Group builds WB community

Published 9:59 pm Monday, February 8, 2016

What started as a way to counter neighborhood negativity is becoming a force of change in Western Branch.

Kathy Reagan Young said she created the Western Branch Growing Forward page on Facebook in May 2015, when she got tired of hearing neighbors gripe about their community without offering solutions.

Eight months — and nearly 4,500 members — later, the online organization is lobbying to get Chesapeake City Council to build a $7-million field house in Western Branch.

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Members also are taking roles to entice more commercial development to the Chesapeake Square area, where the mall is being hit hard by the closing of three stores — Macy’s, American Eagle Outfitters and Michaels — in coming weeks.

Many members have signed an online application asking grocer Trader Joe’s to come to the location that Michaels will vacate when it moves to North Suffolk later this month.

Young’s newest initiative, which she is promoting on Growing Forward’s page, is called the Branch Bash, an effort in which Young, through her marketing company, PR Plus, will contract with existing small businesses and shopping centers to organize promotional events at their shops or venues, she said.

As part of the campaign, she will promote the event on Growing Forward’s Facebook page during the “Marketing Monday” campaigns. The campaigns allow any business in Western Branch to promote itself one time on Mondays, Young said.

Growing Forward members will be eligible for special discounts at the Branch Bash, Young said. The first Branch Bash is at Taylor Road Shoppes from 1 to 5 p.m. Feb. 13.

“I’ve had an overwhelming response to this,” Young said. Several businesses have contacted her about organizing similar events, she added.

Young said she also wants to organize a series of classes for Western Branch. For example, she expects to offer one-time classes on the best ways to catalog photos on computers and a Bring Your Own Brush hairstyling class.

“I’m thinking about the unusual, funky classes you would normally find in Norfolk or Virginia Beach,” Young said. “People are tired of driving to Norfolk for classes like this.”

“We want to try to maintain existing businesses and attract new businesses to Western Branch,” she said.

Growing Forward is also trying to enhance the quality of life in Western Branch with planning committees focused on business development, beautification, biking and trails, public relations, recreation and safety.

Young says she believes the Growing Forward Facebook page has strengthened community ties.

“It’s given people a virtual meetup spot, an ongoing town hall, where they can talk about ideas and come up with suggestions on how to fix problems,” Young said. “The fixes often turn out to be as simple as neighbors helping neighbors.”