By Doug Carpenter
Find a need and fill it.
There. Now you know the secret to success. What many people don’t realize, however, is that you can’t just ”find” the need. You have to understand it. After all, if you don’t, how do you even know when you’ve succeeded?
The best way to understand anything, of course, is to experience it personally. But when Michele Miller became a Mother for the first time in 1979, she had no way of knowing that that very personal experience would not only change her life but also touch the lives of thousands of Western New York families.
So Much to Do,
Necessity may, as they say, be the mother of invention. But if you ask any Mom, she’ll probably tell you that having a child is unquestionably the mother of necessity. Lots of them. Birthing classes. Breastfeeding advice. Playgroups. Party entertainers. Summer camps. And yes, sometimes just another grownup to talk to… like a grownup.
The urgency of these real and growing needs understandably leads to the biggest necessity of all: an answer to the question “Where do I find all this stuff?” Today, of course, with the considerably greater availability of parenting resources, that’s not so much of a problem. But 30 years ago, it was a very different world.
After the birth of her daughter Jean in October of ’79, Miller was looking forward to being at home with her new baby. But having taught 7th and 8th grade Math at South Buffalo’s School #27 since graduating from the University at Buffalo six years earlier, she missed the intellectual stimulation of the classroom.
To Miller’s good fortune, the obstetrician caring for her during her pregnancy happened to be one of what at the time were only a few area medical practitioners familiar with and supportive of the emerging natural childbirth movement. At his suggestion, she sought out a local organization called ASPO Lamaze.
Came for the Classes,
Although she initially joined to attend the group’s childbirth preparation classes, she discovered that ASPO also sponsored a parents’ coalition that offered her the opportunity to connect with others with whom she could share the challenges and joys she was experiencing. It was a relationship that would be both rewarding and life altering.
She became a very active and contributive member of the organization, ultimately serving for two years as its Co-President. But it was the experience of editing the group’s newsletter that she found most eye-opening.
It was in that role that she first became aware of how intense the hunger was among Mothers and Fathers for information about things to do, places to go and resources that would enhance the quality of their parenting and their families’ lives. The demand for the newsletter’s calendar, Miller recalls, was particularly impressive, as was the popularity of the organization-sponsored events she helped plan.
When more than 250 out of ASPO’s 500 families would turn out for a picnic or holiday party, she realized that access to the kind of information so many of them had come to count on wasn’t just a convenience. It was a lifeline.
Everybody Was in
Miller thought about how this need extended not just to those involved with organizations like ASPO but to an entire new generation of young parents, increasing numbers of whom were, like her, college educated, with commitments to maintain both to their children and their careers. With so much on their plates, these people were clearly all in the same “baby boat.”
With so many desperately searching for but not finding the resources to help them be the kind of parents they wanted to be, it struck her that this group represented a prime audience for a publication that offered personally and parentally stimulating content. And she understood exactly what they needed… because she needed it, too. And so was born Mother’s Lifeline.
The “little blue newsletter,” as it would come to affectionately be described by a growing and fiercely-devoted readership, began modestly, debuting with 1500 photocopied issues in March of 1984. Now home raising new son Gavin along with 4½-year-old Jean, Miller produced the publication – a typewriter/rub-on letter/clip art affair – at her dining room table during naptimes and after bedtime stories.
It wasn’t very difficult to figure out what to put in those first issues, she says. She simply shared exactly the kind of information she knew that other parents would find useful because she did, but with extras designed to make her readers’ lives just a little easier.
Included were tried and true calendar staples like places to go and activities suitable for families with young children. But not just the usual “where” and “when,” but also important but often overlooked details like whether snacks and changing facilities were provided. Solid gold info for parents on the go.
Miller also wanted to encourage local parents to take greater advantage of what the region had to offer. Thinking back to when she was a 17-year-old prospective UB freshman from Long Island visiting Buffalo with her parents, she remembered how they wouldn’t have dreamed of passing up the chance to see the magnificent Niagara Falls.
The fact that so many of the students she taught during her years in the Buffalo schools had also never visited a “Wonder of the World” only a half hour away made her even more determined to enlighten, enrich, empower and encourage the families her publication could potentially reach.
She had no idea, however, how successful she would be.
Some Things Are
Miller started out with the simple expectation of building a basic, events-oriented newsletter that the community would find useful. And she says she knew her instincts had put her on the right track when the first envelope that arrived contained a subscription check attached to a full-page typed letter expressing the reader’s delight that such an informative and much-needed publication was finally available.
