This article is the first in a series of articles featuring Latter-day Saint young mothers recognized by American Mothers, Inc.
Penny Toilolo is an active member of the Church in Hawaii, a professional dancer and a mother of six aged from one to 11. She spends four hours a day volunteering at the elementary school, actively supports the high school football team and occasionally takes her dance team to competitions in both Hawaii and Utah. Friends jokingly called her the "mother of the year." They were not surprised when she actually won the award.
Sister Toilolo was raised to take care of others. "My mother raised me as the oldest girl in the family," she told the Church News. "The oldest girl is very important in a Polynesian community."
Sister Toilolo had just finished her freshman year at Brigham Young University in Provo when her mother passed away from cancer. Sister Toilolo moved back to Laie, Oahu, to help care for her two younger sisters, one of whom is handicapped. Sister Toilolo later finished her degree in business management at BYU-Hawaii. Her handicapped sister still lives with her.
"There's a kind of love you really don't experience until you become a mother," Sister Toilolo said.
"Then you kind of try to extend yourself even more."
The children in Laie all know her as "Auntie Penny." She and her husband have organized flash mobs and encouraged attendance at all the high school football games. This was important in helping people to heal after three tragic suicides shook the community.
"We are eager to help because we know it will come back tenfold," Sister Toilolo said.
She draws on her background as a dancer at the Polynesian Cultural Center to teach zumba for adults every week — part of a campaign to encourage healthy living. At the dinner where her "mother of the year" award was announced, she performed a Tahitian dance.
Sister Toilolo is training all six of her children to be dancers, but she wants them to love and share the gospel as well.
"My husband and I were talking about how parents guide their kids, whether they want him or her to be a football player, or a teacher. … What our Savior would really want us to do is raise missionaries."
Sister Toilolo says this requires daily family prayer, scripture study and encouraging personal prayers morning and night.
"The simple things that the gospel teaches us [are important]," she said. "Nothing fancy. With six kids you can't really get fancy."
Sister Toilolo has been active in the Church wherever she is needed. Their ward is fairly new, so she serves where she can and encourages her children to do the same.
"Attending Church meetings is a must," she said. "It's mandatory."
Church helps Sister Toilolo learn all the things about being a mother "that aren't taught in workshops."
"Prayer has been my best friend," she said. "That's how I can teach my kids that the Lord is always there."
Sister Toilolo's testimony makes her want to be a mother to all the children in her community.
"When you understand the gospel, you realize that Heavenly Father hasn't sent you just to be a mother to those six kids," she said. "I wanted to extend myself outside the walls of my home."