I Am Collingswood: Sarah Mello
Meet Sarah: a training manager, graduate student, purple belt in karate—and, most importantly, mom to 10-year-old Charlie.
Collingswood transplant Sarah Mello has a lot to juggle: a full-time job at the nonprofit mental health agency Resources for Human Development, master's degree classes at Capella University, karate, volunteering and raising her 10-year-old son Charlie by herself.
How is she able to do it all? With the support of a great community.
Patch: How long have you lived in Collingswood?
Mello: I've been in Collingswood for six years. We moved from Seattle. I had taken a job in Moorestown and I didn't know anything about Jersey at all. I was doing all my research about the area online. Somebody from the company that I had been hired to work for said, “Collingswood is this up-and-coming place. You should check it out.”
From 3,000 miles away I was online researching. I loved what I could see—that it was a vibrant arts and music community. Things were going on; the main street looked really interesting. I rented something in Oaklyn for a year, and in the meantime I was looking at neighborhoods.
I had a Realtor who was showing me lovely condos much further north, and I kept saying, “No thank you, I just think Collingswood is really where I want to be.”
Patch: Tell me why you think Collingswood is a good place to raise kids.
Mello: Well, when we moved here from Seattle we didn't know anybody; we had no extended family. But this is a community where I felt, as a single parent, I could quickly form relationships with other families, where we were safe walking around in the streets, and where there would be a lot of different kinds of configurations of families so that Charlie wouldn't feel awkward.
We found all of that. Every kind of family structure that we could ever want is here. And Charlie says that what he loves is that wherever he goes, someone knows who he is. I know I can let him walk places, and I know that there's somebody at every point along the walk who is going to help him out.
Mello: I was in glee club—strictly glee club and drama club—all through high school. Never, ever touched a sport, and about three years ago, started doing racing and triathalons.
I grew up with parents who didn't value fitness or exercise, so it's been really great for Charlie to get to see this. He's running some 5Ks with me; we do the karate together. It's a great model for him, it's something we can do together and he really gets a sense of what's good for his body.
Patch: You and Charlie spend a lot of time down at Kenkojuku Karate on Haddon Ave. How long have you been doing martial arts?
Mello: Charlie started when he was 6. Four years ago and about six months into it, I realized I was driving him there and then sitting for half an hour. So I said, “Hey, what if I take it with you? Is that OK?” And he was very excited to have me do it.
We're both now purple belts, so we're sort of working our way through it. Charlie has learned a lot of confidence in his own body and the philosophy and principle that you take responsibility for your own actions; you strengthen your body, but as a nonviolent approach. Also, it's another place that gets him around really good men. The men there are great role models and I like having that for him.
Patch: You are also an active member in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill. What's your congregation like?
Mello: The Unitarians go back as early as the 1500s in Transylvania. It's a liberal faith and it really stemmed out of opposition to the Catholic definition of the Trinity. There were a group of Christians that felt that, "No, there's just one entity that is God."
The Universalists formed as a reaction to some Christian beliefs that there are some people that are saved and some people that are not. Universalists believe that everyone is loved and everyone wins and gets to go to the party at the end.
Over time the Unitarians and the Universalists joined together so they could be a stronger voice for this religion. Although the roots are in Christianity, it's now an umbrella faith for anyone seeking understanding of the greater world.
Our kids in the religious education program study at least seven major world religions as well as teachings and traditions from people throughout history. The teens actually write their own credos, they work with mentors for about a year to really contemplate what they believe. All of those things contribute to what I want my kid to learn.
One of the seven principles, for example, is the free and responsible search for the truth. Charlie has really taken that to heart and in the past year has asked me if he could start attending churches with all of his friends to see what they all believe in.
Patch: You have so many diverse interests in your life. Does your son take after you?
Mello: He has his own path. Currently, he would like to grow up to be a chef-inventor-of-mechanisms-theater-make-up-designer-banjo-player; something like that!
But what a great place to live that when he comes home and says, “I'd like to learn how to make prosthetics for the stage.” I can say, “Let me just call someone.” Whatever it is, you can find someone [in Collingswood] who you can go talk to to go see how it's done.
Patch: How do you fit it all in? How do you find balance?
Mello: I don't really have a choice. My child is priority No. 1 and everything else fits around that.
My mother was in law school when I was a kid and I felt sort of isolated from her; she was very busy. So I made the commitment to wait until after nine o'clock to start my work. It's a little tough, but I really want to be there for him.
However, sometimes I have to say, “I have homework; I have to write a paper, it's due.” We'll go to the library on the weekends, and I'll do my work and he'll do his. And I think that also models for him that school is important and that you have to make it happen.
Patch: Do you have any words of wisdom for moms and dads who may feel overwhelmed?
Mello: It is overwhelming. Don't kid yourself, it is. I think for me it's just been about making networks of friends and finding a community. The hardest place was finally saying, “I have to ask for help when I need it.”
Probably a lot of single parents, we just do and do and do because we have to. Once I let that go, and I learned to ask for help, that's when I suddenly had this network of people that all supported each other. And suddenly it didn't seem as hard anymore.
Parenting is hard whether you're doing it alone, with a spouse, whatever. It's not an easy gig! Every one of us needs help. I remember somebody telling me once, when you don't ask for help, it's actually more selfish because you're refusing another person the opportunity to experience helping. Once we start talking about what we need, we can find away to support one another through those things.