Everyone needs community, especially the women of Lynchburg, according to newcomer and young professional Amelia Graves.
Graves, 24, moved to Lynchburg in June from Buffalo, New York, with her husband, Gabriel. When they got here, she said they had to start over completely and knew no one.
“I think it’s just hard to put yourself out there,” she said. “And maybe you meet someone at the grocery store and just start talking, but that doesn’t happen as much. It needs to be more like presenting an opportunity for women to be intentional. You really need that group of women behind you supporting you.”
She began attending church and met a few people there but wanted to create something bigger for all women in the area.
“I’ve always been big on community. It’s always been a piece of my heart. And I wanted to find those people and just find the right people for us and wasn’t really sure how to do that,” she said.
She noticed there were many women in the area who had graduated from college and stayed in the city or had grown up here and had found careers and were working.
“That college community kind of withers away, but those people are still here and they’re starting businesses and they’re doing amazing things in their careers, but there’s not something to bring them together with one another,” she said.
She saw a perfect opportunity to start something for these women who she felt were just like her — looking to connect.
“I knew there were tons of us, and so one day I just bit the bullet and made the Instagram account and just started following women-owned businesses,” she said.
The Instagram account, which she created in August and called “Lynchburg Ladies,” put out a call to women in the Lynchburg area who were looking to connect and build community. It’s a networking group for both fun events and professional business events.
“The goal of Lynchburg Ladies is to encourage and build one another up through business spotlights and styled networking events,” her Instagram states. “To start this launch, I want to spotlight some lady-run businesses in the area.”
Graves immediately received messages from area women asking to know more about the organization and wanting to get involved.
“I don’t even know if I explained it thoroughly. It was very vague,” Graves said in a December interview.
She remembered people asking what her goals were for the group.
“And I was like, ‘I don’t really know; I just kind of made this page to see what would happen,’” she said.
Colleen Dykstra was one of the many who contacted Graves and began communicating with her wanting to know more about what it was, much like many other local women did after Graves launched the account.
As a married young woman studying for her degree at Liberty University, Dykstra said she found it hard to find community with people in the same life stage as her since her classmates are younger.
Wanting to be a part of the organization and help kick things off, she offered for Graves to host an event in November at her place of work at The Hip Tulip, a florist on Main Street. The event brought together 50 young women to network and shop at vendor booths set up inside the business.
Dykstra said she went into the event knowing just one person and afterward had many women following her on her own Instagram account.
“Everyone was super nice. I had follow-up hangouts and it allowed me to be in the same place as people looking for the same thing as me,” she said.
She said she is excited for future events, especially those with a focus on women in business.
She described Graves as brave to be able to see a niche and be able to fill it.
“She’s filling it really well and learning to adapt to the culture here,” she said.
Jessica Yelle, who moved to Lynchburg within a day of Graves, said she and Graves became quick friends when they reconnected at the pool one day after realizing they had met three years earlier at a wedding.
She said she has been impressed by Graves and her drive in starting Lynchburg Ladies as a newbie to the area.
“We both realized it’s hard to find community among young professional women and when she threw the idea to me, I loved it,” she said.
Almost right away, Yelle noticed a need for what Graves had created for the community.
She hopes through Lynchburg Ladies, women find a community that isn’t competitive but is like-minded and in which they can create a sisterhood.
“Amelia is tenacious and very compassionate,” she said. “All these women she had met over social media, she has had a connection to because she has gone out of her way to meet them for coffee and share ideas. People already felt this was a foreshadowing of the mission of what Lynchburg Ladies would be and that it would be centered on friendship and community for women.”
When she isn’t planning events for Lynchburg Ladies, Graves works for a printing company in Bedford County that does proofreading and inspecting. She is also a freelance writer.
She enjoys hiking and being on the James River as well as meeting new people over coffee.
In 2020, Graves hopes to hold more events. On Jan. 11 the organization held a winter wellness event at James River Yoga Studio, and Jan. 28, a night focused on women in business or women who want to start a business will be held at Mission House Coffee.
Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.