10 inspiring moms changing the world for other moms and children

by Julie Evans
May 2, 2016 at 2:35 p.m. ET

United by a love for children, moms are naturally driven by a desire to help other mothers, and it's beautiful to see that force at work in the world. After considering hundreds of nominations, we at SheKnows have selected our group of 10 Inspiring Moms Helping Other Moms in 2016. These women are dedicated to making the lives of moms and children better, and we honor their efforts.

1 /10: Lisa Truong, Help a Mother Out

1/10 :Lisa Truong, Help a Mother Out

Lisa Truong isn't one to sit back and complain about the world in which we live. She believes in doing her part to improve it, and she's doing so one diaper at a time.

In 2009, after watching an Oprah segment featuring a struggling family, Truong knew she wanted to do something to help parents in need. With the help of her friend, Rachel Fudge, she founded Help a Mother Out, a nonprofit organization that works to provide families in need with diapers.

"Help a Mother Out was founded on the premise that even though the news often tells us that the world can be a scary place, everyone can do something, however large or small, to make it better," Truong told SheKnows.

The organization's vision: "A day when every baby has a healthy supply of diapers."

To date, they have provided more than 3 million diapers, serving families through community partners.

More: Hillary Clinton's 'woman card' vs. Donald Trump's 'man card' — it's on!

"I like to think of Help a Mother Out’s role as serving as an invisible village that helps families take care of their children when help is most needed. I’m proud of our supporters for wanting to help parents that they will likely never meet," she said.

2 /10: Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, MomsRising

2/10 :Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, MomsRising

Kirstin Rowe-Finkbeiner believes in the power of moms, and as co-founder of MomsRising, she's been key in harnessing that power to build a more family-friendly America. With more than 1 million members, 5 million readers, 3,000 bloggers, hundreds of thousands of radio program listeners, on-the-ground and online volunteers and more than 200 partner organizations, they have the power to make change... and they have. 

"Moms are a major power in the labor force and economy. Three-quarters of moms are now the primary or co-breadwinner in their families, and women/moms make the majority of purchasing decisions in our consumer-fueled economy," she told SheKnows. "It’s also important to note, particularly this year, that women/moms are more than 50 percent of the electorate. When moms speak up, leaders listen. I’ve seen moms move policies that no one thought would move to advance paid family leave, fair pay, child care, sick days, healthy foods, gun safety, racial justice and so much more at the city, county, state and federal levels across the country. Moms are an incredibly powerful force for good in our nation, and having the honor of seeing that power in action across the nation each day is beyond inspiring, particularly in this time of rampant cynicism. Moms are a much-needed cynicism antidote!"

Among the accomplishments of which she's most proud, she lists MomsRising playing a significant role along with other organizations in advancing health care (now 9 out of 10 people have health care coverage!), advancing the conversation and policy around pay equity, moving policies forward around paid family/medical leave and also sick days in dozens of jurisdictions, advancing affordable child care and access to healthy foods for all kids, extending the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit and taking on the gun lobby at the local level. But the thing she's most proud of: "That a handful of women came together, and then that handful became hundreds, the hundreds became thousands, and through friends telling friends, MomsRising is now more than a million multicultural members strong and growing!"

MomsRising also walks the talk when it comes to family-friendly work practices. Rowe-Finkbeiner herself has two children (plus two dogs and a bunny) and works primarily from home. She says that, in fact, the entire 30-plus MomsRising staff members work flexible hours, primarily from virtual home offices in 14 states across the country. 

"Our organization is successful because MomsRising 'runs' using our organizational goals along with associated Key Result Areas and metrics to track the impact of our work instead of only tracking the hours we each sit at a desk between 9 and 5," she said. "We've created a work environment that clearly demonstrates we can be incredibly effective and creative in a virtual workplace, and we can also honor our caregiving responsibilities as mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. It can be done. MomsRising is proof positive."

3 /10: Mariska Hargitay, Joyful Heart Foundation

3/10 :Mariska Hargitay, Joyful Heart Foundation

Perhaps best known for her role as Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU, Mariska Hargitay works on screen as a detective investigating cases involving the abuse and assault of women and children. Off screen, she works to combat these issues in real life through her Joyful Heart Foundation

She founded the organization in 2004 after receiving personal letters from fans revealing to her the trauma they had experienced. The foundation's mission: to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues. Since then, it has raised more than $27 million to support healing in women and children who have suffered abuse. 

