Mother’s Day: How 4 inspirational moms are changing their worlds

Some mothers lead by example.

Others … because they say so.

But however they do it, mothers often tap into an energy that’s unique between parent and child. Sometimes, that energy can lead to big changes.

Here are Mother’s Day stories about four women who help their kids, and others, by reaching that particular power and unleashing it on the world:


What if your little girl wanted something desperately but it seemed impossible because she has cerebral palsy?

That was the problem facing Debbie Fragner, 53, of Rancho Santa Margarita.

Two years ago, Fragner’s daughter Maddie said something many second-graders say: “Mommy, I want to dance ballet.”

It was potentially crushing news. Maddie uses a special walker just to stand up and move. And, at the time, the family was exhausted and broke from taking Maddie to so many physical therapy sessions.

Plus, earlier attempts to take Maddie to dance classes ended badly. The girl always became the object of too much attention.

Maddie’s dream seemed insurmountable.

“I’m a woman who can move mountains,” Fragner said. “But I couldn’t see how to do it.”

Eventually, Fragner started to research the relationship between dance and cerebral palsy and other neurological impairments, such as stroke recovery and Parkinson’s. Fragner read studies. She called experts. She learned.

Two years later, Maddie is helping her mother develop a new therapy program based on classical ballet. Ballet dancers, doctors, physical therapists are involved, too. They hope to use it to teach children with cerebral palsy to dance to live music, providing joy while improving their gait and balance.

Fragner and Maddie created a nonprofit, Children’s Cerebral Palsy Movement. Organizations as diverse as UCI’s Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center, UCI’s Dance Deparment and CHOC Children’s Hospital also are involved.

Fragner recently submitted an application to UC Irvine to start an eight-week pilot program involving 11 children.

“This all started with my child’s dream to dance ballet.”


Kara Noel Lawson figured taking her four kids with her to help serve Meals on Wheels, a food program for seniors, would be a good experience for the kids.

They’d learn to help others, she thought.

What she didn’t expect was how much her clients in Mission Viejo would love visiting with the kids. And how her children would form friendships with the men and women they served.

“The seniors loved seeing the kids,” Lawson said. “It was beautiful – the perfect place for a family to serve. Whether we talked for 10 minutes or 30 minutes, it was really special.

“It’s been huge for our family.”

It’s not like Lawson, 35, of Trabuco Canyon, has nothing else to do.

She home-schools her four kids, Eli, 9; Cora Jane, 8; Cyrus, 5; and Tessa, 4. She helps care for a high school foreign exchange student from China. She writes a blog called “Small Things Are Big Things.” She runs a small business making hats.

She and her husband, Brad, even raise seven chickens in a backyard coop.

But teaching compassion for others, she said, is one of her most important goals in raising her children. Two years after starting, the kids’ role with Meals on Wheels is a key part of that.

“It really opens their eyes to the world.”


Most parents are dismayed when they first find out their child has cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, imagining the struggles they will face.

But Tracy Wiggs considers it a potential blessing.

The 46-year-old former school bus driver, who lives in Fullerton, gave birth to five children and adopted three more. This summer, she plans to bring home another three kids from Eastern Europe.

Two of those orphans were born with Down syndrome and one has cerebral palsy.

Six years ago, Wiggs and her husband, David, a retired sheriff’s deputy, adopted two brothers through the county foster system, one with Down syndrome and the other with ADHD.

Then she saw a picture on Facebook of a 15-year-old boy in Ukraine who was so tiny, malnourished and dehydrated that he wore a size 4 toddler shirt. She knew she had to bring him home.

She discovered Reece’s Rainbow, a nonprofit that encourages adoption of children with Down syndrome, and her newest calling began.

Later, she spent three weeks living in an orphanage in Ukraine, waiting to bring home her son, Joel.

With Down syndrome and orphanage-related autism, Joel would have aged out of that country’s adoption system when he turned 16 if the Wiggs family hadn’t brought him to the U.S. After age 16, people with Down syndrome often are sent to adult mental institutions, where the mortality rate is high.

Some people might think it’s crazy to add more kids with special needs to an already crowded household. The family is working on a way to pay the $30,000 they’ll need this summer.

But Wiggs is determined to save as many children as possible.

“I don’t know anything but being busy,” Wiggs said. “When my children see me sitting on the couch in the middle of the day, they ask me, ‘What’s wrong?’”

Though the three oldest boys have grown up and left home, with the use of bunk beds, the rest of the family fits into a 1,363-square-foot house.

“We don’t have a big house, but we have big hearts.”


Not everyone is celebrating on Mother’s Day.

Some people are sad, thinking about their children who have died. That’s where Kristyn von Rotz tries to step in, helping them realize that they’re not alone.

“When I lost my baby, people didn’t think Mother’s Day applied to me,” said von Rotz, 36, of Orange. “It’s so important for people to know we support them, and honor them.”

Von Rotz was only 24 years old when she lost her first child, a boy named Joseph, at 19 weeks of pregnancy to a rare birth defect.

“After Joseph passed away, there were no resources, nothing for families that had a baby die,” she said. “I got very depressed, and realized I had to do something to create a legacy for him in some way.”

In 2005, to honor her baby, she founded the OC Walk to Remember, an event for survivors of similar tragedies. That first year, 100 people walked at Bill Barber Park in Irvine.

That effort led to creation of a nonprofit, Forever Footprints, that has helped thousands of families that have gone through pregnancy loss or infant death. They face issues such as anxiety, grief and post-traumatic stress.

The walk has grown – last year more than 2,500 participated – and a second walk has been added in Riverside. Von Rotz credits many volunteers with the effort.

Today, she and her husband, Mark, have three more children – Leah, 10; Evan, 9; and Sara, 4 – but will never forget the one they lost.

“The most powerful thing we can do is to tell a woman who’s lost a baby, ‘You’re not alone.’”

Contact the writer: or 714-796-7994

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