The B.I.G. Phenomenon – Women Empowering Women To Fulfillment
Wednesday, May 2, 2012 • 11:09pm
NEWTON, NJ – When Tara Gilvar had transitioned from her corporate high-profile marketing job to becoming a stay-at-home-mother, and raising her three children, she was she sought something more.
Though she enjoyed being at home, she felt something in her heart was missing.
“I wasn’t feeling completely fulfilled,” Gilvar, originally a resident of Hamburg, NJ in Sussex County, said.
Gilvar was a graduate of Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta, before heading to Boston College, and becoming a public relations and marketing consultant whose hands helped to build major brands like Eddie Bauer, Harvard Medical School, Prudential Securities, Safety 1st, Sylvania Lighting, Timberland Company, and Veryfine Juice.
And then she became a mother, deciding to stay at home to raise her children, and she and her husband moved to Chapel Hill, NC. It was there she realized how much she missed New Jersey, and her husband ended up finding a position in New York City.
“Once a Jersey girl, always a Jersey girl,” Gilvar quipped.
In order to fill the void she experienced, Gilvar joined other women to fundraise for Type 1 Diabetes to benefit Morristown Medical Center, in honor of her daughter who has Type 1 Diabetes, and ended up raising $50,000.
“When you join women together for a common cause, you can do great things,” said Gilvar.
Once she handed over the check, Gilvar said the feeling of fulfillment was still not there.
It was a bumper sticker that triggered her into action, as she read its mantra, “Remember who you wanted to be.”
“I didn’t know anyone back in New Jersey,” Gilvar recalled. “I wrote an email to all the amazing women I knew, inviting them over to my house.”
“We’re smart, we have something to offer,” Gilvar wrote to them.
She asked them other questions in her email.
“Who were you?”
“Who are you?”
“What are you struggling with now?”
At her first event, 42 women packed into her Bernardsville, NJ living room, and B.I.G. (Believe Inspire Grow) was born.
“That’s how B.I.G. started, with me trying to fit in,” Gilvar said.
This was in 2009, and since, B.I.G. has expanded now to 54 groups throughout New Jersey, and several states.
That first evening, the attendees talked about their dreams, and encouraged one another.
“What we found was you could be vulnerable, and, someone could help you overcome obstacles, and move forward,” said Gilvar. “It’s about women empowering women to fulfillment.”
At the end of the first meeting, the ladies asked Gilvar when her next event would be. She ended up renting a church hall, asking attendees to each donate, and then other members of the audience began taking turns at guest speaking on topics they had fluency in, from social media to motivational speaking to building businesses and more.
The interest grew so great, a woman from Basking Ridge, NJ asked Gilvar how to start her own group, or as is called in B.I.G., “pod”, for their town.
The membership roster ranges from stay-at-home-moms to executives. Gilvar said.
Unlike other networking organizations, B.I.G. is known for having a mentoring, and supportive environment.
“If you give them a peer supportive environment, we have amazing success stories,” said Gilvar.
One such case was a woman who came to Gilvar’s first meeting, who had been through personal difficulties, including a divorce, after having had a corporate career. She was making ends meet with a dog walking business, yet always yearned to own her own bridal store. The following year, the group celebrated the opening of “i do...i do…” in Morristown.
“She tells you if it wasn’t for B.I.G., she’d still be walking the dogs,” Gilvar said. “And the best part for her was when her daughter said, ‘I’m so proud of you mom.’”
There have been some groups that have started up recently, and are continuing to flourish. For Gilvar, a Sussex County native, she said, “I would love to see more Sussex County woman.”
There are two pods in the county, one in Newton, started by Patricia Singer of Follow Me Social Media Consulting, and the other in Sparta led by Susan Vernicek, self-esteem expert, author, and CEO for the national publication, Identity Magazine.
How did Singer and Vernicek launch their pods, and what does B.I.G. mean to them?
Singer decided to start her pod a year ago after attending the New Jersey Governor’s Conference for Women in Atlantic City.
“One of the breakout sessions was about empowering women, and Tara Gilvar was the keynote speaker,” said Singer. “She talked about starting B.I.G, and we said, ‘we need it bad’ up in Sussex County.”
