MotherWoman in Hadley hires Shannon Koehn as new executive director

Originally posted Thursday, Sep 19, 2013 on

Shannon M. Koehn, recently named to head MotherWoman Inc., said in statement that as mother of a 13-year-old daughter, she relates to its mission and work in supporting other women.

“When I recall the challenges life has afforded me, I am always reminded of the victories because of this support,” Koehn said. “For this very reason, I look forward to fostering support for others through the advancement of MotherWoman’s continued important work.”

Koehn, who earned a business degree from Medaille College, most recently was associate director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y., where she built partnerships at the local, state, and federal level and oversaw a $3.1 million capital campaign. She has also taught business and management courses as an adjunct faculty member at Bryant & Stratton College, which has campuses in New York.

Last year, MotherWoman, which was established in 1999, received the Nonprofit Excellence in Advocacy Award from the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.

The organization was selected for its support of policies to address the risk of perinatal emotional complications for mothers and for promoting, with the western Massachusetts political leadership, the adoption of earned sick time legislation.

MotherWoman’s activities also include training community leaders and professionals who direct groups empowering mothers and their partners; training medical, mental health and social service professionals about the need for integrated support for maternal emotional health; and working with partner organizations to educate parents and caregivers on policies that impact families.

Joanne Sunshower, president of MotherWoman, said in a statement that Koehn is a gifted and engaging leader.

“Her experience brings a new level of impetus for expanding our programs across the state, and attracting support for policies that enable families to thrive, such as earned paid sick time and paid parental leave,” Sunshower said.

Koehn succeeds Beth Spong, who is returning to her professional practice as a partner with Rainmaker Consulting Inc. in Holyoke.


Zonta Club of Northampton Area Presents...


MotherWoman would also like to thank the Zonta Club of Northampton Area for raising money for MotherWoman!

To find out more about Zonta and the Zonta Club of Northampton, please visit their website!


International Women's Day: Annette Cycon, Elizabeth Friedman Work to Empower Mothers

Written by Judith Kelliher 
Published February 25, 2013 at 1:13 PM on


Editor's note: In conjunction with International Women's Day on March 8, The Republican is featuring more than a dozen area women and their accomplishments in profiles during March, which is also Women's History Month. Many of the profiles will appear in Pioneer Valley Life and on MassLive.Com on March 2.

Annette Cycon and Elizabeth "Liz" A. Friedman were strangers, living in different states, and who unbeknownst to each other, were on parallel paths to empower mothers.

In 1999, Cycon, a licensed clinical social worker, started MotherWoman, a Hadley-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the empowerment of mothers.

She came up with the idea of support groups for mothers in response to an unmet need she saw as “the invisibility of the role and the importance of mothers in the shaping of our children, our families and our communities.”

Meanwhile, Friedman started informal meetings of new mothers where she was living in Providence, R.I., after experiencing a "very severe crisis postpartum" and finding little support to help her deal with this after the birth of her first child.

The two women eventually connected when Friedman found MotherWoman in a Google search in 2004 about mothers’ support groups in Western Massachusetts at a time when she and her family planned to move there.

After living in the area for a while, Friedman eventually reached out to Cycon, 55, to learn more about the group and attended a workshop on motherhood.

Those interactions resulted in Friedman, 45, joining the organization as program director.

“I went to the support group and was absolutely inspired. Annette was on fire and completely on point,” said Friedman, who founded the perinatal support arm of MotherWoman.

“I remember a follow-up meeting and basically laid my cards on the table and said I want to do this with you and to lead this with you, so let’s go.”

Since then, MotherWoman has grown to include not only mothers’ support groups, but also offers training to community leaders and health professionals to run their own such groups, provides professional training to medical and social service providers in the area of postpartum depression and encourages mothers to get educated about policy issues impacting families and to get politically involved.

In Cycon’s experience as a mother and a therapist, the role of mothers is often misunderstood.

