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Finding purpose through life’s troubles
As a successful business owner, wife and mother, Melody Ross was living her dream life. She and her husband, Marq, were celebrating 12 years of running their fruitful international business, Chatterbox, when everything changed.
In 2004, Marq, who headed up the day-to-day operations of the business and household so Ross could fulfill the company’s creative role, was in an accident, leaving him with a debilitating brain injury.
“I lost my husband for a while and things were incredibly difficult,” Ross said. “I was running a company by myself. I had five small children, a seven acre farm, and a multitude of business and financial issues to clean up.”
During her husband’s five-year recovery process, Ross took on the sole responsibility of not only running their business and household, but also caring for her husband.
“A lot of really horrible things happened in the middle of it all,” Ross said. “I ended up losing my company but finding my life purpose.”
Building Brave Girls Club
In the years following her husband’s injury, Ross watched as Chatterbox slowly sold off to multiple buyers, but she kept looking forward. Aiding in her husband’s recovery, Ross and her sister, Kathy Wilkins, who offered strategic consulting for Chatterbox, were busy planning what to do next.
“I needed something to get me through everyday so I could show up for my kids and my employees and my husband,” Ross said.
By 2009 Chatterbox was sold off to its final buyer, completely absolving Ross from the company. What was the end of one company was also a new start. Built from the lessons learned through her own process of healing and the loss of Chatterbox, Ross and Wilkins created Brave Girls Club.
The company’s sole purpose is to help women live more fulfilled, brave and beautiful lives.
“I really wanted to create a safe place for women who might be going through difficult things like I was,” Ross said. “A place to rest and figure things out, support each other and find each other.”
Ross and Wilkins wanted to create a company that would help women who are going through transitional times in their lives, to encourage them, support and nurture them so they would come out feeling competent and self-fulfilled.
“We wanted to host beautiful, healing retreats and also create an online place where hundreds and thousands of women could gather,” Ross said.
The sisters began with a curriculum based on Ross’s own experience overcoming hard times. The curriculum incorporated therapeutic elements with artistic expression, and is still used by Brave Girls Club today.
“We worked out every detail over two or three years,” Ross said. “By the time my company was done, we were ready to hit the ground running.”
Brave Girls Camp
Brave Girls Club all started with retreats called Brave Girl Camp. The four-day, all-inclusive art and life camps follow a precise plan and curriculum, with women arriving to the camp on Tuesdays and finishing their final day on Friday.
While camp attendees spend the nights at the Hilton in Eagle, camp takes place at a ranch in Star. The women are transported to and from camp by way of a custom Brave Girls Club bus.
When the women arrive at camp they begin their journey by participating in a getting to know you “red carpet session.” Aside from the actual red carpet present, red carpet symbolizes a safe space where confidentiality is key.
“Red carpet has some rules and some sacredness,” Wilkins said. “It’s a place that is safe and anything shared around the red carpet is confidential.”
The red carpet rules apply to the entire time at camp, and even to the private Facebook pages and websites created for each individual camp. According to Wilkins, this safe environment fosters friendships as well as personal transformation.
“After spending the week at camp, when these women get on the bus to go home, they look like different women than who showed up on that first day,” Ross said. “They transform; it is miraculous. They are doing really deep, soulful work while they are here, and while we facilitate it, they are doing it all themselves.”
Over the course of the camp, Ross shares the experience of how she overcame a time of turmoil in her own life. Her map of healing, paired with a safe, loving and supportive environment, creates what Ross describes as magical and indescribable results.
“Many of them are smiling through life with a broken heart,” Ross said. “It is beautiful when they can finally unburden themselves and say, ‘This is what’s been going on in my life and it’s very hard.’”
Brave Girl Camp unburdens its guests by eliminating the stressors of everyday life. At camp, there is an essential disconnect policy, meaning women give up phones and computers over the course of the week so that they can focus on their personal growth and healing without being distracted by everything else that is going on in their life back at home.
