ELMHURST – A woman with experience working as a social worker, Sonia Reyes knew how important support groups could be, but she didn’t join an Elmhurst-based group for single mothers until just two years ago.
“I went to this ice cream shop in Elmhurst, and I came out with more than just ice cream,” said Reyes, a single mother.
She found a flyer for Sisters Helping Each Other (SHE), an Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church (ECRC) ministry.
Even though her four children are grown, Reyes says they still are her children and she still is a single mom. She enjoys the support system of women who know what she’s been through as well as the group’s founder, a woman who’s been married for 50 years.
Jane Loerop of Elmhurst started the group after serving at the church’s preschool program.
“I would see these single moms come with their children,” Loerop said.
Once Loerop discovered the need, she decided to serve it. She said God put the calling on her heart. Throughout her life, the 71-year-old recalls helping people in all situations.
“I’ve been doing two things at once,” she said.
Four years after SHE began providing single mothers access to services and support, the ministry now serves more than 200 women from the western suburbs.
“Jane, her heart is so big,” Reyes said. “She’s just a person who never stops trying to love others.”
The support group offers monthly programs like the most recent spa day where mothers were pampered by local businesses that volunteered their services. Merle Norman Cosmetics gave facials. Olympia Chiropractors and Woodridge Injury and Recovery offered shoulder massages.
“They’re not going to feel the guilt that a single mom feels when she thinks of going out to do something for herself,” Reyes said about the relaxing mom’s day because SHE also watches children during single mom events.
Moms relaxed while SHE provided free childcare for kids 14 and under. Childcare and a free meal are always offered at monthly events, but the content for moms varies. Upcoming activities include speakers on domestic violence and raising grateful children.
Reyes has spoken in the past about how she represented herself in court after she could no longer afford to pay an attorney to pursue child support payments.
“I think my story empowered other women to go after their rights,” Reyes said.
Another of Reyes’ favorite events is the SHE annual Christmas party where moms exchange white elephant gifts and collect free toys for their children. SHE also hosts an event where mothers and children can pick up clothing in all sizes from newborn to adult.
“That’s huge for [single moms] because they’re on a budget,” Reyes said.
Two years after joining SHE, Reyes serves on the group’s steering committee, which helps decide what programs to offer based on the needs they see or hear from members.
Loerop said the committee allows women an opportunity to give back to the group, which is not just open to ECRC members.
“The majority of the people who come are not members of our church,” said Loerop. “We like it that way.”
Reyes, herself, is a member of another church, and thinks the diversity of the group adds to the experience. She said many single moms feel categorized by negative terms like “broken family,” but SHE creates an environment where they are all equal.
“It’s also empowering to be with other women of different backgrounds,” Reyes said.
That’s been Loerop’s mission all along. From offering programs on how to eat nutritiously on a budget to giving moms a massage and a few hours to themselves, SHE supports single moms with what they need most.
“We want to make these women feel valued and important,” Loerop said.