About halfway through that first year, Miller discovered just how good those instincts were when she came across an article in Family Circle magazine about a West Coast woman who had started a publication very much like hers called Seattle’s Child.
Like Mother’s Lifeline, it would be one of a handful of regional parenting publications to emerge in the early- to mid-80s, beginning a nationwide trend that would see that number grow to well over a hundred, serving markets large and small across the country.
What Miller couldn’t have envisioned was how her publication would grow, and how many people would come to be part of the extended family of supporters and contributors who together would make it such a remarkable success.
Watching It Grow
Like the often-used observation about it taking a village to raise a child, the growth of yesterday’s Mother’s Lifeline into today’s Western New York Family Magazine was a labor of love shared by many that created a publication enjoyed by many. The number of remarkably talented and committed people who, as Miller puts it, “somehow found their way to the publication” just when they were needed most, is one of the reasons she has come to firmly believe in “guardian angels.”
Over 25 years, the list has grown almost too long to recite in full. So many people, Miller says, who have given so generously of their time, their talent and their encouragement. Parents who responded to Miller’s obviously sincere interest in their young families, often contacting her directly to offer their help in growing her new enterprise.
Many became loyal readers, a large number of them steadfastly relying on the publication as an irreplaceable resource throughout raising all of their children. Children who grew up healthier and happier because of it and now have begun to have families… and subscriptions… of their own.
Some of those who reached out to Miller turned out to be not just supporters but contributors with expertise that proved to be of tremendous value to a publication seeking to satisfy an audience of enthusiastic readers hungry for more content. They became part of a growing chorus of voices that would inform and entertain WNY’s parents through the pages of the rapidly-expanding magazine.
A Special Kind
These included specialists in areas ranging from educational toys and children’s literature to family fitness and behavioral psychology. Talented and caring professionals called and offered to write articles because they believed so strongly in the publication’s potential for reaching and teaching both children and parents.
And as the readership and content of the one-time “little blue newsletter” grew, so did its awareness of the changing identity of its audience. In response to the expanding involvement of Dads in their children’s lives, Mother’s Lifeline added a monthly Father’s column, giving the publication a much-needed male perspective.
It was, in fact, the “Father factor” that played a key role in triggering another of the publication’s “growth spurts.” When a sincere but sensitive single Dad wrote in in 1987 to say thank you for all the great content, he confided his embarrassment when his monthly copy of Mother’s Lifeline arrived in his mailbox.
This prompted the next logical step in the publication’s evolution. Just as it had inevitably outgrown the Miller family’s dining room table necessitating a move to its first modest offices and similarly transitioned from typewriter production to typesetting for a look befitting its growing page count and press run, Mother’s Lifeline needed a new name, and in May of 1987 became Western New York Family Magazine.
Someone Up There
At least that’s how Miller has come to feel, particularly as she looks back over the consistently successful first 25 years of her publication’s existence. To have been the beneficiary of so many people’s encouragement and assistance and, as a result, been given the opportunity to contribute something of such great value to her community is itself a gift to her and her life.
Thanks to its ever-increasing popularity in the community, Western New York Family Magazine’s readership is now nearly 60,000 strong. A publication that began with 1500 copies of eight “little blue” photocopied pages – pulling in a whopping $3,000 its first year – now boasts a press run of 25,000 copies a month, with issues as large as 80 full color pages and revenues of almost half a million dollars.
Not bad for an operation that still puts the publication to bed every month with a staff of just five hard-working people who are rightly very proud of what they do. They’re proud, as well, of the magazine’s cutting edge use of technology in the award-winning design of its published edition and its recent introduction of a full electronic version readable monthly on the Internet.
Now that she’s become one of those unique hybrids the 21st century seems to be so good at producing – a grandmother with her own on-line “blog,” Miller says she had no plan to go from teaching to parenting to publishing. She adds, however, that she truly believes “you get back what you give.”
Considering how much of her heart and soul she’s invested in raising her own family and building a publication that improves the lives of so many others, her success seems just about right.
|YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY! Just like kids do, the publication changed a lot as it grew from a “little blue newsletter” to the award-winning full-color magazine it is today.|
|LIGHTS, CAMERA, LIFELINE! Featured regularly with Cindy Abbott and Brian Kahle on Ch. 7’s popular AM Buffalo, Miller’s magazine became a well-known presence on local TV and radio.|