Making new friends isn’t always easy. Elizabeth Hotaling knows this from experience.
When she moved to Wichita several years ago, she didn’t know anyone, and building a social life was slow going.
“It gets harder as you get older,” she said. “It’s kind of creepy to walk up to someone and say, ‘Will you be my friend?’ ”
But during a snowshoeing trip put together by a friend of a friend a couple of years ago, a solution occurred to her.
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Hotaling partnered with her friend Kathy Mihelic in 2011 and created an organization called the Adventurous Babes Society, which today has 300 Wichita members and is expanding to at least 20 other states.
The concept behind the group is simple: Get women together for fun activities and let friendships develop naturally. Becoming friends with a stranger is much easier, Hotaling said, when the two are side-by-side hiking a mountain, stumbling across an ice rink or hurling dodge balls at an opposing team.
It all started with the snowshoes.
A local personal trainer wanted to take some of her clients on a snowshoeing trip to Colorado. She decided to make the group a little larger and invite some other women. In total, 16 went.
The women on the trip ranged in age from 26 to 60, and most of them had never met. But they had the best time ever, Hotaling said.
“There was something about doing that together, something that was physically challenging,” she said. “What happened afterward was what really started making us think, ‘We have to offer this to other women.’ ”
Bonded by the snowshoeing experience, the women remained friends and vowed to get together regularly to have adventures.
Hotaling and Mihelic decided to make the experience more organized. They started a website and developed an official way for other women to become involved with the group.
The idea has evolved into a business that the two women devote most of their time to running. They’re even helping women in other states get their own groups going.
It works like this:
Women ages 21 and over can visit the Adventurous Babes Society Facebook page or website ( http://adventurousbabessociety.com/) and express interest in joining. They’ll be e-mailed instructions on how to sign up. Membership costs $38.50 a year and offers an Adventurous Babes Society T-shirt, access to the group’s Facebook page and website and the opportunity to participate in “adventures.”
Adventures can be anything fun, from checking out a new restaurant to going on a cattle drive, Hotaling said. Members take turns organizing the outings, and they can be big or small. Recent adventures have included a group painting class, a 1.5-mile road race, a night of dancing at the new Walkers Bar & Venue, and a group outing to a hot yoga class.
Once a year, the founders organize a convention that they put on out of town. Last year, the group went to Manitou Springs in Colorado, where they participated in whitewater rafting and zip-lining. A smaller group hiked up Pike’s Peak. This year’s convention will be at Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado in September and will have a summer-camp feel, complete with archery, campfires and a ropes course. (But the women will sleep in a nice hotel environment, not in tents, Hotaling noted with a laugh.)
Some adventures attract just a few women. Some attract several dozen. Members, who range in age from 21 to 83, can decide which adventures they want to take part in and which ones they don’t.
The group is great for women who like to be active and want to challenge themselves, Hotaling said. The adventures are often bucket-list-style activities that a woman might never get to, left to her own devices.
But the adventures aren’t the real draw for most members, Hotaling said. Most just want the opportunity to make new social connections and grow real friendships.
“We’ve developed relationships, and you can’t really do that when you just go to lunch,” she said. “There’s something different about these relationships. I had just moved to Wichita, and to have this opportunity to meet so many women and become so close to them – I never dreamed that would ever happen.”
Deena Flanigan Kreutzer, a local woman who works for a biotech company, is a neighbor of Mihelic and decided to give the group a try in August. So far, she’s joined in the road race, taken a hula hoop exercise class, participated in an ugly Christmas sweater party at a local restaurant and gone ice skating. The dodge ball outing also is on her calendar.
Kreutzer said she’s made many friends in a short time and had experiences she knows she wouldn’t have had otherwise. Now, she’s trying to think up an adventure to organize – maybe a kickboxing class, she said.
“I really like that it exposes me to a lot of people in Wichita that I wouldn’t normally run into because we wouldn’t have mutual interests,” she said. “And I get to do the kind of stuff I would never take the time to say, ‘Who wants to go do this with me?’ ”