CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Last year, shortly after moving back home to Charleston, Kayla Young noticed something: somewhere along the way, after college, between finding the right career and raising a family, making friends had suddenly become hard.

"Everywhere I went, people were like, 'Oh, do you know this person? Do you know that person?' And I'm like, 'No, who's that?'" she said.

It seemed at 29 years of age, she wasn't the only one who felt lost in a crowd.

"I feel like everybody feels this way — like, people who are moving here," she said. "How do they meet people? And how do adult women meet each other and connect?"

She suspected the problem is more pronounced for women than for men.

"Because I feel like women are often pitted against each other or meant to see each other as competition instead of as, like, supportive peers. It's just innate," Young said. "There's less places for women to be, so you're always competing for those small spots that are available."

Just like that, an idea was born in August 2017. She decided to create a space for women to connect.

Young formed Boss Babes WV, defining it as "an event series dedicated to empowering women through education and building an all-inclusive community." On the group's Facebook page, she added, "We're badass women, basically."

"I just wanted a place for women to get together and see each other as peers rather than as any sort of competition, and have a place where it's free to talk," Young said.

Apparently, she struck a chord.

The first event was held in September at The Boutique by B.Belle Events, in downtown Charleston.

"I did all of the outreach on social media," she said. "Nobody really knew what they were getting themselves into, but they all just showed up — 85 people."

She had an ice breaker, then five speakers, which was "way too many," she said with a laugh. But everyone shared different ideas on self-care and community events.

The gathering turned into "a chance for people to get up and talk about what they're doing, whether it's a business they're opening or they have an art show coming up or they know about a cool job," Young said.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to know when the next event would be. She held a total of four gatherings in Charleston last year and has gone to a bimonthly schedule for 2018. Young also branched out, launching groups with events in Huntington in November and Morgantown in January, where 125 people showed up.

"I think women want to be around other women in a low-key, low-stress environment. ... I think a low-pressure environment, where people can meet each other, is very appealing, because people want to have friends and they want to do things," Young said. "And as we find out after college as young women, it's very difficult to make friends if you don't already have them."

She assumed most of the response would come from other millennials, women in her own age range.

"There's this whole network of millennial women who are friends with each other on the internet, but they don't know what to do in person," she said. "I think a lot of people my age aren't very versed in having conversations with strangers because they don't know what to do. It's a lot easier on the internet, and that's how we've all been raised."

Much to her surprise, the audiences have been mixed in age.

"I think it's wonderful, and I think there's opportunities for older women to seek younger women for mentoring. And it goes both ways," she said. "There are so many things I want to do with all the different age ranges, from elementary school to elderly women. Like, if I had known the things I know about feminism in high school, which was only 15 years ago, it's crazy to think about how differently I would have developed."

Young acknowledged, in the politically diverse and sensitive times in which we live, "feminism" is sometimes perceived as "liberal." That's not the intent, she said.

"It's not partisan. Everyone is open to speak. It's not like, 'You need to be OK with abortion' or, 'You need to have these specific views.'"

Discussion and conversation are part of what's missing from our interactions with each other, Young added.

"People have a smaller bubble than they ever had. Like, if you get your news from Facebook, you're only going to see what your friends are posting, and your friends most likely have the same political view that you have. So you're not even going to see anything else," she said. "And it's so important to be diverse because you're not even seeing the other side of the coin.

"To me, being a woman is way more important than being a Republican or being a Democrat. There are all these grounds that we're all going to be the same on, regardless of where you are on reproductive justice issues and things like that. I think we can all agree that women make 73 cents on the dollar. That's a fact. That's not an opinion."

The next event she planned is "That's What She Said," an all-female comedy showcase featuring headliner Lori Graves on Friday at Black Sheep Burrito & Brews in Huntington. The first such event held in Charleston in November brought in 200 people.

"You don't see a lot of women comedian shows," Young said. "You might see, like, one random woman, and then the rest are, like, men who are probably going to say things that are not nice about women."

"A Maker's Workshop: Macrame Wall Hanging" event set for Saturday at Charleston's MESH Design and Development is already sold out.

"Do you know how to make these? I don't, but I'm going to find out," Young said.

"Breaking Our Silence: An evening reading of women's real abortion stories" will take place at 5:30 p.m. March 7 at Taylor Books.

At the end of the day, Young said, Boss Babes WV is all about building a stronger community — not made of buildings, made of friends.

"I think community building is very important," she said. "Everybody needs their own sense of what community means to them, and I think having those people is just as important as having those physical places."


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail,