– By Cheantay Jensen

When the Long Beach Walking Club meets for its weekly rendezvous with the pavement, they’re hard to miss. The throng of women clad in leggings and sneakers, many leading their dogs or pushing strollers, claim the sidewalk. Their two-mile walk is leisurely, and most are absorbed in conversation as they stroll. For once, they’re not needing to pay too much attention to their surroundings, there’s just so many of them.

 “Safety in numbers, right?,” said Evelyn Avila, founder and president of the Long Beach Walking Club. “Before, if I put on leggings and my little sweater to go running or walking down the beach path, I felt so unsafe. This is our way of reclaiming the beach, this is our space too.”

 Women-led walking clubs, like Avila’s, aren’t a new idea. They’ve existed for decades as a form of fitness incentive and, particularly in large cities, as a safety buffer. But in the years following the pandemic there was a resurgence in popularity as work-from-home scheduling persisted and people began looking for ways to break up the monotony and be more social.

 When Avila moved to Downtown in 2021, she hadn’t anticipated just how difficult it would be to make new friends. She was doing online school and working from home, and despite only moving about 10 miles from her North Long Beach home, it was hard to maintain her old friendships.

 “I felt really lonely and isolated,” she admitted. “Because of COVID, it’s hard to make friends…I just started a walking club to see if anyone wanted to walk with me and get some extra steps. But it became so much more.”

 In less than a year, club attendance has skyrocketed. What started with about 3 or 4 girls walking with her in the early months, now clocks upwards of 50 joining once or twice a week. Their most recent walk along the Downtown shoreline included over 80 women—one of their largest meetups to date.

 The walking club most often meets in Downtown, gathering in front of the Gaucho Beach restaurant before venturing down the path along the shoreline. Avila has dubbed it the club’s “OG Path.” But the group will often switch up routine with hour-long walks around Downtown’s East Village, Belmont Shore, Signal Hill and Bixby Knolls.

 These days there’s a lot more newcomers joining, Avila says. But there’s also a strong sisterhood that’s developed among its longtime attendees.

“The group of girls that I met are now some of my closest and dearest friends. We hang outside of the club. We have meetings and we go on trips, we do lots of things,” Avila said.

 As the club kept growing, so did Avila’s aspirations. With the help of Vice President Mileisley Long and club ambassadors Kat Ligad and Liz Lewis, the women have cultivated the club into a community that advocates for wellness, inclusivity and service.

 Each month the club participates in a form of community service or outreach. In November they raised over 400 pounds of food for the Southern California Food Bank. In December, it was a toy drive for the Long Beach Fire Department’s annual toy giveaway. For Black History Month the club patronized several Black-owned businesses in Downtown. This month, the club is asking for clothing and other supplies to donate to New Life Beginnings, a nonprofit that helps homeless and trafficked mothers and their children.

 For those looking to get more out of the club, there’s also a forum on the Geneva app that totals over 500 members. There, women post invites to events, concerts or other outdoor activities. There’s also a book club.  

“I think I’m just really amazed with everyone that keeps showing up and found a safe space for themselves,” Avila said. “They want to keep coming back and be more involved and that feels really good to me.”

As the club approaches its first-year anniversary in April, Avila says she and her team have big plans. To expand on their service, the club is working to achieve the coveted 501c3 nonprofit status. They also hope to expand the walking club to other areas of Long Beach that aren’t as commonly walked, such as North Long Beach.

“I was born and raised in North Long Beach so I think that if we have one out there that would be really cool. There are so many areas that we can walk,” she said.

Long Beach Walking Club is free and open to the public. The club generally meets every Sunday morning year round and also Wednesday evenings during the Spring and Summer. To keep up with the club via Instagram, click here, or visit the Geneva app.