MINNEAPOLIS — Mothers of chronically and critically ill children are benefitting from a sisterhood of support.
A group of about 150 mothers gathered Sunday at the downtown Hilton for the fifth annual TendHER Heart brunch event hosted by Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, his wife Jenni and the Lead The Way Foundation.
The idea for the event began when the Greenways met mothers of sick children during hospital visits and saw up close the toll taken on mothers. The initial goal was to give the mothers a moment of respite from the strife they encounter with a brunch and gifts such as handbags, lotions and lockets and charms. The event also included hair and make-up sessions and a photo booth with fun props like straw hats and oversized sunglasses.
Relationships have blossomed over the course of the event, and mothers have used social media to stay connected and reach out to others because they have such a genuine understanding of the challenges their children are confronting.
"What it's really all about is to be able to get mothers who are going through similar type of things together," Greenway said. "They can get around a bunch of other mothers, talk about things and understand each other and truly get it, get a response and have someone understand what they're talking about. These women all know what they're going through to a point, and I think that's important."
United by experiences they can uniquely understand, the mothers shared stories and empathy with each other at tables over plates of French toast and bacon. Several mothers also addressed the entire group.
Kathy Ware, of South St. Paul, attended the brunch for the first time. Her 20-year-old son's conditions require extensive care.
"He has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, profound mental retardation, seizure disorder, and I'm a single mom," Ware said.
Ware used the open mic opportunity to thank one of her friends in attendance who has provided support for her son. She said she felt comfort in meeting other moms at the event.
"It's almost a bond immediately when you meet another mom that's in a situation similar to yours because there's things that my other girlfriends will never understand about raising a child for 20 years with profound disabilities," Ware said. "You just have that connection right away, and it's almost like an entirely different language you can speak with someone that somebody else doesn't understand."
The Greenways have three daughters, ages 7, 4 and 6 months. He said he wants his children to have an "understanding of what it's like to go through something like that and there's kids out there that have to go through things that no child should have to go through or see."
"I want my kids to be able to learn the importance of giving back to the community and not feel the need of having to do it, but to want to do it and make it important," Greenway said.
Ware said the support offered by Greenway, who recently won the Byron "Whizzer" White award from the NFLPA for his commitment to the community, and the foundation is appreciated.
"I think what's helpful is the acknowledgement that it's harder, to have someone like him acknowledge moms for that is wonderful," Ware said.
Sixth Chad's Locker Launches
The brunch occurred a day after Greenway and the Lead The Way Foundation visited Sanford Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., to launch the sixth "Chad's Locker," which will provide access to educational and entertaining technologies to patients during their stays.
"We've had a great, long-standing relationship with Sanford in Sioux Falls, and they do so many great things back there," Greenway said. "It looks like a castle, so if there's any benefit of having to go to a hospital, the kids get to be in a castle, which is pretty unique. They do such a great job, really pushing that industry in South Dakota and giving the people in South Dakota great health care, so we wanted to get in on that relationship and put in our sixth locker.
"It was probably our biggest grand opening we've had, as far as people wanting to come be a part of it, see what we're doing and see what it's all about," Greenway continued. "Our lockers continue to get better and better, the technology continues to improve, and we try to give as much as we can back to the kids."