“It creates this perfect situation for them to do what they need to do for themselves,” Ross said.
Throughout the four days, women are treated to candlelit meals served in spaces Ross, Wilkins and their family spend days decorating. According to Wilkins, when preparing for camps, a lot of time is spent thinking through every single detail of every single moment of their guests’ stay.
The preparation is to create a beautiful space for the women to relax, enjoy themselves and learn.
“We spend the days enjoying the beauty of the ranch, having beautiful meals and doing art,” Wilkins said.
The art barn
While art isn’t the focus of Brave Girl Camp, it plays a large role throughout the four days. In the art barn, Ross takes camp attendees through a series of lessons, most incorporating artistic elements.
“The art isn’t really meant to be displayed or shown,” Wilkins said. “It’s meant to burn into your soul the things that you’re learning; it’s a learning tool.”
While Ross said you don’t have to produce art to work through the courses, its role is important to the process. Artistic expression, Ross believes, is not so much about technique, getting published or becoming a famous artist. Instead, at Brave Girl Camp, it adds a tangible element to the transformation process. Much of the art created at camp is collage art, which is made by sticking various images onto a backing.
“When you lay something down and you glue it down and you collage it down, it’s almost like you just made a contract with your soul, like, ‘I really mean this,’” Ross said.
Ross’s art and its function spread through all aspects of Brave Girls Club.
Outside of the Brave Girl Camp retreats, which happen five times annually, Brave Girls Club offers a wide variety of classes, inspirations and products.
The majority of the work done by Ross and Wilkins goes to building the mass library of online classes offered by Brave Girls Club, including one of the most popular monthly courses, Soul School.
“Melody has endless ideas to support and encourage and uplift women, and our online classes have become wildly popular,” Wilkins said.
Daily inspirational emails called “A Little Bird Told Me” are sent out to hundreds of thousands of subscribers five days a week. According to Wilkins, these are one of the most powerful and well received of the Brave Girls Club products and offerings.
“We get feedback every day of how powerful and far reaching those are,” she said.
Additionally, Brave Girls Club offers physical products. Brave Boxes ship to customers monthly and include the monthly Soul School curriculum, ready-to-create artwork, collectibles and custom-made art by Ross.
Products are available for purchase on the Brave Girls website, including affirmation, greeting cards and books written and created by Ross.
“We have the physical part of the business, which is actually the smallest part of what we do, and then we have the education part and finally the connection part,” Ross said. “It is really important for us to connect women to each other because there are so many women who don’t have anybody.”
A goal both Ross and Wilkins strive to achieve in every aspect of their business is connecting women to one another. Whether through online classes, social media platforms or in person at retreats, Ross says these bonds are one of the most important outcomes Brave Girls Club fosters.
“They become family to each other,” she said. “One of my favorite things is to see how they take care of one another.”
For every retreat, Ross and Wilkins create a Facebook page and a personal website for attendees to keep connected. In many cases, they see the connections and friendships made at camp continuing on long after the fours days come to a close.
“They continue to support each other through life’s challenges,” Wilkins said.
To initiate a strong bond between women, Brave Girls Club attempts to strip away the common labels often focused on such as age, income, profession and personal politics or religious beliefs. This allows the women to focus on common interests and life experiences without passing judgment.
According to Wilkins, the intimate experience created when labels are stripped away eliminates the competitiveness and cattiness that tend to take place between women.
“They take care of each other,” she said. “They get so tight with each other after having such an intimate experience at camp and then they just look out for each other.”
Like the brave women Ross and Wilkins encounter through their business, they too support and care for one another. Family, they said, is the backbone to their success.
Coming from many generations of Idahoans, Ross and Wilkins are always eager to share their home state and their family with their guests.
“They (our guests) love Idaho,” Kathy said. “They just love the experience that they have here and so many of them say, ‘I’m moving to Idaho.’”
