Our Chapter Highlight this month features one of Babywearing International’s oldest chapters, BWI of the Bay Area, Inc. Bay Area was one of the first chapters to affiliate when BWI started the affiliation process in 2008. The group traces its roots to 2005, when a few mothers from The Babywearer got together for an in-person babywearing play date. Now, two of their meetings – the Sunnyvale and Berkeley locations – have been held continuously for ten years!
Since 2009, Bay Area has added eight more monthly meeting locations and they expect to add one more before the end of this year. Their territory is usually defined to include the nine counties that border the San Francisco Bay. It encompasses the San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland combined metro areas. Their ten monthly meetings cover six of those counties, with the exceptions being the three “far north” counties which are in some cases considered to be separate from the Bay Area.
Since the early years, it has been their long-term goal to effectively serve the entire Bay Area with regular meetings. They are approaching the fulfillment of that goal now, and hope to add only a few more regular meetings. They have decided that six counties is a large enough territory. They believe they can best serve the remaining parts of the Bay Area, as well as neighboring areas that are sometimes-but-not-always considered part of the Bay Area, by mentoring some newer independent groups in those areas and eventually working with them as “sister” chapters.
BWI of the Bay Area serves a very large and very diverse population, which is reflected in its Volunteer Babywearing Educators. Their VBEs have a range of numbers of children from 1-7; some have been wearing for as long as 19 years and others as short as 3 years; there are stay at home moms and moms that work; and there is a range of ages, races, and ethnicities, as well as different educational and income backgrounds.
And they have the best members! According to Holly McCroskey Lewis, who has been with the group since well before they were BWI, “As VBEs we are constantly spoiled by how much they both appreciate us and help each other. In our Facebook group, the longer-term members frequently answer newcomers’ questions about things like the meeting schedule before a VBE gets to it, and tell them how great a BWI membership is. We have people regularly offering to lend carriers to relative strangers. And it’s rare for a month to go by without many people going out of their way, either at our meetings or in our Facebook group or both, to thank the VBEs for their help.” Bay Area chapter leadership has worked hard to create a sense of community, and a positive environment where all babywearers are welcomed and supported. It has paid off, and the culture they have in their group “is a wonderful thing to see.”
Recently, the chapter held their annual “Baywide” picnic, a relatively low-key event where they also hold their annual corporate membership meeting and annual Board meeting. It’s held in a park in a central location, they have a potluck lunch, and sometimes there are games or other activities. Additionally, each year, Holly brings a babywearing-themed cake.
The key to BWI of the Bay Area’s growth has really been the increase in their number of VBEs, plus the time and energy that their volunteers have put into the group – especially in the last year and a half. Having expanded its geographic reach as well as the variety of days and times of their meetings, they’re hoping to reach out more actively to parents and caregivers who are challenged by poverty, homelessness, disability, and other barriers to participation besides geography to offer babywearing education and support. Holly says, “We’re not sure exactly what forms this effort will take, but that’s our focus for our second decade!”
Looking for a chapter near you? Take a peek over here!