Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2009 | People

Mother Acting Up: Joellen Raderstorf

By Shelbi Thomas
Most moms celebrate Mother's Day with cards, flowers, and breakfast in bed. Joellen Raderstorf spends the holiday parading through the streets on stilts.

As executive director of Mothers Acting Up (MAU), a nonprofit organization of moms who advocate for children worldwide, Raderstorf encourages women across the globe to host Mother's Day celebrations for their communities. Thanks to her efforts, moms decorate strollers for parades, volunteer for children's organizations, and learn to see themselves as a powerful force for global change. The holiday events are among many MAU programs that give mothers—who might not otherwise consider themselves as community leaders—an opportunity to flex their political muscles.

Raderstorf, 86BSE, of Boulder, never got involved in politics until she started a family. "After I became a mother, I started thinking about what my children need—how I should raise them, what food they should eat, and what types of activities they should be in," she says. "Then I realized that what I really needed to think about is the world they're going to inherit."

She and three other women co-founded MAU after 9/11, fearing that the issues that concerned them as mothers would be overshadowed by war. The group began working with other nonprofits and government officials to draw attention to "pro-child" issues such as education, health care, environmentalism, and eliminating poverty. Today, MAU has thousands of members, with chapters in all 50 states and in 23 countries.

MAU's primary outreach tool is its weekly engagement calendar, which helps mothers discover ways to make a difference in the world, whether through petitioning politicians or knitting hats for newborns in developing countries. Raderstorf shipped some of the calendars to the minister of human rights in Iraq and also presented one to First Lady Michelle Obama.

Raderstorf most enjoys seeing how her boys—ages 11, 14, and 16—have grown up with a keen interest in global issues, but she also appreciates hearing from women who have found the courage to speak up through MAU. "One woman called me to say she contacted her member of Congress for the first time," says Raderstorf. "She said, 'I practiced a long time in front of the mirror and my daughter, but afterwards, I can’t tell you how much it meant to me.'"