Women travel from all over the world to attend Brave Girl Camp, and Ross said their strong ties to family and to Idaho set examples for the visitors.
“I think the way of life we grew up with in Idaho has been a huge factor in affecting our following,” she said. “A lot of people come to our retreats and can’t believe how well our family functions together; it often inspires them to work toward a stronger family and better relationships.”
The sisters both admitted this is not something they were expecting when starting the retreats. Growing up in farming families, they were used to the harmony of working together as a family.
“It’s just something we’ve always had,” Ross said. “We thought everybody’s families were like that.”
The two enjoy having their family close and involve them in the everyday business, where several of their children and other relatives work for the company.
“Our family is so ingrained in every single thing we do, and we built it that way,” Ross said. “We build physical space for our family to be with us; we build jobs — the exact jobs we want to have — and we involve the families of everyone who works for us too. Family is number one in our company.”
Because a majority of the business is online, Brave Girls Club has been easily scalable without having to hire many employees. This is one way the sisters have kept Brave Girls Club in the family.
“We were just as big at 20,000 members as we are at 150,000 members because our business is so scalable,” Ross said.
Even though Brave Girl Camps sell out every time, at least a year in advance, Ross and Wilkins continue to hold only five per year and cap attendance at 22 people.
“We could do more and we could do bigger, but this is just right,” Wilkins said.
For the duo, the main goal has always been to reach as many women as possible and to connect them with one another.
“For us we are always assessing how many women can we reach,” Ross said. “A lot of our decision making process is how many women this can help.”
To reach more people without having to scale up employees, Ross and Wilkins have been working on creating trainings and workbooks that can be used by therapists and counselors, and women who have completed Brave Girls Club curriculum. Instead of holding large events to teach their curriculum, the two said they would like to see their lessons taught in small, intimate settings by others trained to teach their curriculum.
“My dream is to have living rooms, yoga rooms, gyms and churches full of about 12 women sitting in a circle with one trainer and learning together,” Ross said.
The two are seeing this dream come to fruition, as programs such as Saving Grace, an organization helping girls who have timed out of foster care transition, are currently using the Brave Girls curriculum.
“Our big dream is to have hundreds of women all over the world teaching it,” Ross said.
Based on their past experiences with Chatterbox, Ross and Wilkins went into the business of Brave Girls Club with a strict set of rules. These rules are based on specific experiences neither wants to relive in their new business. Following the rules has limited their struggles.
“We learned you can craft the exact life you want to have if you stick to your rules,” Ross said. “We know exactly what is important to us and we choose to make decisions that align with the rules we made.”
Along with the lessons they have learned in business, the sisters truly value the lessons they have learned from the women they have encountered while building Brave Girls Club.
“The most important lesson I keep learning from these women is that we are all so much the same,” Ross said. “At the end of the day, when you sit down with somebody, they almost always want the same things. They want to love and they want to be loved, they want to be understood and they want to understand, they want to make a difference, they want to be seen and they want to feel better.”
Millions of lessons: Melody and Kathy’s lessons learned from Brave Girls
“We are all the same. At the end of the day, when you sit down with somebody, they almost always want the same things. They want to love and they want to be loved; they want to be understood and they want to understand; they want to make a difference; they want to be seen; they want to feel better. When you strip away everything else, that’s really what there is. Stop making judgments about people. I haven’t met anybody that I haven’t fallen madly in love with if I listen to their story long enough. I would fight for them even if I didn’t believe the same way that they believe because I fall in love with them as a human, as a sister.” – Melody Ross
“Part of what I think we see is how much better people feel when they can just drop their facade and they can just sit. And I think a part of what happens, just a part, is they realize ‘I can be myself here; nobody is looking at me and I don’t have to pretend.’ We all do this, and it’s so amazing realizing it is okay to be yourself. One thing we’ve learned is you can create the life you want yourself. It doesn’t take much time; it doesn’t take expense. It takes care and constant redirection.” – Kathy Wilkins