‘It Takes a Mom’ interview series highlights our recent Mother of the Year® honorees by sharing their stories every week. These moms from across the country contribute to our collective voice as mothers. They show us how they harness their maternal energy and how it really does take a mom to do it all! Here’s our interview with Dona Yasser, 2021 New Jersey Mother of the Year®.
What does it mean to you being selected Mother of the Year for your state?
I’m really humbled and grateful. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation and there are amazing moms out there. I’m really thrilled to represent them. What really excites me about this honor is how I can use it. It’s meant to advocate for mothers, children and families across the state. Being able to identify myself as the Mother of the Year gives me a stronger voice to engage local county, state legislators, school boards, whoever. And, of course, to work nationally with mothers on subjects like health and education, resources and opportunities, and special needs. It adds a lot of weight and I’m really looking forward to doing that with the American Mothers behind me.
What do you love most about being a mom?
What I love the most about being a mom is the incredible moments of joy it’s given me and continues to give me over and over again. Before you’re a mom, you never realize how often that’s just going to hit you, and how you’re just going to burst with happiness. I love what an adventure it is to get to know these humans you’re entrusted with, from their first smile to every smile thereafter to their professional successes. You see more and more what they’re capable of; every achievement they make and every time they’re proud of themselves. As they get older, they show the kindness, empathy and care that you always hope they will—this is just what I love about being a mom. In addition to a toddler sleeping on your shoulder—is there a better feeling than that? There’s also the hugs, snuggles and kisses. But it’s just tripled the love in my life and it keeps growing.
How do you encourage your children to not give up and to keep pushing?
I have taught my children to try to reach their fullest potential. They’ve all had struggles they’ve had to overcome. They’ve all had to work a little harder and make changes to achieve where they are now. My eldest had very severe asthma as a child. He was in the hospital at least once a year really sick and missed out on sports and school activities in his early childhood. She took responsibility for her health and well-being at a really early age, made sure she was doing what was best for her, worked along with everything—medications and schedules. She ended up being an Irish dancer, and you talk about something that takes a lot of breath. But she put herself there because she took it very seriously. And it’s not like she can stop an illness. But she really learned to work with it and to do something she wanted to do. My middle son has ADHD and he had to really learn how to focus and schedule himself without getting very frustrated. He learned to put up big calendars, and he learned to use notes and reminders. And he’s been very successful. My biggest story is my youngest Evan, who is on the autism spectrum. He started as a kid who had basically no comprehension of expressive and receptive language, who has gone to make NHL history at the age of 19 by being the first neurodiverse person to call an NHL hockey game on the radio. He worked hard for all of that. He had to learn how to focus and to let go of some of his frustrations or take them out. He’s also had to learn social skills, but he worked hard at all these things to get what he wanted and there’s been a lot of heartbreak along the way. He now stands in front of me as a 21-year-old man. He’s so successful. He’s on boards. He’s really active. He’s a self-advocate. They’ve watch each other do it and they’ve all learned to overcome things they’re struggling with and I’m happy to say they’re all very successful.
How do you and your family get involved in the community?
Most of it has revolved around Evan. When he was young, he’d be into different projects and everybody would chip in. When he was doing horseback riding, I worked in the barn, the kids would come and help work in the barn. We bartered that for his lessons, and they’d come help and work with other kids who were doing lessons. Evan himself would help other kids. We’ve been involved with their hockey and baseball teams. My kids coached, supported, fundraised and did whatever that needed to be done. Earlier on, we did a lot in the church. My kids very early on started working with homeless families. They would sit down with their kids and help them with their homework, or entertain the younger ones and the moms could have some time off. So they did that on a rotating basis—all three of them. They’re very involved. We’ve done food pantry, cooking for people after Hurricane Sandy devastated where we live. My eldest went to a big cooking center nearby, and she was in there every night cooking and making sure people have hot food and a place to come. They continue to do things kind of out of my sight, but they’re still very involved in the community.
At American Mothers, the Golden Rule Movement provides a platform for women who embody the selfless caring spirit of motherhood, and who are using their maternal energy to make the world a better place. How would you say you exemplify the golden rule in your everyday life?
When I coach or when I work with kids, they’ll come up and hug me and sometimes away from the field or whatever, they’ll tell me what they’re up to. My children’s friends come over and talk to me when they needed another maternal opinion, or sometimes I’d go to bat for them and advocate for them if their parents couldn’t be there. I think people still look for that affirmation from a mom type of person. Doing something simple as somebody who’s having a tough day at the grocery store, and you’re a mom so you come up and you’d say, “You’re doing great, everything’s good.” I mean it’s just little tiny things we can all do to spread our maternal experience. An experience of knowing how to handle kids, and the kind of praise and love that everybody wants—doesn’t matter how old you are. So we can all use that to reach each other, and to really help people through their day in really tiny ways. I feel that helps brighten somebody’s day and the little things they add up.
Dona Yasser is the sixth of seven children in a tight-knit, loving family. Everybody worked, starting with babysitting and graduating to regular jobs when eligible. At 15, she moved with her parents from Greenwich, CT to Point Pleasant, NJ. Wherever she has landed, from high school through college to present day, Dona has always quickly made friends and taken on leadership roles in staff and volunteer positions. Showing a passion to serve others and stand up for what’s right, Dona has volunteered with, among others, Amnesty International; the SPCA; and several environmental groups. At her first job as a radio copywriter at WJLK in Asbury Park, NJ, she created a station charity softball team. Moving on to advertising copywriter at Lanmark Group, Eatontown, NJ, she, with her husband Ed, volunteered to create a promotional campaign for the Monmouth Country SPCA. Dona and Ed welcomed her daughter Katie in 1993, followed by their son Dillon in 1996 and Evan in 2000. Dona stepped down as head of the Lanmark copy department in 1998 to spend more time with her children and left in 2000. While raising her family in Oakhurst, NJ, she coached, organized and served wherever relevant to her children. Today, Dona still coaches her son’s special needs baseball team and volunteers with Moms Demand Action and wherever her sense of justice calls her. Dona currently lives in Avon-by-the-Sea, NJ, with her husband Ed and youngest child, Evan.