Posted, March 2021 Issue

By John Townes of Berkshire Trade & Commerce

At a time when social isolation resulting from COVID restrictions has become more of a problem for many people, an organization named Walking Our Talk offers women a source of connection and support.

Walking Our Talk is a nonprofit organization that was launched in 2006 by Mary Campbell of Great Barrington. It organizes “circles,” which are groups of about 15 women, who meet regularly for eight weeks, in a format designed to facilitate discussions. Approximately 350 women have participated in circles, which generally have been offered twice a year in spring and fall.

“The basic goal is to gather women with a purpose they want to bring to the world and get support from others to help them achieve that,” said Campbell, who is currently its co-chair of the board and executive director. “It’s not a psychological therapy group. The purpose is to provide women with a community and connections to encourage empowerment.”

The organization is currently accepting enrollments for upcoming online spring circles that begin in late March. A free introductory session will be offered online on March 4. For details and sign-ups visit the website www.walkingourtalk.org.

Campbell said that the type of goals women bring to the process vary widely. “Women come in with all sorts of projects, she said. “Some want to start a business or get into their art. They might have a personal goal such as fitness goal or are dealing with a health issue. They may want to become more active in helping others in some form. We also welcome women who primarily want to connect to others for personal development. For example, some women have joined because they are new to the area.”

She added that the organization actually grew out of her own experiences. She is a woman’s empowerment and intimacy coach, ordained inter-spiritual minister, counselor, and educator. She also has a background as a choral director.

“Women sit in circles throughout the world,” she said. “It’s become a movement in a sense. I first read about it in a book called The Millennium Circle in 2006, and I decided this would be a great idea to do here. I had family and other responsibilities, so I brought together several other women to help me get it started. In a sense, this was my own project for the first circle.”

The group subsequently evolved from a group that met in Campbell’s kitchen into a certified nonprofit organization with a board of directors. In addition, a training program was developed for women who want to become facilitators for groups. There are currently 24 facilitators, with two leading each circle.

“We’ve developed a format for the circles to encourage discussions that give every member an opportunity to participate and discuss their goals,” said Campbell.

While the actual circles last eight weeks, they also lead to more permanent connections, in which members stay in contact and hold activities afterward. “It’s grown into a very large and active community,” said Campbell.

The price of participation in a circle is $250.

“We believe every woman should have the opportunity to participate, so full or partial scholarships are available,” said Campbell. “That’s a primary reason we decided to become a formal nonprofit organization.”

As a program that is based on direct personal contacts, Walking Our Talk’s activities have been affected by COVID in both expected and unexpected ways.

“We traditionally have met in churches and other public locations,” said Campbell. “When COVID first emerged last year, we had to cancel our planned April session. However, we decided to adapt by holding the circles on Zoom. We actually found that it works well and is convenient for people – especially in winter.”

Campbell added that social distancing and limits on in-person interactions have increased the need for the circles. This has led them to add more sessions in the summer and winter to their usual schedule.

“Women were urging us to offer it last summer,” she said. “So we added two circles in the summer and another two in winter, in addition to our usual sessions in the fall.”

She said that they hope to return to in-person circles this fall if conditions permit.

While meeting virtually is not the ideal format, Campbell noted that it did have some unexpected benefits.

“Doing the circles online means it is available to people regardless of their location,” she said. “That has expanded our reach geographically, and a number of women in other parts of the country have participated in circles as members or facilitators.”

She noted that one woman who is from Slovenia and had participated in the program while living in Berkshire County has become an online facilitator after returning to Slovenia.

“Even after we’re able to hold circles in-person again, we’ll probably also continue to do some of them online to enable more women to take part,” said Campbell.