“We make a lot of assumptions about how strong mothers are and how important they are yet we don’t actually support them truly and we don’t ask them honestly to tell us how they are,” she said.

“This is an awful lot to expect for one person to be perfect every day of the week in an endless well of giving.”

One of the fundamental roots of MotherWoman is a consciousness-raising model that allows women to come together to speak truthfully about “the good, the bad and the ugly” of being a mother, which exposes what’s common among all mothers so they can “relieve the guilt, understand the paradigm and realize it’s not ‘me’ there is something wrong with,” Friedman said.

“It’s actually a larger system and we look at how I both empower myself and my family while changing the system around me,” Friedman said.

Many women who join the programs offered by MotherWoman think they are alone in their struggles and frustrations, they say.

“We have mothers that come into our groups all the time who are pushing baby strollers wherever in this region and they see the woman across the street and think she’s got it all together,” Friedman said. “They don’t know that she is also probably suffering under the same weight and pressure.”

MotherWoman is a place where commonalities are discussed and myths get debunked so mothers can move forward in an empowering way, Cycon said.

“We created a safe space where women could come together and talk about the reality of motherhood in a non-shaming, blaming or judgmental environment so they could be honest and share what they’re experiencing and then they can think more clearly about what they need to do,” she said.

The daughter of Polish immigrants. Cycon holds a bachelor's degree cum laude in psychology and philosophy from Clark University in Worcester, and a master's degree in social work from Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

Cycon is married to Dean Cycon, owner of Dean’s Beans organic coffee company in Orange. The couple has two daughters, Sarah, 21, and Aliya, 19, who are both in college.

Friedman, who was a winner in a 2011 national essay contest on the role of women globally, has a master's in fine arts from Bard College with an undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton. Her "You
are exactly/the right person/to be your child's' mother: A love poem and commitment for mothers" is used in MotherWoman's training session.

Friedman is married to Peter Kassis, a family physician in Springfield, and the couple has two children, Noah, 10, and Haliyah, 5.

Cycon and Friedman feel their empowerment of women will result in change over time to more equity in the workforce for mothers in terms of pay and family support.

“A lack of policy support keeps mothers in poverty and from being able to increase their economic base so they can thrive and not feel a constant sense of stress,” Friedman said.

“But I think that mothers are becoming more articulate even though the stresses have increased. The ability to have a dialogue in a meaningful way about these issues has moved everyone greatly forward.”

MotherWoman was a recipient of a 2012 Nonprofit Excellence in Advocacy Award from the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.

MotherWoman was selected for the advocacy award, along with four others, for its work with Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, in developing postpartum depression policies for all mothers in Massachusetts which resulted in the passage of the Postpartum Depression Legislation in 2010.

The award also honored MotherWoman's leadership in the effort to pass Earned Paid Sick Time legislation in Massachusetts.

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More Families Relying on Working Wives

Written by Anaridis Rodriguez on Chanel 22 News
Published on 19 February, 2013. 

For video, please see original article, or MotherWoman's video page


NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) - More families are relying on the wives’ and mothers' paychecks. 

They're calling it a consequence of the recession.  University of New Hampshire researchers say more families continue to struggle to make ends meet and are relying on the incomes of working wives.

“It's happened to my family, my husband is a builder, I'm a hairdresser and he lost work, there was no work for him,” said Colleen Bolger of Hanover. 

Bolger's story is shared by millions of women.  A recent Carsey Institute study found that from 2007 to 2009 more working married women contributed close to half of total family earnings.

“I was working my full time job hairdressing and then I picked up extra hours at a boutique just to make ends meet and it was a really hard time.  We were really nervous we were going to loose our house,” said Bolger in Northampton on Tuesday.

Researchers trace the trend to job losses across several sectors, including construction and manufacturing.  But Annette Cycon of Motherwoman , a Hadley support group, says employment policies also have a lot to do with it. 

