Homegrown Business: Mommy Connections with Jennifer Ellis

Mommy Connections is an organization educating expecting mothers through hands on and social workshops right here in Toronto.  We spoke with Director Jennifer Ellis to find out more.

Mommy Connections
Jennifer Ellis – Director at Mommy Connections

What is your business called and what does it do?

It’s called Mommy Connections, with distinct businesses for Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington. We run educational and social programs, workshops and events for expectant and new parents across the west GTA.

What made you want to do this work?

When I became a first-time mom I discovered the necessity of having a support network. It might be cliche to say “it takes a village,” but when it comes to raising a child and surviving early parenthood it truly does. At the time I had my first child, I had been working in Public Relations for almost a decade. The work was exciting but I felt a calling to help support new parents like me. I started Mommy Connections Mississauga in January 2019 and expanded into Oakville and Burlington last fall. Today we’re a vibrant community organization serving hundreds of families across the west GTA.

What problem did you want to solve with the business?

Being a new parent can be incredibly overwhelming and often quite lonely. We aimed to create a community where new moms in particular could meet other local moms in a supportive and inclusive environment. Our programs also focus on helping parents discover the local resources available in their communities, learn about age-appropriate topics (for example, infant sleep or starting solids) from local parenting experts, and try new activities—all while bonding with bump, baby or toddler.

Who are your clientele/demographics?

Expectant parents, new moms, and families with young children up to age four. We sometimes get asked if Mommy Connections is for first-time parents only, and the answer is no. We see second-, third- or fourth-time parents in all of our programs.

Mommy Connections

How does your business make money? How does it work?

We charge a registration fee—the fee varies depending on the length of the program or the program type. Most programs are 4-8 weeks in length. At the moment we’re on a reduced schedule and running virtually due to COVID restrictions.

We also have paid partnerships with many national and local sponsors—from well- known baby brands to local family-run businesses. Under Mommy Connections we have multiple platforms—social media, newsletters, events, our website, swag bags, etc —that we can use to promote a business or brand. We always ensure our sponsors are aligned with our company values.

Where in Toronto can we find your profession?

In a typical year we are running programming in various locations across Mississauga, Oakville, and Burlington. Mommy Connections is also offered in Toronto, York Region, and Durham. The regional “boundaries” are a little blurred due to virtual programming—I’ve had Hamilton moms in my Oakville sessions, Toronto moms in my Mississauga sessions, etc. There are many benefits to virtual programming—more flexibility and lack of a commute with a new baby are a few big ones!

What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.

How do you form meaningful connections in a virtual program?

We’ve spent the past year adapting our virtual programming to make it as accessible and enjoyable as possible. We limit each program to 6-12 parents in order to maintain a cozy feel and allow for easy online socializing, and we run our virtual sessions twice per week (vs. once per week for in-person programming) to help everyone stay connected. We also set up private WhatsApp groups to facilitate chatting beyond the time spent in class—these are very popular!

What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?

By far the best part is seeing the positive impact our programs have on new parents and their journey through parenthood. Just last week one mom wrote to me about how our program helped her recognize her postpartum anxiety and connect better with her partner. Another mom, about the lightness and happiness she’d feel after our sessions. The worst part is being a small business owner during the pandemic—it’s tough on the good days, seemingly impossible on the bad. Keeping on top of the ever-changing restrictions in multiple regions has been very stressful. Also managing parents expectations during this time. I get daily messages asking when we’ll be back to offering our full roster of programming in-person. Unfortunately based on the current climate, we just don’t know.

What is your favourite joke about your own profession?

That because we’re a business of moms we’re not to be taken seriously.

PAY IT FORWARD: What is another Toronto business that you love?

I’m going to suggest two, starting with Brooke Schaal Photography. Pre-pandemic, we collaborated on some photography sessions. Brooke is exceptionally talented as a branding photographer and content creator. I also want to give a shout out to MamaCare, a team of Toronto therapists led by registered social worker/psychotherapist Aliza Shupac. MamaCare provides mental health support to parents from pregnancy to postpartum and beyond. We’ve seen maternal mental health take a big hit during COVID, so resources like these are all the more critical.