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The Blue Ribbon Army: Providing Support to Phoenix’s Geek Community Since 2014

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In the Phoenix, Arizona, geek community, “BRA” takes on a whole different meaning: the Blue Ribbon Army. What began as a simple fan group has exploded into a home for geeks and nerds who otherwise might not have the confidence to venture out and find new friends has gained a tremendous following that has been channeled into a force for good. Matt and Jen Hinds, two of the coordinators/creators of the massive community, took the time to Talk Nerdy With Us about the Blue Ribbon Army and its effect on geeks in Phoenix and beyond.

 Tell our Talk Nerdy With Us readers about the Blue Ribbon Army. What is it exactly?

“In a nutshell, the Blue Ribbon Army is a social club for geeks, named for the blue ribbons/lanyards that we wear to conventions an geek events to identify one another. Our primary hangout spot is our Facebook page, where our members talk nerdy (see what I did there?) with one another and coordinate get-togethers. Outside of a place for geek networking (which is our core mission), we are also a non-profit that chooses a different charity to support with each event.”-Matt

How did the Blue Ribbon Army come to be?

“Prior to Phoenix Comicon 2014,  our group had grown large enough that our members wanted a way to identify each other at the next Con. As Matt previously stated, that was in the form of blue ribbons (suggested by long-time member, Debbie Redfern). After this suggestion was approved by our members, one of our friends (Nicholas Grover) half-jokingly said that we should call ourselves the Blue Ribbon Army (BRA for short).”-Jen

When the BRA started, did you ever expect it to become as large and as popular as it is?

“When the Facebook page was first created, it was solely for the purpose of our small group of friends to communicate between cons. As more mutual friends joined the group, things just kind of snowballed in terms of growth (partly due to six degrees of Kevin Bacon and partly due to the fact that a lot of folks thought that the group was officially the Phoenix Comicon page).”-Matt

The BRA has created an incredible sense of community among the geek population of Phoenix and the rest of Arizona, even spreading to other states. Several members, myself included, have been able to overcome near crippling social anxiety thanks to knowing that there were others “like us” out there (in fact, I may never have had the courage to take this position at Talk Nerdy With Us if not for the support of the BRA!). One example is hairstylist/colorist April Russell, who gave a heartwarming speech during the BRA panel at Phoenix Comicon about how the BRA and its members helped her fight her social anxiety. April is now a successful stylist and a favorite among BRA members. How does it feel knowing that what once started as a small convention fan group has turned into an amazing, supporting community?

 “It’s more than we could have ever hoped for. We’re still processing it, really. To use our powers for good and get so much in return in terms of friendship is quite remarkable.”-Jen
At this year’s Phoenix Comicon, the BRA sold merchandise at the con to raise money for a charity called Comicare, who gave a shout-out to the Blue Ribbon Army during their own Talk Nerdy With Us interview. How much were you able to raise?
“After we recouped the overhead that we wanted to, $2100 total went to the charity.”-Matt
What are the BRA’s future philanthropic plans?
“We’re taking a breather at Fan Fest (i.e. not having a specific BRA table), but we will still sell lanyards and BRA ribbons at the Kids Need to Read table, with all proceeds going to their charity. We like to rotate charities between each event and keep it local to Phoenix in order to have as big an impact as possible.”-Jen
How can interested nerds and geeks out there join the BRA and get involved? How can they help if they can’t make it to an Arizona event or convention to hang with the BRA in person?
“We’re really easy going as far as membership is concerned and anyone who is in our Facebook group is automatically a member. We’re still fleshing out how to involve folks in our charity efforts that can’t make it to events, but we do have a PayPal and Etsy store (with proceeds going to purchase swag to sell at events).”-Matt
 Tell us in your own words the best part of being in the Blue Ribbon Army and watching it grow from the ground up.
“For me it’s watching folks make friends who might not have otherwise. As an introverted misfit myself, I know how rough of a time it is to go out to social venues, let alone actually talk to strangers at them. Our group is a place to hit the ground running with people with similar interests and life experiences. You can jump right in or take your time. There is no pressure. That’s comforting, like chicken soup or William Riker’s beard.”-Matt
“I agree with what Matt said and want to add how great it is to see what our smart and talented members can do when they gain a little confidence. From getting the knowledge and confidence to run their own panel at conventions or to hone their craft with the support and feedback from a like-minded community, great things start with friendship.”-Jen

Written by AJ Mullican

AJ enjoys reading, writing, TV/movies, music, art, and cosplay. She has self-published poetry, short stories, and a novel. She is currently penning her second and third novels.

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