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Posted April 30, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Mothers find support in childrens' play group

J.C. Lonsiak entertains himself
J.C. Lonsiak, 6 months, entertains himself while others play and mothers visit. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Kallie Gyurisin gets green food
Kallie Gyurisin, 2, gets green food, from her mother Karen while enjoying their “green” themed Food and Fun play date. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Finnegan walks
Amy Slaughter persuades her son Finnegan, 11 months to walk by coaxing him with food. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Kate Wilhelm and Elmo
Kate Wilhelm, 21 months, has an encounter with an Elmo holding a pizza at her play date. Dennis Grundman/Daily

play group front room
The front room is busy with feeding and playing. (L to R) Braden Henry, 10 months gets fed by his mother, Becky Sue Henry. Veronica Sookhu holds and feeds J.C. Lonsiak, 6 months as Allison Kite, 2, looks on. Dennis Grundman/Daily


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Josette Keelor -- Daily Staff Writer

Six-month-old J.C. Lonsiak grins when he sees his friend walk into the kitchen. He has been going through a smiling phase lately, Veronica Sookhu says, glancing down at her son resting in his portable car seat. His eyes continue to follow the older baby toddling around the room.

Helping J.C. and his older sister Vanessa, 3, learn to socialize with other children is one of Sookhu's prime reasons for meeting at the home of Aimee Gangai, of Winchester, on a recent Tuesday morning.

Soon Kate Wilhelm, 21 months, arrives with her mother Christin, and Allison Kite, 2, with her mother Kerri Ann. Before long the party has begun.

The "Food and Fun" meet-up, organized by the Winchester Playgroup, offered a chance for mothers and their children to interact in a casual atmosphere.

Green was the theme of the event, and each mother in attendance brought a dish, such as guacamole or green-colored lemon bars. The food-themed meet-up was only one of many sessions that took place that week, an example of any typical week in the group's calendar.

Winchester Playgroup, which celebrates its two-year anniversary this month, offers daily activities -- sometimes several times a day -- and members can pick and choose which ones they would like to attend, says Sookhu, one of the club's founders.

"We're very, very flexible," Sookhu says. The group also meets at libraries, organizes field trips and offers parties, picnics and family nights out throughout the year.

All across the nation play groups such as this one form behind the scenes of everyday life. Mothers looking for places to help their children meet new friends or who are, themselves, looking for companionship or assistance can learn about these groups from asking other moms, searching community events or even surfing the Internet. Web sites like www.meetup.com offer information about play groups all over, allowing mothers to choose one close to home.

Sookhu learned about the Winchester group after moving from Virginia Beach, where she had been a member of another play group.

"When I moved up to Winchester, there was nothing," she says. She searched for groups online and came across them on the meetup.com site that co-founder Melanie Levy started. Levy was about to give birth to another child, so Sookhu took over running the group until the two could work on it together.

"There's such a great need for moms clubs in this area," Sookhu says.

Other mothers agreed, and despite its sputtering start, within a year the group had taken flight with about 100 families on board. It now canvases a wide area, from Charles Town, W.Va., to Woodstock and from Gore, W.Va., to Berryville.

"I think we're one of the largest ones [in the area]," Sookhu says.

Since its infancy, the group has welcomed two more organizers -- Wilhelm and Kite, who both joined during the first year.

"Most members are not Winchester natives," Sookhu says, explaining that this is exactly why it is so beneficial to mothers of young children.

"I find it's very important to get out of the house."

"I've met such great new people, such great new friends," says Gangai. Having no family in the area, when she moved to Winchester she did not know anyone. She met Sookhu in another club, but both women have since switched to the play group instead.

Enabling her sons Anthony, 4, and Dominic, 2, to socialize with other children their age was her main motivation in joining the play group, Gangai says.

"I love it, I mean we do something almost every day with the group," Wilhelm says. Now a stay-at-home mom, Wilhelm had also found it difficult to make friends in Winchester because she worked in Bethesda and did not find the time to socialize locally. The play group matched her up with other moms with similar interests.

"I needed this, and it's been wonderful," she says.

Wilhelm organizes the Angel Helpers, a collection of volunteers with the group who help out new moms in need by providing meal delivery among other needed services for an overwhelmed mother.

She also runs Co-op, which teams up mothers who will care for each others' children for a few hours in return for some time alone or to run errands.

"We're women who support each other as mothers and as women," Sookhu says.
"For $5 a year you get support online or in person, and you have something to do every day," she says. "I think a lot of people can benefit from this group."

"It's a great way to meet people and a great way for your kids to socialize," Kite says.

Winchester Playgroup has a Web site at www.playgroup.meetup.com/666. The Woodstock Moms meet-up group and Berryville Stay At Home Moms also have pages at meetup.com.

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