By Allison Meyer
The Great Depression was a devastating time in our nation’s history. Businesses and factories could no longer operate, banks were failing, and countless people were unemployed. It was during this time that Walter W. Ross founded Beta Sigma Phi, an international women’s organization and reading society. Through this association, women were brought together and introduced to social, cultural, and educational environments that would have otherwise not been accessible. By implementing these group activities, Beta Sigma Phi created friendships and a support network for women.
Although it started off as a reading society, the organization underwent a transformation during World War II when women worked together to raise $22,000,000 in war bonds. As the organization continued to grow over the decades, it became more community-service focused. Now, members all over the world are working together both to forge the bonds of friendship and to better lives of others.
In 1979, the Beta Sigma Phi Theta Theta chapter was formed in Peachtree City. Currently, this group consists of nine members. The BSP women have a formal meeting once every month and partake in at least six social events over the course of a year. They may go out to eat, attend plays, visit museums, or simply enjoy a game night with each other. Occasionally, the husbands, affectionately known as “the hots,” and children will even join in. “It’s a blending of families,” says CJ Bedgood, the group’s current vice president. “Our kids all consider each one of our sisters as aunts,” adds treasurer Candy Lacey, who has been a member since 1990.
As a Beta Sigma Phi, members of the group commit to various service projects to assist their local community. Internationally, Beta Sigma Phi raises more than three million dollars for local charities, contributing over 200,000 hours of volunteer work per year. Each chapter decides on the service projects they will partake in, ranging from support for families in financial need, donating to the food bank, providing meals for others, or helping the local animal shelter. When providing school supplies for local kids in need, “We just go shopping like we would for our own kids,” says CJ. “It’s a wonderful feeling that we can help impact their lives a little bit by helping them and just easing some anxiety.” However, they try to keep their actions low key. “We don’t have to be acknowledged for what we do,” says Elizabeth Blessitt, the group’s secretary.
The paramount aspect of the sisterhood is its acceptance of members from all ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds. Members from age 18 and up can share in the “life, learning and friendship,” the motto of a BSP. While there are no requirements, the ladies value honesty, integrity, and a willingness to share. They also encourage others to visit before deciding to join one of the local chapters.
Members receive a variety of benefits such as social networks, life-long bonds, scholarships, disaster relief funds, and insurance programs. One of the greatest benefits seems to be that, according to Elizabeth, “No matter where you go in the United States, you will have a sister somewhere nearby.” The BSPs have many stories of members relying on each other in moments of need. Once, a member of Beta Sigma Phi, along with her husband and three small children, broke down while away on vacation and realized that they’d lost their traveler’s checks as well. Another Beta Sigma Phi member took them in and had her brother fix their vehicle. “Yyou always have support somewhere,” comments Elizabeth.
Candy Lacey agrees. “The group functions by helping others get through situations,” she says, adding that during trials in her life, “I didn’t have to call, and I didn’t have to ask. My friends were there to bring me through and they knew what I would need. They read my mind.” To these ladies, it’s not just a helpful hand in a time of need that they want to provide other women with. Instead, Candy explains, their goal is “to supply the strength to carry on.”
All members serve important roles that rotate every year, giving everyone a chance to take on a new role and develop diverse strengths. For vice president CJ Bedgood, one of those strengths has been gaining confidence. “I’m not as socially awkward as I was,” she says. Candy credits her involvement with the group with her finding the courage to become chairperson of the pastoral council at Holy Trinity. Being a member of Beta Sigma Phi also gave Elizabeth Blessitt the confidence to step into leadership roles at work and socially. Pam Roy, chairman of the group’s social committee and ember since 1989, sums it up: “It has been a positive experience for all of us,” she says.