By Joel Warner
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As it turns out, most Mommies' children go to four schools: Brown, Valdez, Edison and Academia Ana Marie Sandoval, a dual-language Montessori school on Wyandot Street with a long wait list. And at those schools, volunteerism is thriving, thanks largely to Mommies like Barr, whose daughter is in kindergarten at Sandoval.
Barr, who owns Buchi Cafe Cubano on West 38th Avenue with her husband, was recruited to be on the Sandoval Amigos board, which raises money for the school, the very first week her daughter started preschool there. "They knew I had been involved with Highlands Mommies," she explains. This year, Barr says, Sandoval raised $110,000 to pay for things DPS couldn't afford: two paraprofessionals — one English-speaking, one Spanish-speaking — in each classroom, a gym teacher, and scholarships for the preschool.
Barr has been a Highlands Mommy since 2006. The members of the group, she says, are "Type A women making it happen. We just want to see a strong, healthy community for our families. We're just not willing to sit back and be apathetic.
"I think that we've banded together," she adds. "There's strength in numbers."
Rick Garcia understands those numbers. "I guess how I would say it is, you want them on your side," the former District 1 city councilman says about the Mommies.
Garcia was elected to represent northwest Denver in 2003 and left office earlier this year to take a position as regional director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He can remember a few times, during his years on the council, when he was inundated with e-mails from the Highlands Mommies. One was when the council was debating where to locate a new branch of the library; another concerned the medical marijuana dispensaries in northwest Denver, a topic that caused fervent online debate — but little action — among the Mommies.
And then there was the parks issue. A few years ago, the city's Parks and Recreation Department began receiving complaints about the increasing number of private workout groups using the parks, says department senior advisor Chantal Unfug. One of those groups, SoulFire Fitness, was routinely using Rocky Mountain Lake Park, located at West 46th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard.
SoulFire owner Taylor-Morgan Chapin says parks employees would interrupt her classes to ask whether she had a permit — a requirement the department was considering at the time. A good portion of Chapin's customers were Highlands Mommies, though she wasn't herself, and they decided that the permit policy just wouldn't do. They began writing letters to the parks department and the city council, asking that the proposal be dropped. We all pay taxes to support these parks, they said, and we should be able to use them however we want. But the Mommies weren't getting far.
Then one day during a SoulFire Fitness session, a few Mommies spotted Garcia running laps in the park. "A couple of moms recognized me and they said, 'There's Rick Garcia! Stop him!'" Garcia recalls. They soon caught up to him and surrounded him.
"So, literally," says Herrera-Hay, "you had like 25 Highlands Mommies track him down and say, 'Hi Rick, we're the Highlands Mommies, and why are you doing this? We'll fight you to the death.'" Garcia listened to their concerns and set up a meeting with the parks department, Chapin and the Mommies.
After that, Chapin says, the problem went away — though Unfug says the permit policy may be considered again in the future. "I think it was their influence," Chapin says. "They are a powerful group."
Not when it comes to politics, however. Though some Mommies post political messages on the forums — Help Michael Bennet Get Elected! Lucia Guzman Has Integrity! — and there are political subgroups, including Obama Mamas and Moms of the Republican Persuasion, the Highlands Mommies don't endorse candidates as a whole. Nor do they host their own Q-and-As, though several candidates bought booths at the Spring Fling fair put on by the Mommies' business group in April.
"I know, just from what people say, that they are of all parties and all political persuasions," says Democrat Lucia Guzman, a longtime local politician and state senator-elect for District 34. "Some individuals supported me based on who they are as individuals, not based on the Highlands Mommies."
Even when one of their own runs for office, the Highlands Mommies don't provide blanket support. Earlier this year, Susan Shepherd ran for the city council seat vacated by Garcia. A former political organizer turned stay-at-home mom, Shepherd joined the Highlands Mommies in 2007. She ran for council on a platform near and dear to many Mommies: better schools, better parks and a better crime rate.
"I decided to run for council because I love this neighborhood," she says. "I want this place to be a valid option for our family to live here as long as we'd like."
Though Shepherd was the second-place vote-getter in a crowded field of ten candidates, she lost to former state senator Paula Sandoval, who won 22 percent of the vote and isn't a Mommy. Shepherd got 17 percent.
"I wouldn't say the group functions in an orchestrated manner about politics," Shepherd says. "It's not the purpose of the group or how it's set up."