“We're the only developed country in the world that does not offer any guarantee maternity leave. In Afghanistan, there's 100% maternity leave for 90 days for a working woman,” said Cycon inside her Russell Street office.

And that puts into question paycheck fairness as working mothers also make less than their male counterparts.  Cycon says it's a dynamic that shifts gender roles and adds a level of stress to the relationship.

“Without flexible work options, without earned paid sick time, these kinds of situations continue to increase the stress for working families. And keep families in a cycle of low paying hourly jobs,” Cycon said. 

The study says family poverty rates have also gone up, to the highest level recorded in the past fifteen years.



Northampton Gathering Calls for Gun Law Changes

Published on by BOB DUNN, Staff Writer
Friday, December 21, 2012.
(Published in print: Saturday, December 22, 2012)


NORTHAMPTON — “If we don’t get serious changes in our gun laws on a federal level now, we will never get them,” said state Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst. “Assault rifles are not guns, they are weapons of mass destruction.”

Story joined about 75 others Friday morning at Edwards Church of Northampton to remember the victims of last week’s shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were gunned down by a lone intruder.

The group gathered to remember, to console each other, express outrage at the level of violence exhibited last Friday — and to call for change to the country’s gun policies.

“We feel rage that our political leaders have been so impotent in the face of pressure from the National Rifle Association,” Story said while addressing the crowd. “It is not to be tolerated anymore.”

“There is no excuse for anyone who is a civilian to have an assault weapon,” Story said.

Story said the exposure of the shooting and the ages of most of the victims, and the underlying issues it brings up about failures in gun policy and mental health care in the U.S., provides a needed platform to have a nationwide discussion in the hopes of preventing future tragedies.

“Mental health costs money, and we don’t want to pay for it,” Story said. “We have to pay for it. We have to do better than we are doing now.”

Rabbi Nancy Flam said the Newtown attacks brought “shock, cold horror, deep sadness and bright outrage” in their wake, but also awakened the “fierce, ferocious love of the mother who comes to protect,” and hoped a renewed call to strengthen gun laws would help put a stop to a nationwide “idolatry of gun worship.”

Flam said the excuse of not changing existing gun laws because doing so wouldn’t prevent all future gun violence doesn’t carry any weight.

“To save one life is to save an entire world,” she said.

Liz Friedman, program director of MotherWoman, a Hadley nonprofit that organized the event, said it wasn’t just an opportunity to try and encourage gun law changes, but a chance to express collective grief and, perhaps, by doing so, relieve some of the burden from those directly affected by the violence in Newtown.

“Grief turned inwardly isolates us,” she said.

Marianne Winters, executive director of Safe Passage, an anti-domestic violence agency, said such gatherings can have a therapeutic effect.

“When hope is in short supply, we have to come together,” she said.

The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian led the group in a brief prayer in which she asked for “the gentleness to be healers and the wisdom to be counselors.”

Those present filled out copies of letters to President Obama and Massachusetts legislators demanding a plan to end gun violence in the U.S.

“What we need from our nation’s leaders is more than just a moment of silence, we need a moment of courage,” part of the letter reads.

“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to lose a child,” said Liz Bigwood of Northampton. “To lose a child in a violent way is probably the worst imaginable.”

Bigwood said she felt compelled to attend not only to help assuage her own grief, but to support the families of the lost children in any way she could.

“It’s a sense of feeling we are a community and it’s OK to cry and to come together,” Bigwood said. “It’s the most natural thing in the world to need to be with other mothers.”Bigwood said she is preparing to travel to Africa to visit her daughter, who is serving with the Peace Corps in Senegal and whom she hasn’t seen for about 10 months.

“I’ve felt lately that I’ve wanted to hug her so intensely,” Bigwood said.

The 90-minute ceremony also featured music from local women’s choir Wings, singer-songwriter Nerissa Nields and vocalist Moonlight Daniels.


Bob Dunn can be reached at