Addie Wilson moved to Abilene in November 2021 from Philadelphia, where she had tons of friends and was engaged in work and social events. Michaela Brandon is the mother of a 1-year-old daughter and wanted to meet other young moms.
They have different interests, but both wanted the same thing–to find community in Abilene.
“Nobody wants to go shoe shopping by themselves,” Addie said with a laugh.
“It kind of makes you feel like you’re not alone,” Michaela said.
The two women, Addie and Michaela, don’t know each other, but they both had the same idea and used the same means, social media, to achieve their goals. Addie announced her “Ladies That Lunch” initiative on the Nextdoor app, with the slogan, “Nextdoor is where you connect to the neighborhoods that matter to you so you can belong.”
Michaela, who moved to Abilene in July 2019, chose Instagram to establish Abilene Mom Walks. Both were amazed at the response. Addie started her Ladies That Lunch page on Nextdoor in June 2022. She wanted to know if other women would be interested in meeting for lunch at a local restaurant every three weeks. Four women showed up for the first lunch. Three weeks later, eight turned out, then 12, then 20.
“It just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” Addie said.
In fact, the group has grown so large that the women are limited in finding locally owned restaurants–a must for Addie–that can handle such a big gathering. For a recent luncheon, 40 women signed up, although not that many actually attended.
Michaela’s group of young moms walks every other Saturday at 9 a.m., usually around the walking trail that encircles the Abilene Christian University campus.
“We talk and walk,” Michaela said.
After the end of the one and three-quarter mile walk, with babies in strollers, the women put blankets on a grassy spot and form a play area. There, they visit, swap ideas, exchange information like reliable sitters and places to shop, and even plan other gettogethers in addition to the walks. At a recent walk, one mom gave a tutorial on how to use a ring sling to carry an infant. A long piece of fabric is woven through two large loops to form the sling.
“She taught all of us that day,” Michaela said.
Here’s a deeper look into each group:
Ladies That Lunch
Addie Wilson was born and raised in Philadelphia, where she “knew everybody.” Outgoing and friendly, Addie found herself in a totally different world a few years ago when she moved with her best friend, Jody, to Alabama. Addie had always worked, including 13 years as an administrative assistant to the chief information officer for the city of Philadelphia. When a series of heart problems that required surgery hit her, Addie could no longer work and felt isolated. Jody, an electrical engineer, accepted new jobs that required moving. Today she works for Georgia Pacific in Sweetwater but lives in Abilene. With Jody gone to work every day, Addie started feeling more isolated and was running out of things to do alone.
“I can only mop a floor so many times a week,” she joked.
So, she reached out on the Nextdoor app, first asking if anyone in the Remington Estates neighborhood wanted to join her in walking. That led to the Ladies That Lunch idea, which proved to be extremely popular. Addie insists that the ladies sit by someone new at each luncheon to ensure that eventually everyone will know something about everyone in the group. From that arrangement, spinoffs have developed like taking in movies together or meeting for a Saturday brunch. The point is to mingle, get to know new people and possibly form deeper relationships.
“If everybody makes just one friend, that’s a positive,” Addie said.
Sandra Wills, 59, is a good example. She had to retire prematurely in 2010 for medical reasons. Looking for ways to stay connected, Sandra saw Addie’s proposal for Ladies That Lunch on the Nextdoor app. And then she read about how Addie’s medical issues had forced her to retire early.
“That just struck a familiar chord,” Sandra said. She and her husband, Jack, moved from Abilene to Buffalo Gap nine years ago, and she was feeling lonely, with him gone to work all day. The forced isolation brought on by COVID-19 in 2020 just made matters worse, and Sandra started using social media to reach out and to stay in touch. That’s where she discovered Ladies That Lunch. At her first lunch in August, Sandra met another woman who lives in Buffalo Gap, and she knew she had made a wise decision to join the group.
Sandy Guttenberg, 65, lives on Iberis Road and joined Addie’s group when it started as an opportunity for walking. Sandy and her husband moved to Abilene from Elizabeth, Colorado, in 2021. Elizabeth is located east of Interstate 25 between Colorado Springs and Denver. With a population of about 2,000 people, it is a tight-knit community. Sandy wanted the same environment when she moved to Texas.
“I knew I needed to build that and build it rather quickly,” she said.
She soon found a kindred spirit in Addie Wilson, who Sandy described as “phenomenal at pulling people together.” At a lunch meeting in November, Sandy said she would be checking with the others about Thanksgiving plans. She and her husband would open their home for a potluck lunch for anyone who might be alone. For Sandy, and the other women who form Ladies That Lunch, it’s all about being committed to reaching out and forming a new community of friends.
“I think our society needs to get back to that commitment,” she said.
Abilene Mom Walk
With a business to run, a husband and 1-year-old daughter, Michaela Brandon is used to being busy. So busy, in fact, that when she realized she had one free day each week, she just had to fill it. She couldn’t be idle even for a day. So, on Aug. 15, 2022, Michaela launched Abilene Mom Walk on Instagram.
“I just decided that day I was going to do it,” she said.
The first walk took place Aug. 27, with 12 moms turning out with their babies in strollers. Now, about 16 normally show up every other Saturday at 9 a.m. to walk and talk. Usually, the group will meet at least one new mom, who just learned about Abilene Mom Walk. Michaela graduated from Boyd High School in 2015 and attended Weatherford College for a while before becoming an administrative assistant for a construction company in Haslett. Then, she met Teagan Brandon and eventually got married. Today, they and their daughter, Teal, live on a ranch north of Abilene.
With enough energy for 10 people, Michaela opened Golden Girls day spa downtown after not being able to find a job she liked. She has moved from her original location and now has her day spa on Pine Street at North Second. Some of the moms who walk are also clients at the day spa.
After each walk, the moms and their babies gather on a grassy spot to create a play area. That’s where much of the bonding happens. They swap names of sitters, Mothers Day Out programs, places to shop and more. They found immediately that they clicked.
“We got to know everyone,” Michaela said. “It was amazing.”
Like Addie Wilson, Michaela wants to make sure the ladies circulate so all get to know each other. At each walk, she insists that the women walk along the trail with someone new. The chit chat during the walk is what you would expect.
“I’m new to Abilene. Where’s a good place to shop?”
“Where’s a good place to eat?”
“I’m a very picky eater, so I can’t help.”
Christian Reed is glad she found Abilene Mom Walk on Instagram. Her husband, Cody, has been stationed at Dyess Air Force Base, his first duty station, since July 2021. He got orders for his first deployment last summer and would be gone for several months. Both Christian and Cody are from Southern California, so family is a long way off. But Christian is resourceful. She hooked up with groups at Dyess so that she wouldn’t be alone with Cody deployed.
“We’re making it as homey as it can be,” she said.
And then she discovered Abilene Mom Walk. On most walks, she brings both daughters. Finley, 7 months, rides in the ring sling close to mom. Bradleigh, 4 years, rides in the stroller part of the way and walks the rest. Christian has found what she was looking for in Abilene Mom Walk–community.
Some of the moms have met up for coffee or trips to the zoo and other local venues, along with the walks. Christian works full time from home and could become isolated. But she was determined not to let that happen. She loves chatting with the other moms, swapping tips and referrals, and just getting out of the house for some exercise. It helps her stay healthy, physically and mentally.
“I definitely appreciate these girls more than they know,” she said.
By Loretta Fulton
Photos By Shayli Anne Photography