I am delighted to be able to help put a spotlight on our leader Vanessa. She is always one of the first to line up and volunteer to help organize. She is filled with amazing ideas and I am honestly just not sure where her energy comes from. Vanessa does so much for Free Mom Hugs and we are lucky to have her as one of our own. I hope you enjoy learning a little more about our Pennsylvania leader.

Tell us about your journey and how you came to a place of support for the LGBTQIA+ community.
My journey started when I went to college and then came out at age 21. I hadn't really considered that I might be gay until I went to school and was away from home. After I came out, I was really visible, out, loud and proud. I started doing a lot of activism, advocacy and educational programs shortly afterward and have been doing it ever since.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your “reason” for getting involved in advocacy work?
My reason is my 22 year old transgender son who uses they/them pronouns. His name is Jace, and he is a senior at University of Kentucky. His transition and evolution has taught me so much that I didn't know about gender, identity, and what it means to really be yourself in the world. He is beautiful, kind, smart, and he loves doing drag!

What makes you proud to be their mama?
The first reason that comes to mind to do advocacy work is love. I mean, we are not being loving if we are not fully accepting and honoring someone as they are. So to advocate on behalf of anyone, especially those who are marginalized is about the love for me.

I am proud to be a mama bear to my own bear cub and to all of the other cubs I have met and hugged over the years. They are all beautiful, unique, and so full of promise and opportunity. They continue to teach me every day what it means to truly be unapologetically yourself and living fully in the world.

When did you first hear about Free Mom Hugs and what motivated you to get involved as a volunteer for the organization?
I first heard about Free Mom Hugs two years ago when a few friends posted a link on my page about Sara Cunningham and Free Mom Hugs being at pride events. I have been giving Free Hugs in my community and beyond for years including pride events and it seemed like a perfect match. Sara and I spoke on the phone, shared our books with each other and became instant soul sisters. I fell in love with her right then and there and with the movement of FMH.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?
I love being involved with Free Mom Hugs because I love giving and receiving hugs. They are one of the most amazing ways to express and share love, connection, acceptance and hope. I especially love hugging with lots of other people!

What brings you the most fear?
Fear in other people is what scares me the most.

What brings you the most joy?
What brings me the most joy is spreading and offering love, peace, and connection to others whether it is friends, family, or strangers. Hugs enable me to do that with everyone and touch is essential for healing and for connection.

Tell us about some of the exciting things the chapter in your state is working on:
In Pennsylvania, we are working on a few things right now including Pride events that are on hold for this summer right now. We have plans to be at many of them should they happen. We also are hoping to begin to do speaking engagements and education sessions and having a presence on college campuses as well.

Is there anything else we need to know about you and what makes you, you?
I love to offer myself in the world, in person, through social media, through any means that would help another person. When I am shining my light in the world, I feel like it helps encourage others to shine their own. That feels like a mission to me.

Vanessa works tirelessly for Free Mom Hugs in Pennsylvania, if you want to donate directly to her chapter I know she would be over the moon!