think or feel when it comes to your children," Fluegel says. "And teaching moms to develop that confidence and courage to say, 'This is what I think is the right thing to do, and I'm going to trust myself.' That's really important."

Detroit Mama's Circle monthly event

Detroit Mama Hub also hopes to eventually host classes on pre- and postpartum fitness, as well as childbirth education. Spencer-Harris and Fluegel are working to open a physical space where they can hold events and classes in partnership with other professionals, such as doulas, midwives, and yoga instructors. The building will have space to host co-working with childcare.

Detroit Mama Hub doesn't currently charge a membership fee—a paid membership model will be introduced once the brick-and-mortar space opens—instead offering individual ticketed or free events. Members would get access to certain events for free and discounts on classes. 

In September, Detroit Mama Hub received another award from Motor City Match to help find a property and negotiate the lease. They're targeting their search in the city's North End.

The group's Facebook page has more than 600 likes, and a Facebook group where moms can interact with each other and ask questions has about 250 members. Fluegel estimates they have a core group of about 50 active moms who participate in events.

While Detroit has a long history of segregation, an important aspect of Detroit Mama Hub is to bring women of different cultures and backgrounds together to learn from each other.

"We want Detroit Mama Hub to be a space for women/mothers who value inclusivity and also want their children to be in an environment where they can learn to value and respect diversity," Spencer-Harris says.

This article is part of "Detroit Innovation," a series highlighting community-led projects that are improving the vitality of neighborhoods in Detroit, while recognizing the potential of residents to work with partners to solve the most pressing challenges facing their communities.

The series is supported by the New Economy Initiative, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan that's working to create an inclusive, innovative regional culture.

All photos by Nick Hagen
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