More: 20 motivational quotes about moving on and starting over

"A revolution always begins from within," Hargitay writes on the organization's website. "This one begins when you decide how you hold the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse within you, and how you live out that decision."

4 /10: Naomi Bar-Yam, Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast

4/10 :Naomi Bar-Yam, Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast

As the executive director of the Mother's Milk Bank Northeast, Naomi Bar-Yam definitely believes "breast is best," but she also knows that not all mothers are fortunate enough to be able to provide it for their babies. So since 2006, she has made it her mission to see that those babies most in need receive breast milk. 

The organization collects, pasteurizes and dispenses milk, which has been donated by other mothers. It also works to educate the public about the benefits and use of human milk. She told SheKnows she's most proud of "creating opportunities for so many people — staff, volunteers, board members, donor moms and others — to share their talents, skills, knowledge and milk to save and improve lives."

More: 25 sweet quotes that celebrate the magic of motherhood

The best advice she's ever received came from her own grandmother.

"Don’t rush any stage of your child’s growth and development," she said. "There are things about every stage that drive you crazy and things that you want to hold on to forever. Enjoy every day."

5 /10: Vicki Shabo, National Partnership for Women & Families

5/10 :Vicki Shabo, National Partnership for Women & Families

Making progress for women and families is at the heart of Vicki Shabo's inspiration. As the vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, she's doing just that as she works to create a more family-friendly and fair America.

"I love to see the people I talk to — policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists and new parents — have 'a-ha' moments when they realize that family-friendly policies, fair wages and advances in women’s equality aren’t just matters of private, individual concern; they are issues of public importance, with macroeconomic consequences," Shabo told SheKnows.

In her six-plus years with the organization, she says she has seen family issues move from the margins to closer to the mainstream. "For the first time in recent memory, these issues are getting substantial play in a national presidential election!" she said. "Dozens of new laws have been adopted, numerous companies have changed their policies, thousands of articles and stories have been produced, and countless hearts and minds have been moved to action. I’ve had the honor of helping to shape and influence many of the strategic initiatives that have catalyzed this incredible momentum and to have worked with partners across the country to help hasten these changes. With respect to paid family and medical leave, in particular, I’m really proud to have helped lead and shape the growing national conversation. The increase in attention from November 2012 or so until today is incredible. But there’s so much more to do, and I’m excited to be part of that!"

6 /10: Ricki Lake, women's health advocate

6/10 :Ricki Lake, women's health advocate

Previously known for her quirky movie roles and talk show, Ricki Lake has transformed as a key voice in the women's health world.

An outspoken advocate for women and children, Ricki Lake has produced a collection of important films on giving birth and raising babies. From The Business of Being Born to Breastmilk and The Mama Sherpas, the films she's made with co-producer Abby Epstein tackle a host of important issues facing mothers today, including rising C-section rates and the challenges and benefits of breastfeeding. They also wrote the book Your Best Birth.

While there has been some criticism, many believe Lake has influenced childbirth in our nation. Mom Tanya Wills told The New York Times that Lake helped her decide to have two home births and become a doula. “She is the most accessible media celebrity to women of the childbearing age. Ricki Lake is sort of the older sister to all of us, saying, ‘I’ve been through this, and this is what I learned, and this is what it can be for you.’”

When Lake's film The Mama Sherpas was released last summer, director Brigid Maher spoke to SheKnows about the film's significance.  

"I hope that this film will educate the American public about how they can be part of the solution to the obstetric crisis in America," Maher said. "Midwives can play such an important role within the collaborative settings in a hospital and work to ensure moms can have the safest and healthiest birth possible. Additionally, the film shows seven beautiful and diverse births (from water to breach and everything in between) and strives to normalize how we view birth in America so that we no longer fear it but embrace it as a beautiful moment in a family's life."

While Lake is a natural birth advocate and even became a doula herself, she believes most strongly that women should have options when it comes to birth.

"I had two babies in very different settings — the first in the hospital, and the second at home," she told FitPregnancy. "Both were healthy, but the experiences were so different. I think how we bring our children into the world is really important. It’s not always going to happen the way we envision, but we need to be informed. I am pro-choice when it comes to birth."

7 /10: Marianne Bullock, The Prison Birth Project

7/10 :Marianne Bullock, The Prison Birth Project

Marianne Bullock co-founded The Prison Birth Project in 2008 and has since worked with hundreds of women who have been incarcerated while pregnant to see them through that difficult time.