Singer went to the already established Sparta pod, and Vernicek became Singer’s mentor, and is now, a close friend.
At her launch in 2011, there were 9 women who joined Singer’s pod.
“It has allowed me to get with like-minded women,” said Singer. “They want to help each other, and bend over backwards to help you succeed. It’s like a big sorority of sisters, if they can’t help you directly, you know someone who can.”
“I’ve made so many friends since I’ve been in B.I.G,” Singer added.
Singer said one of the beauties of B.I.G. is the ability to “pod hop”, where members have the privilege to go to any pod meeting they would like. She said meetings are staggered to allow for the opportunity to go to multiple meetings.
Singer said there are a number of ways to network in addition to in person, including using social media with the Facebook Community B.I.G. group page.
She summarized, “B..I.G. is a non-judgment zone, if you need to practice your elevator pitch, you have others there to help you. It’s masterminding, it’s brainstorming, it’s giving you the freedom to stand up and practice.”
Aileen Healy is a member of Singer’s Newton pod. She is a stay-at-home mother, who is also a long-term substitute teacher, who has recently started her own business as well.
“I loved staying at home with my kids, but you are looked at differently, and are not held as a professional,” said Healy. “I think B.I.G. is a fabulous organization, I wish I knew it before going back into the workforce. You can be the mom you want to be, and a business woman.”
Vernicek took over leadership of her B.I.G. pod in 2009, after being a member. The graphic designer turned magazine editor said she finds it “a safe place for women.” Her group has a consistent seven to ten members with whom she has built lasting friendships.
“It’s a very caring group,” said Vernicek. “I love B.I.G. and the women are great.”
Being a part of B.I.G. has also helped her head up her magazine, and she has created synergies between B.I.G. and her magazine. B.I.G. is currently running a conference with Identity Magazine on Saturday, June 9 at the Hyatt Hotel in Morristown, which is the first annual “BoldHer” conference.
“I’ve really learned a lot how they think,” she said. “It’s been very beneficial for my leadership.”
One of the newest pods is the Summit group, encompassing Summit, New Providence, and Berkeley Heights women. Summit resident Melanie Wilson, a marketing consultant with TheAlternativePress.com, started the pod (Suzanne Botvinis, a fellow TheAlternativePress.com marketing consultant, is the assistant pod leader).
“I am excited to share this great opportunity with women in the Summit area,” said Wilson. “Women who want to make economic contributions without sacrificing family commitments face many struggles and challenges. B.I.G. provides the resources and infrastructure to allow us to overcome our business challenges and to succeed. There exists a large group of intelligent, smart and creative women in our area who would benefit greatly by gathering together to share their wisdom, experiences and skill sets.”
Mindy Scarlett works several small businesses, and is the Managing Editor of TheAlternativePress.com, Scotch Plains/Fanwood News Online. Scarlett found B.I.G. from a flyer hung in a local shop.
“It sounded very interesting, the ‘Believe, Inspire Grow,’” said Scarlett.
It was before Scarlett started licensing her section of TheAlternativePress.com, and she said, “I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
Scarlett describes B.I.G. as powerful, in terms of its’ networking and learning environment. She became involved with the Westfield Area pod, and helped market the group. Leader Shelly Beckler asked Scarlett to her the co-leader.
“She’s the perfect complement to me,” said Scarlett. The two have since doubled the group’s membership, and are seeking local experts as speakers, who can teach women about topics, including running their own businesses.
Of the group she said, “Being for women only, they come and feel a lot safer.”
In New Jersey, B.I.G. has pods currently in Basking Ridge, Bernardsville, Bridgewater/Raritan, Chatham/Madison, Hillsborough, Little Falls, Livingston, Long Valley, Millburn, Montclair, Montville, Newton, Old Bridge/Matawan, Paramus, South Orange/Maplewood, Sparta, Springfield/Union, Summit (AM and PM groups), Wayne, West Orange, and Westfield Area.
And B.I.G. has expanded out-of-state as well to Illinois, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio.
To learn more about B.I.G. click here to access the website.