New group helps WL women 'find their tribe'
In May 2017, as the two-year anniversary of her family's move to West Linn approached, Helen Juarez-Bolt sat down to type up what she described as a "very self-serving" post on her neighborhood's Nextdoor website.
She wasn't searching for a lost cat, or wondering who the best plumber in town was. Her quest was broader and more existential, and she didn't expect much to come out of it.
But it was worth a shot.
"I'm a fairly recent transplant to the area, and was just looking for a tribe of women to connect with, basically," Juarez-Bolt said. "I just sent out an email asking for other people who either had room in their crew, or were new (to West Linn). It was a very sort of pathetic email."
Yet within the span of a week, the post had 33 responses. Out of thin air, Juarez-Bolt had found her tribe.
Seven months later the group, which is organized through the Facebook page "West Linn Ladies Friendship & Adventure," has swelled to over 300 members. The women get together at least once a week — and often more than that — to do everything from kayaking to hiking, Pilates, wine tasting and happy hours. They recently branched out into charity work, and about a dozen women met at a group member's house Dec. 6 to pack stockings that would be distributed to homeless people around the community.
"It's a really diverse group, and obviously people are finding smaller groups within the group that have more similar interests," Juarez-Bolt said. "But it does seem like charity work brings in everybody."
While Juarez-Bolt provided the spark, it was another resident named Malisa Vandevort who helped build the group into the roaring fire it has become. Vandevort created a Facebook page after seeing how many comments were on Juarez-Bolt's Nextdoor post, and initially she had modest ambitions for what the group would become.
"(I was thinking) that we were just going to have fun — happy hours, wine tastings, hiking, stuff like that," Vandevort said. "I didn't expect we would be having get-togethers all the time and make as good a friends as we have, (and) then it grew into us wanting to give back to the community and volunteering like we're doing now."
The first meet-up was a happy hour at Kaleidoscope Chocolate Shoppe and Wine Bar.
"There were so many people that came — everyone was talking, it was really fun," Vandevort said.
At that point, Vandevort and Juarez-Bolt knew they had something special brewing — and it only grew from there. Along with happy hours, which became a weekly affair, the group lived up to the "adventure" in its namesake with outings like inner tubing on the Tualatin River and kayaking the Oregon City side of the Willamette River.
"There's always at least one thing, if not more, a week," Juarez-Bolt said. "We hiked today."
"I have a co-admin (on the Facebook group), Shelly, and we're thinking of new things all the time," Vandevort said. "And anybody in the group can always come up with something."
For Vandevort, herself a transplant from California, the group has become a joyful and needed outlet. Where Juarez-Bolt initially feared that she was alone in feeling "tribe-less," it turned out that Vandevort and scores of other women shared similar sentiments.
"I was feeling the same way," Vandervort said. "I didn't have any mom friends out here or any friends period, because I came from California. ... Just getting together and meeting these women, we became good friends and all of us feel the same way.
"Now I don't feel alone up here, because I have all these girls. Even though I'm married, you still need your girlfriends."
As she prepared to stuff stockings on a cold December evening, Juarez-Bolt said the group completely changed her outlook on life in West Linn.
"Someone was asking me the other day, 'How are you feeling with the transition?'" Juarez-Bolt said. "And I said, 'This is the first time I've felt hopeful since moving here.'"