East Nashvillians of the Year

Citizen: Bonnie Bogen

"I f I contributed anything, I think it was the attitude that people are going to have different points of view and different ways of doing things and to not be judgmental. I’ve learned the hard way that when I’ve been judgmental, I was often wrong.”
     Bonnie Bogen is sitting in the vestibule of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church discussing the East Nashville MOMS Club which she founded in 2008. That philosophy of open-mindedness and inclusiveness has applied to her entire adult life — from her first work with nonprofits in college to her current position as a development and administrative assistant at East Nashville Hope Exchange located in St. Ann’s.
     “I like to think our chapter (of the MOMS Club) has maintained some humility about itself,” she says. “It’s been a place where people with different viewpoints can come together with the central focus of doing the best we can for our kids. And I think we need more of that common ground in the world right now.”
     Since moving to Nashville in 2006, Bogen has been a major force for finding common ground and bringing people together for the betterment of their neighborhoods. In addition to founding the East Nashville MOMS Club, she oversaw the establishment of an INVEST program at Lockeland Design Center Elementary that brought much-needed assistance to the teaching staff, assisted with membership drives for the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, and now works with the literacy programs of the East Nashville Hope Exchange, all while also caring for her two children.
     Born in Clarksville, Bogen grew up in the small, south central Kentucky town of Russellville. After high school, she secured a degree in art history from New York University. She worked for the Museum of Modern Art and learned successful fundraising techniques for a nonprofit firsthand.
     “When my son was born, I became a stay-at-home mom,” Bogen says. “I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I was suffering from postpartum depression. I had a friend who could see I was struggling. She suggested I check out a new MOMS Club that was just starting in Brooklyn. I never did and shortly thereafter we moved to Nashville.”
     Settling in the 12 South neighborhood in 2006, Bogen and her husband were closer to family members, but she found that wasn’t alleviating the issues she was struggling with as a new mother.
     “I was still at home alone with a 6-month-old baby every day, and I felt incredibly isolated,” she says. “I found the MOMS Club of Green Hills, and I got to hang out with an incredible group of ladies who helped me deal with many of the issues I had as a first-time mother. When we moved to East Nashville in the fall of 2007, I was inspired to create that same type of group here.”
     MOMS Club was founded in 1983 by a group of Silicon Valley stay-at-home mothers and is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing mutual support for mothers and their children. With over 100,000 members in 1,500 chapters, the organization has been incredibly successful at bringing mothers together and establishing service activities that benefit their local neighborhoods. For East Nashville, Bogen found that the basic structure of the MOMS Club needed a few tweaks to meet the needs of a diverse and unique neighborhood.
     “I have a very open-minded attitude from spending my young adult years in New York,” she says, “and when I talked to others about the MOMS Club, it bothered me that it might sound like a stuffy, traditional, judgmental organization. It was originally based around traditional ideas of families, but I tried very hard to make our chapter more reflective of our neighborhood.
     “At our very first June party, one of our moms performed a song she had written, and has since been recorded, called, ‘Knocked Up,’ about how she became pregnant out of wedlock with the child that was in our group. I think that’s symbolic of how our group is a little different from most of the MOMS Club chapters in the United States. We have moms who are not married, moms who are gay, moms who are touring musicians, and many of us still have that look of surprise, ‘What? Me? A mom?’ ”
     The success of the East Nashville MOMS club led to four separate chapters — Eastwood, Lockeland, Rosebank, and Inglewood — through a process known as “sistering,” required by the national organization for clubs with more than 50 members. Since the MOMS Club by-laws require daytime meetings, Bogen assisted local working mothers with founding their own organization with nighttime activities. She is also eager to assist in the creation of a group for stay-at-home fathers.
     Although her son and the MOMS Club occupied much of her time, Bogen’s priorities drastically changed when her daughter was born in 2009 and diagnosed with the rare, life-threatening disorder, congenital central hypoventilation syndrome (CCHS), a condition that requires lifelong monitoring of the patient’s breathing.
     “My daughter encountered some severe health issues the first semester my son attended Lockeland Design Center,” Bogen says. “Once both of my children were in school, I volunteered to work at Lockeland to be close to my daughter, but also because I wanted to give back to the school. They had provided a supportive place for my son at a very traumatic time in our lives.”
     After working closely with the Lockeland Design Center Parent Teacher Organization, Bogen moved to her current position at the Nashville Hope Exchange, ensuring that her work as a community activist is far from complete.
     “As I’ve looked at career paths over the years, I realized that I can’t do anything that doesn’t have a greater purpose,” Bogen says. “I’ve never worked in a for-profit business for any length of time. I’m driven and a perfectionist, and I don’t want to spend that sort of energy on something that is just dedicated to the 
bottom line.
     “My ultimate goal is to create something like a United Way for East Nashville. I would like to match the resources of our community with the people who are already doing good work in our neighborhood. I think community is what is really special about East Nashville, and we need to have an easy way for people to see how they can help rather than just turning inward and limiting their focus to their own homes and families.”