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Amazing women: Women’s group seeking to foster friendship, mentorship

Amber Neumann is the founder of the monthly Amazing Women dinners hosted locally at various restaurants. She hosted the first dinner in November with hopes that women of all ages would find common ground with one another and celebrate each other’s successes. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Amber Neumann calls her brainchild the “anti-group.”

Once a month, women of all ages, all walks of life, come together in a local restaurant to get together, to talk, to celebrate their accomplishments.

There is no agenda. They’re not gathering to plan an event or to fundraise or to ask someone to buy something. Gatherings aren’t political or religious or educational.

“The whole idea is that we’re the anti-group in a lot of ways,” Neumann said. “It’s just women getting together.”

And yet it’s much more.

“It’s almost therapeutic,” said Mandy Gazelka, who has attended each of the dinners since they were founded last November. “It really inspires you. You hear people’s stories about hiking mountains or starting nonprofit foundations or starting a school or living in a tent for a year … You feel like you want to do something better than what you’ve done.”

Neumann launched her Amazing Women dinners in November, inviting the women she knew to come together at the Blue Ox Bar & Grill to celebrate each other’s successes.

Attendees stood up, introduced themselves and shared with 30-some women – many of whom were strangers to one another –their proudest life accomplishments.

“People I’ve known for years and years, I know they’ve done things, remarkable things, yet when they talk about their personal accomplishments, it’s something I’d never even considered,” Neumann said. “It’s neat to see what everyone values about themselves.”

Each dinner introduces a new theme, chosen by the event’s host. For instance, the second one, hosted by Gazelka, asked participants to share something or someone who inspired them.

“From the first one, hearing all of these stories and how people were inspired to do these awesome things, these amazing events in their lives … I wondered, there had to be something or someone who inspired them to do that,” Gazelka said.

The event is open to any woman, though attendees are expected to fully participate. Neumann said 70-some separate females aged 17 to 70 have taken part in at least one of the first four dinners.

“I think people are really hungry for this kind of experience,” Neumann said. “My hope is that it will cultivate friendships and mentorships, just positive relationships between women.”

Just how the idea germinated was difficult to pinpoint. Inspired by Ted Talks, which records speeches and great ideas throughout the world, Neumann last spring began inviting people to have lunch with her, to simply talk. She also was impressed by the “Why I Love Bemidji” video booth that circulated throughout the community last year, encouraging area residents to share their thoughts about the community.

“I’m hoping people will focus more on their similarities than their differences,” said Neumann, noting it was not accidental the first Amazing Women dinner was hosted immediately following the election season. “It’s fascinating when you start thinking about who to invite to a group dedicated to celebrating strong women just how many names you can come up with, and just how little we actually know about one another.”