"We know that becoming a parent is an opportunity for people to transform themselves, to see her value and feel the potential that all humans have no matter what their past experiences may be," she wrote in 2013.

Bullock, along with two other directors, functions as an executive director along with plenty of volunteers. Together they provide trauma-informed doula care, child birth classes, family-centered advocacy, a peer support group and a vehicle for member-led organizing. She says their biggest accomplishment was getting a bill passed that abolished the practice of restraining incarcerated women who are pregnant, in labor or in the postpartum period.

Bullock says the most important lesson she's learned through the course of her work is to follow through. "Never make a promise you can't follow through on. Don't let the people you work with down. Don't pretend like you can fix things you can't — it's better to just be the sounding board and support that the people you are working with need."

8 /10: Chirlane McCray, first lady of New York

8/10 :Chirlane McCray, first lady of New York

When Chirlane McCray's husband, Bill de Blasio, took office as the mayor of New York in 2014, she said she wanted to be a "voice for the forgotten voices," particularly those of black women. She has done just that and more as an outspoken political strategist and activist.

From publicly supporting their own daughter, Chiara, who spoke out about her addiction issues, to pushing her husband to hire diverse staffers, she doesn't back down from her values or her vision. In June 2015, she and de Blasio created the Commission on Gender Equity to work to "secure economic security, social inclusion and safety for all New Yorkers, particularly women and girls." 

"The bottom line — we will accept nothing less than the full inclusion of women and girls of all ethnicities in our City — and I’m talking economically, socially and politically," McCray wrote on her website. 

Addressing mental health is also a major priority for McCray, who established ThriveNYC campaign. The organization is taking revolutionary action to help those most in need, with a particular focus on maternal health and disorders such as postpartum depression.

"Fear is really the greatest factor in not wanting to talk about mental health," McCray told SheKnows in December 2015. "Why are people afraid? Because they don't understand, because they think there are no solutions. But that's not true anymore."

9 /10: Cheryl Haggard, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

9/10 :Cheryl Haggard, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Cheryl Haggard founded Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep with her husband after suffering the most heartbreaking loss. Her son, Maddux, was born with myotubular myopathy, which prevented him from breathing or swallowing on his own. When he was just 6 days old, as they prepared to take him off life support, they called a photographer to take pictures of him with them. Because the pictures meant so much to them, they formed NILMDTS so that other families in similar situations would be able to have those precious memories of their children too.

“That night was the worst night of my life. But when I look at the images, I am not reminded of my worst night. I’m reminded of the beauty and blessings he brought,” Haggard writes on the organization's website. 

NILMDTS now works with 1,700 photographers around the world to provide free, professional pictures of babies who are stillborn or are facing death. They believe the images serve as "an important step in the family's healing process by honoring the child's legacy." 

Testimonials from parents who have had the photos taken with the help of NILMDTS, such as this one, show just how much they mean.

"On Saturday March 17, 2012 around 10:45 am, we said hello and good-bye to our beloved son," wrote one family. "It is shocking to know that he is physically no longer with us. Yet we are glad that your organization exists and was able to provide us a lifetime of memories through the baby pictures taken of him. We are so grateful and thank God that we have these pictures to forever treasure our baby angel. May God continue to bless you as you bless and help families through their difficult time."

10 /10: Jennifer Hudson, Hatch Day

10/10 :Jennifer Hudson, Hatch Day

In 2008, Academy Award-winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson lost her 7-year-old nephew along with her mother and brother in a horrifying murder. She and her sister, Julie, founded the Julian D. King Gift Foundation in his honor. 

The organization's mission: to provide stability, support and positive experiences for children of all backgrounds to help enable them to grow to be productive, confident and happy adults. To do so, they collect and distribute Christmas gifts and hold a Hatch Day each year to distribute school supplies to children in need for the first day of school.  

"He always wanted to hatch things," Hudson wrote about her nephew on the organization's website. "He got it from a cartoon. It was something I wanted, a hatch day. He would say, 'Today is my hatch day.' This is our way of giving our hatch day and being able to help other kids through his memory."

She said too many children where she comes from can't afford basic school supplies. "Children should not have to worry about those things. When we went [shopping], you got two pairs of shoes and two pairs of clothes, and we were considered blessed. We make sure these kids have school supplies and [presents] for the holidays."