Plus, more and more Mommies were asking to form subgroups based on where they lived (Sunnyside, Sloan's Lake) or their interests (organic cooking, yoga).

One subgroup, the Giving Gals, is particularly active. Anchored by three women, it raises money for charity and holds an annual holiday gift drive.

Today there are more than fifty subgroups, including those based upon when a member's child was born. Different Mommies take leadership roles within the subgroups, but the website as a whole is overseen by Martinez and Herrera-Hay. There are several rules designed to help it run smoothly. For instance, a Mommy who is also a business owner can only promote her business once a month. All political messages must include the word "POLITICAL" in the subject line so uninterested Mommies can skip them. Classified ads should be posted in the classified section, not on the main message board.

Elina Martinez and Laverne Herrera-Hay are the managing directors of the Highlands Mommies.
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Elina Martinez and Laverne Herrera-Hay are the managing directors of the Highlands Mommies.
The Highlands Business Group includes Angela Tolar, Leanne Silverman, Kimberly Haut and Lauren Wolf.
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The Highlands Business Group includes Angela Tolar, Leanne Silverman, Kimberly Haut and Lauren Wolf.


Go on a windshield tour of the Highlands with Lauren Wolf and Angela Tolar.

In 2011, the Mommies will add moderators specifically to welcome new members, help keep up with policy matters and handle other issues.

Policy changes can sometimes cause a stir, though. Earlier this year, there was an online flap about whether the Mommies should start charging minimal dues — a few bucks a year — to help support the growing group. It wasn't clear where the money would go, but many Mommies said they wouldn't pay it. The issue was quickly dropped, and Herrera-Hay says there are no current plans to charge dues.

Layla Barr was among the opponents. "We have never struggled to get financial backing," she explains. Barr helped plan the first Highlands Mommies Family Picnic, which is now an epic annual event. It costs $5,000 to put on, and the moderators say all of it is donated by local businesses. "When I started doing the picnic sponsorship and going out to local businesses and saying we're looking for business sponsorships," Barr recalls, "they'd say, 'Oh, my God! How do I get involved with Highlands Mommies?'"


The first high-profile issue the Mommies took on was schools.

In 2006, a few passionate members asked for a meeting with the then-superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Michael Bennet, who had taken over the struggling school district a year earlier and was trying to stem the tide of parents who sent their kids to private schools or to schools in the suburbs because they were unhappy with the quality of DPS.

A 2007 Rocky Mountain News investigative series reported that at the time, 40 percent of Denver kids chose to go to a school other than their neighborhood school.

That's not what the Mommies wanted for their kids, so they rented the gym at Clare Gardens, a low-income townhouse complex on Osceola Street, and invited Bennet for a sit-down. More than 100 Mommy families showed up.

"We had Michael Bennet at one end of the room and a circle of parents and all the rugrats in the middle," says Mommies member Jennifer Draper Carson, a 42-year-old mother of two who helped organize the meeting. "That was the whole point: Michael, this is what's coming. This is the neighborhood, and this is what we want. If you want to keep us in the school system, you need to understand."

The Mommies laid out their demands. They wanted academic rigor and a continuation of the neighborhood's two International Baccalaureate programs at Brown International Academy and Lake Middle School. They wanted to see major changes at North High School, which had an abysmal graduation rate.

And they wanted to be involved in making it happen. "Most of us are engaged and proactive," says Draper Carson. "And most of us didn't move here to live here until our kids graduate from fifth grade. We want to stay. We love our neighborhood. The one thing that's missing is a beach — and a rigorous school system."

It's a refrain echoed from every corner of the Highlands Mommies empire. Several Mommies are currently working on their own to improve the middle and high schools, even though their own kids are still in elementary school. Take Draper Carson: Though her oldest child is only six, she's the chairwoman of the North High Collaborative School Committee, which helps make budgetary decisions.

In late August, the Giving Gals subgroup organized a pub crawl along West 32nd to benefit the elementary schools. More than 500 people showed up to drink and eat at eleven bars and restaurants, and the event raised $12,200.

The idea was to split the money between the thirteen elementary schools within the Highlands Mommies boundaries. But there was a catch: In order to receive some of the money, each school had to provide one person — a parent, a volunteer, a teacher — to help with the pub crawl. Only four schools responded: Brown, Valdez, Edison and Cheltenham. The first three schools sent parent-teacher organization members (who also happened to be Mommies). But Cheltenham, a school on Colfax Avenue that serves a lower-income, largely non-Highlands Mommies population, had no parent volunteer to send. The vice principal helped out instead. In the end, each school got $3,000.

And the Highlands Mommies learned a lesson: Not every school in the Highlands has a PTO. For 2011, Martinez and Herrera-Hay have made it their goal to help create one at all of the more than twenty public schools within their boundaries.

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