Getting to Know Your Local La Leche League Group: LLL of Blacksburg and the New River Valley, Virginia


By Kendra Atkins-Boyce, Portland, Oregon

Pictured left to right: Kat Polys, Susan Delay, and Janine Kniola.
Pictured left to right: Kat Polys, Susan Delay, and Janine Kniola.

Any mother who has attended a recent meeting with La Leche League of Blacksburg and the New River Valley, based in Blacksburg, Virginia, will tell you the Group is led by four special ladies. Winema Lanoue, one of the Leaders, first reached out to La Leche League 14 years ago when she noticed that her week-old son seemed sleepy and she was being told to supplement with formula.

“I called a Leader (while crying) for help,” Winema says. “She was so helpful and I was so thankful for her calm words.”  Soon after, Winema started attending meetings and became a Leader in 2002.

Winema has since inspired other mothers to step into a leadership role, including her co-Leaders: Janine Kniola (in 2007), Susan DeLay (in 2009), and Kat Polys (in 2012). Today, these four women lead a Group that has helped hundreds of women in their area by hosting two monthly meetings, curating a comprehensive lending library, fielding help calls from mothers, and moderating a dedicated Facebook page.

“I adore the other Leaders and I wish we could hang out every week!” says Winema. “Each of us brings a distinctive history and style to our group, and we blend so well,” says Kat.

All four started attending meetings in the early days of motherhood when they were, in Kat’s words, “so full of questions and feeling so tired.” They stayed on because of the camaraderie, support, and reassurance they found there. “I always left meetings feeling empowered and heard, so I just kept attending monthly and couldn’t stay away,” says Kat.

Susan says the support provided by the group “boosted my belief in myself and let me enjoy my relationship with my baby.”

They each committed to leadership in order to help other mothers and to give back to an organization that they felt had helped them so much. Janine cites a “passion for breastfeeding” and “the ability to provide mother-to-mother support” as important factors in her decision to become a Leader. Susan, a self-described introvert, says her favorite part of leadership is “opening a space for women to blossom into motherhood with the full knowledge that they are experts on their child and a co-creator of their unique families and situations.”

Winema with her daughter, Vivienne.
Winema with her daughter, Vivienne.

Kat says it can sometimes be difficult to “be a calm voice amid the chaos, and to reassure women that they are the experts in their own families.” This is, in part, because of a society that “can be full of conflicting information and negativity when it comes to parenting and breastfeeding,” adds Winema. In the face of outside pressures, Susan says, “My favorite moments are when I see a mother physically release the weight of ‘shoulds’ dictated by society and the impulse to please others.”

Though Winema initially thought of LLL Leaders as larger-than-life, she has come to realize that, just like her, Leaders are simply mothers who like to help other mothers. Janine says LLL is “a volunteer commitment that puts family and children first. You do what you can when you can.” Susan considers LLL to be a “true gift to breastfeeding mothers, our children, and our communities…because the breastfeeding relationship lays the foundation for a community of people who know how to give and receive love. Kat says of leadership: “It’s a way to give back but also to gain so much.”

If you are interested in pursuing LLL leadership, talk to your local Leader and/or read more about it at

If you would like to suggest a LLL Leader or Group to be highlighted in this column, please contact Kendra Atkins-Boyce ([email protected]).