20 years and counting
Some members of the VAWBN are shown at their February evening meeting in their regular meeting space at the Bearbrook Community Centre. Julie Daoust is front second from left and Jennifer Picard is back sixth from left.     Vetter photo

Candice Vetter
Villager Staff
BEARBROOK – The Vars and Area Women’s Business Network (VAWBN) is marking its 20th year, so at its evening meeting on Wed., Feb. 28, the presentation by Julie Daoust and Jennifer Picard was New Year, New Direction.

Daoust is one of the founders of the VAWBN, and she described the formation of the group in 1998. “We started 20 years ago, after the Ice Storm,” she told the approximately 20 members who attended. “There were eight of us to start. We met at each other’s homes or businesses. Now there have been 250 business members over the 20 years. There are some who have become so successful they don’t have time to attend!” Usually a few alumni members attend special events and some meetings, and most have remained in touch over the years.

The group went from being a referral network to a much wider organization. There are no boundaries for certain areas and types of businesses which are welcome and they are less restricted than with some formal networking organizations. Meetings are held twice a month, on the second Tuesday morning and the last Wednesday evening of each month. Meetings feature a networking session, round table introductions, product promotion, guest speakers, business announcements, and more items of interest to local businesswomen.

During the last few years, occasional trade shows have been added to the group’s activities, and the organization has become a recognized community partner in the area, working with schools, other organizations and charitable causes.

The VAWBN has brochures, a new website and other promotional materials. “We didn’t have any of these things in beginning,” said Daoust. “We’ve evolved and developed since we went to each other’s homes.”

Guests are welcome and new members are encouraged to try out a meeting. “We try to be social, to relax, to have fun,” said Daoust. “But it’s still a business membership.”

After many years of moving from one meeting place to another, including restaurants, halls and churches, the group recently secured regular dates at the Bearbrook Community Centre, located just northeast of Vars.

“The larger space is great,” said Picard and gestured around the room during the meeting break. The centre’s area means that the group can have their meeting space set up as well as let members have display tables at each meeting. On this evening, there were health products, clothing, cleaning products, information about services, and honey, among many other things.

In the past, usually only one member could display products at a time. “With visuals it’s easier to refer,” Picard said.

The group is currently seeking more members. Many members come only to morning meetings or only to evening meetings. “It’s almost like there are two groups,” Daoust said. “We would like to see up to about 50 members for better attendance in each, especially for the guest speakers.”

For more information and meeting times and dates, see vawbn.ca.