Every Wednesday last year, a couple Macon mothers could be found sitting behind a table on Mercer University’s Macon campus. They came bearing gifts of homemade cookies to pass out to students and ready to offer “mom advice” to those who wanted it.
Denise Stroud, Allison Griffin and Shannon McCormick are members of Ask Mom MU, which Stroud started in fall 2019 after hearing about a similar group at the University of Georgia. While they haven’t been on campus yet this semester due to COVID-19, they hope to be able to return later this year and recruit more members.
Stroud has a son, Charles, who graduated from Mercer in May and three older daughters. Once all her children had graduated high school and were out of the house, she missed having that regular interaction with young people. She said Ask Mom was a way for her to stay connected and continue the mentoring that she loved.
The moms normally set up inside the Connell Student Center from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, but they met on Cruz Plaza a few times last year, so McCormick could bring her therapy dog, Rubble. He was a huge hit with the students, especially when he came in holiday costumes, said McCormick, whose son, Jack, is a sophomore.
Students could grab a cookie from the Ask Mom table and go, but the women were there to listen if they had time to stop for a minute.
“We tried to talk to anybody and everybody. We don’t have any other agenda other than to speak to them, make them feel like somebody cares and give them a cookie,” said Griffin, whose daughter, Molly, is a sophomore.
It took the students a little while to get comfortable talking with the Ask Mom members, but word soon spread about the free cookies and conversation. Before long, students were sharing how they did on tests, what they were doing on campus and how their classes were going, McCormick said.
The moms provide some adult perspective on basic issues students need help with, Griffin said. Last year, they answered questions about topics including laundry, where to go shopping, where to find certain things in Macon, and what to do if you’re not feeling well, Stroud said. Some students who seemed like loners really opened up to the moms over time.
“We ended up with our regulars who came every week,” Stroud said. “Some of them wanted a hug and some wanted to stand and talk.”
Most weeks, the women handed out individually-packaged brownies, snickerdoodles and chocolate chip cookies, and they always had an allergy-free option. Sometimes they honored special cookie requests from students, like oatmeal cookies without raisins, or brought special treats for exam week or holidays, Stroud said.
McCormick said the group is a great way to encourage students and help them feel more of a sense of community. The moms want to be familiar faces that students will feel comfortable reaching out to, especially if they’re feeling homesick, Stroud said.
“A lot of the students would tell us, ‘I just miss my mom, and this makes me feel better,’” she said.
Students can feel lost and disconnected when they’re away from their family, and the Ask Mom members want to show them there are community members who are looking out for them and want to see them each week, Griffin said.
“College students are under a lot of stress, so anything we can do to help them and let them know that people care helps,” McCormick said.