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Meet the Bad Betties—a lifeline for Colorado women

//Bad Betties Project Vice Chair Megan Maher sits in the living room of her home in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver on July 12 where she works remotely. Photo by Karson Hallaway | karsonhallaway@gmail.com

Editor’s note: Lauren Carter, the founder of Bad Bettie Project, is Ms. Mayhem’s marketing manager and was not interviewed for this story to avoid conflict of interest. 

 

 

When Sasha Sparks moved from Maryland to Colorado in 2011 to be with her partner, it seemed she was checking all her boxes—great relationship, great friend group, great life. When the relationship fell apart, Sparks found herself fumbling for a new sense of community support.

Sparks stumbled upon the Facebook group for the Denver Sad Girls Club, which would later become The Bad Bettie Project, and took a chance on attending the group’s movie night. She remembers feeling relaxed with a new group of people for the first time in a long time. 

“It was really hard to find female friends,” Sparks said. “When [my partner] and I split up, I was kind of fumbling to figure out life. We had been together for five years, and it was the majority of my 20s. I had a group of friends through her, and when we split, I needed to find my own friends. It was a challenge, but [Bad Bettie Project] made that really easy.”

What started as the Denver Sad Girls Club officially became The Bad Bettie Project in 2018 when Carter rebranded. The group was founded by Executive Director Lauren Carter with one idea in mind—connection between women. The Facebook group exists as a safe place where members can connect, create friendships, empower one another and plan events. Past gatherings have included bar crawls, 4/20 events and a gym package called Sweaty Bettie—really anything that connects people in person. This September, the group is hosting a weekend-long “immersive experience” with Camp Bae Day

In 2018, the group evolved into a nonprofit in order to provide further resource assistance and financial aid to its members. The financial aid comes from the Emergency Bettie Fund, which offers incremental grants to members in times of need.

When current Vice Chair Megan Maher moved to Denver in 2019, she felt many of the existing networking groups were “too aggressive.” More than just a networking group, what drew Maher to The Bad Bettie Project, in particular, was the nonprofit sector, the community aspect and the fact that members were willing to have tough conversations and connect across differences.

Today, the group of more than 3,000 members has an established board, along with the Emergency Bettie Fund led by Resource Director and Secretary Lainee Abbott. Funds come primarily from member donations and the Bettie Business Partners program, a collaboration with organizations that donate a portion of their proceeds to the group.

“There are no monthly dues,” said Maher. “We don’t ask [for] money from anyone who wants to be part of the group. It’s just a free Facebook group, really a community for women, cis women, trans women, trans men, nonbinary people and otherwise marginalized groups across the country.”

It was again in 2018 that BBP became a lifeline for Sparks. She was diagnosed with endometriosis and sought advice and support through the Facebook group. 

“The really open and in-your-face talks about body issues are the ones that stuck out to me,” Sparks said. “Even with two of my closest friends of 25 years, we just started talking about body issues, and it’s because both of them have had kids. I had gone through a diagnosis of endometriosis in 2018 and had surgery for that. That was a lot of my posting—reaching out and seeing who else has been there, what to expect, getting that comradery around like, ‘Hey, this isn’t just you.’”

After managing the complicated diagnosis, which takes some patients upward of a decade to diagnose, Sparks once again felt like she had everything under control—she was in good health, had a good apartment and was two years into a new relationship. But it was then when she said things started to go awry. 

“[My partner] went on a hiking trip, and I had begged and pleaded for him not to go,” Sparks said. “There was just something in me screaming, ‘You’re never going to see him again.’”

Sparks was away the weekend her partner returned from the mountains. His body was later found in their shared apartment. 

“I just remember the floor fell out from below me,” she said. “I had no idea which way was up or what I was going to do.” 

In the midst of reeling from the cataclysmic loss, Sparks realized she had an apartment for two, bills for two and only one income. In her desperation, she began planning to move back to Maryland to be closer to her family while she coalesced, but needed funds to help her do so. Her mom suggested she reach out to BBP to see if the group could help. 

Sparks posted on the Facebook group where Carter saw the message and reached out to her directly. Carter called in the cavalry, and before Sparks could panic anymore, the group had pooled funds for everything she needed to get back on her feet. 

“The emergency Bettie fund helped give me what I needed for rent, food, gas,” Sparks said. “Once the goal was reached, everything that was leftover went back into the fund, which was great. It was helpful to know I had that safety net there, and there were women that I had never met that were willing to come forward.”

When COVID-19 reared its ugly head last year, Abbott realized just how important the group was to the community. She says she felt “a lot of peace” through the group during the lockdown. She worked toward providing general information on COVID, a list of testing sites and financial assistance resources for their members.

“There’s a lot of times where you could be one paycheck or one accident away from not being able to pay your bills,” Maher said. “We have a system in place to hopefully prevent that from happening. It’s all about mutual community aid.”

Outside the Facebook group, BBP has a number of initiatives to further foster community, including Bargain Betties, a partnership with member-supported local businesses that offer special discounts. There’s also the Bettie of the Month, which chooses a member who has really shown up for the group, done a lot of commenting, supported another member or has been consistent about helping fundraise or attend events.

Though there’s much Maher, Abbott and the rest of the BBP board want to do and offer, the end-all goal could be summarized as creating impactful programming that values members and a community that is open to and accepting of people from different backgrounds. 

Within that community, Maher wants “people to show up authentically as they are, as who they are, and to know that this is a space where they are safe.” Part of that authenticity comes with inclusivity, and though the Colorado chapter of the BBP is primarily white women, the board says they are actively working toward increasing diversity.

“I would say that the main board is primarily white women, and we are working on that. We do recognize that,” Maher said. “During the George Floyd tragedy, we set up a sub-group called ‘Decolonizing Whiteness’ for those interested.”

The group is currently exploring expansion options. After moving back to Maryland, Sparks was so inspired by the support she received that she asked Carter about creating a group there, which led to the creation of the Maryland chapter. The New York chapter followed suit, and the board hopes to continue to expand in a healthy and sustainable way that focuses on the Bad Bettie Project’s mission and its members.

 

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