BEVERLY — A popular Facebook group for moms living on the city's Southwest Side got its start in the real world, on a playground.
Beverly moms Lauren Kent and Shanya Gray were playing with their kids at Ridge Park in Beverly in 2014 when they started discussing ways to meet more moms in the area. Soon after, Moms of Beverly, a Facebook group that now boasts nearly 3,000 members, was born.
"We saw all these moms around, and we wanted more of a community," remembered Gray, a college professor and mother of two boys, ages 2 and 6. "We wanted a way to connect moms, have play dates and plan fun activities."
Kent went home and launched the group in May 2014, and it quickly grew. Today, the Beverly group has 2,993 members.
"We didn't think it would be this big," said Kent, a stay-at-home mother of three children, ages 6, 3 and 5 months. "I remember celebrating 71 members, and now we're at almost 3,000 members. It's pretty amazing."
The moms discussed their experiences as administrators of the popular Beverly-focused Facebook group at the Facebook Communities Summit at Revel Fulton Market in the West Loop last week. The event, which featured a keynote speech from Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, brought Facebook group leaders from across the country together for the first time.
After an open application process, Facebook executives chose a diverse range of groups and aimed to engage real group leaders at the summit, a Facebook spokeswoman said.
This isn't the moms' first event with Facebook. Last year, Facebook brought two Moms of Beverly administrators to Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., where they met with Zuckerberg and other top Facebook executives in person.
Zuckerberg said that the success of Facebook groups — and their ability to connect people from all walks of life that share a common bond — will shape the company's mission going forward.
For the last decade, Facebook's mission has been to make the world more open and connected, Zuckerberg said. Moving forward, the mission wil expand to "bring the world closer together," he announced at the summit.
"Right now, I think the most important thing we can do is bring people closer together," Zuckerberg said. "It's so important that we're going to change Facebook's whole mission to take this on."
In the closed Moms of Beverly group, everything from pediatrician referrals and school updates to neighborhood news is discussed, Gray said. The group also functions as a virtual neighborhood bulletin board of sorts, where moms advertise kids activities, Little League tryouts and search for missing pets. On Wednesday, the group allowed moms to advertise their home businesses and sell items to other group members.
But the group's most important function, the moms said, is one of support. The online forum helps a lot of new moms who move to Beverly and who may not have friends or social circles in the neighborhood, Kent said.
Gray, a native of Barbados who moved to Chicago to attend school and later settled with her husband in Beverly, said meeting new moms in America wasn't always easy.
"American culture doesn't always foster easy interaction," Gray said.
But the self-described "extrovert" who "loves people" said the Facebook group helps facilitate meaningful connections between moms, leading to offline relationships. The group also hosts a meetup in real life once a month and launched a toy drive for underprivileged kids around Christmas last year.
"Having this platform where you can meet people and interact, and then you meet physically, it's tremendous. The support is huge," Gray said.
With fellow administrator Tina Peterson, Kent and Gray vet Facebook users who want to join the group, asking if they are moms, if they live in the area and what they hope to gain from joining the Facebook community.
Peterson, an adoptive mother of a 5-year-old son, knows the power of social media. Years ago, she created a Facebook group about her and her husband's hope to adopt, and two months after the page's launch, her son was living with them.
"Because of the group, 95 percent of the people I interact with on a daily basis are all from people that I've met on the moms' group," Peterson said.
More than 1 billion people across the world belong to a Facebook group, according to Facebook statistics.