Usually, it’s Andrea Roberts’ father, Lee Faris, who’s making announcements. His familiar voice can be heard over the loud speakers during football season at Quince Orchard High School. Now Roberts has an announcement of her own. In January, the Gaithersburg native retired as executive director of Reece’s Rainbow, the non-profit she nurtured for over a decade and founded after her son, Reece, was born with Down syndrome in 2002. Today, she is on a mission to continue to find resources and respite for moms through the formation of the non-profit, A Mother’s Rest (AMR). “At AMR, respite is an action word, an outreach to serve others, a reprieve from the hardships of everyday life,” said Roberts.
The idea for a place for moms of disabled children to rest came to her in April 2016. Her vision was fueled from her parenting experiences and the challenges she witnessed faced by other families raising biological and adopted children with special needs. “It has taken a long time to formulate, prepare, and pray for guidance and provisions to step forward with it,” said Roberts.
“Stress and fatigue are common issues for parents raising disabled children, but many parents don’t or can’t afford to take time away for a recuperative break. So I decided to build a non-profit that proactively encourages retreat time, as well as minimizes the out-of-pocket cost to families,” explained Roberts. Encouraging taglines such as, “Healthy rested mothers = healthier families” and “You can’t pour from an empty cup … take care of yourself first,” are featured on AMR’s informative website.
Establishing its own home-away-from-home, year-round guesthouse for respite and fellowship opportunities for families of children with special needs is at the heart of AMR. Roberts has her sights set on the purchase of an 1898 farmhouse in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 20 miles west of Charlottesville in Afton, Virginia. The house, situated on 29 pastoral acres, is a return to her ancestral roots where her great-great aunt Virginia lived for 70 years. Roberts’ family was one of the original settlers of the area in the early 1800s. “Scheduling respite retreat events around the country is important for accessibility, but we want our own ‘home base’ inn that can be run throughout the year and host parents every week,” explained Roberts.
Strategic fundraising is underway to make the purchase of the farmhouse a reality. “We’re in a dire hurry to raise the initial $30,000 down payment to secure the property because it is receiving interest from potential buyers,” stressed Roberts.
In order to make AMR accessible to families beyond the greater DC metro area, she plans to build a national network of partners “who are existing bed and breakfasts throughout the country who are willing to donate their rooms or discount their rooms specifically so that we can plan multiple retreats around the country each year.” AMR intends to minimize the financial barrier to parents with the help of private, church, foundation and corporate sponsorship.
April 21 to 23, AMR is renting an estate home in Afton that sleeps 10 moms for a weekend work session “so people who have spent a little time on our website and understand what it is that we’re wanting to do, and people who are really interested in helping us execute those plans on a volunteer level, on a leadership level, and any skills that they might be able to bring in like grant writing or bookkeeping are invited to attend,” said Roberts.
Volunteers are needed for social media, fundraising events and ideas, grant writing, church support, and Roberts said the public also can help by liking AMR’s Facebook page and sharing its website, “especially throughout the special needs communities in the area.” Monies are welcome to sponsor moms, upcoming events and general operating expenses. “Anyone caring for a child or adult with physical, emotional, developmental or behavioral extra needs can be served through AMR, which extends to parents of children from foster care and adoption,” added Roberts.
Her overreaching goal is to make the word respite “something that’s positive, something that’s proactive that moms look forward to. When you think about respite, you think about parents who are at the end of their rope, they’re going to snap, they need a break … but what I want it to be is something preventative where families and moms want to take this for themselves, they understand the benefits of it.”
She described AMR as an “in-your-face, social media-based” organization encouraging moms to do something for themselves without allowing thoughts like ‘I can’t spend the money’ and ‘I don’t have time’ to deter them. “You know, all these excuses that moms make up to not take care of themselves … so we’re just eliminating the reasons that they can’t,” mused Roberts. “You know, I think as moms we just convince ourselves that it’s our job to be the nurturers and we should be strong enough to not need a break ourselves. … We’re working double-time for our disabled children and my key thing is that self-care is just as important as self-sacrifice.”
Roberts said that Reece’s Rainbow will continue to operate with its existing leadership team and the foundations will partner with one another to sponsor one retreat each year for Reece’s Rainbow parents.
The plans and goals for AMR might appear formidable to some but not for Roberts who, as part of the farmhouse’s renovation, has her sights set on the addition of a welcoming front porch, a quiet sanctuary where “someone can facilitate conversations and help the moms talk about what they’re feeling in a safe place without judgment. … I want these moms to be able to step onto this front porch and collapse into the arms of people who already understand how they feel and to be able to leave whatever they’re feeling right there on the front porch when they go home.
“I’m working really hard to raise the money for that front porch,” laughed Roberts, “because I need that front porch just as bad as everybody else.”
For more information, www.amothersrest.org.