When Katrina Whatley is not doing her actual job as a real estate agent, she’s often putting out virtual fires within a cyber club she created.
Perhaps someone started a conversation about politics, called another person nasty names or otherwise violated the critical rule, “don’t be a jerk.” Maybe a member has hawked her home business one too many times. Or someone suspects a man has infiltrated the membership roll for nefarious purposes.
For the administrator of a popular Facebook group, keeping an eye on such things is an ongoing duty.
Whatley and her buddies Rosa Garcia and the late Kristina Truillio, who died last year of cancer, didn’t start the Oak Cliff Ladies Club imagining it would blossom the way it did.
“We were all newly friends, and we just wanted to make more friends in our neighborhood,” Whatley says.
The founding trio sought other Oak Cliff ladies with whom to share dinner, drinks or advice and generally tap into the community’s collective wisdom.
Because it was 2015, the sisterhood would live on Facebook. Whatley created the OCLC private Facebook group. She invited a couple of friends, and they invited a couple friends, and so on.
“The whole thing grew organically. I think it filled this need we all had to connect.”
Whatley vetted requests to join (doing her best to ensure people are who they say they are). Other members, including Jenna Wilson and Carlin Seale, helped with administrative responsibilities.
Wilson let Whatley know if something might need to be deleted.
“There are rules against political and religious posts,” Wilson says. “Posts about vaginal steaming are OK. Hehe. That’s a real example.”
Over eight years OCLC members have climbed to some 5,000 and counting.
“What made people want to tell their friends about it was the authenticity and vulnerability with which members were sharing real life with each other,” Wilson says, “like truly doing life together in a new modern way.”
In a given 24 hours, OCLC members see posts about new restaurant openings, lost pets, funny mom- or menopause-related memes or a link to a news story or a notice from one of Oak Cliff’s city council representatives.
Anonymous posts seeking advice about personal topics from dieting to drug addictions, everyday child rearing to domestic abuse, are commonplace. So are posts like “what is that smell at Lake Cliff Park?” or “Warning: the showers at Kidd Springs Aquatic Center are scalding hot!”
A fraction of the membership turns out to in-person gatherings, which still makes for a large party. When the group hit 1,000 members, about 50 celebrated at Local Oak, Wilson says.
For better or worse, on occasion, the OCLC has garnered national attention.
In 2020, several members launched a fundraiser to assist an Oak Cliff woman whose husband was murdered. The club became part of a major news story when that woman was convicted of hiring the killer herself. (People magazine reported that Oak Cliff Ladies Club members don’t regret jumping to their neighbor’s aid and that most would continue to err on the side of kindness, despite this odd case of deception.)
Earlier this year, a mother’s post on OCLC about a questionable Winnie-the-Pooh crisis preparedness book for preschoolers (as covered by the Advocate) became a national news story on CNN and The New York Times.
The hottest post “by far” in recent memory concerned parents patronizing a neighborhood brewery with kids in tow, which spiked heated conversation about the etiquette surrounding children in restaurants.
It is one of the most controversial comment sections Whatley can recall, she says. She had to boot one member from the group for name calling, which pained her, especially when the ousted member bashed her on public social media.
“It feels bad, I’ll be honest,” Whatley says. “I feel like, damn, we have worked so hard to keep this place nice for everybody.”
Whatley, a Lake Cliff homeowner since 2006, has learned in a tangible way the importance of understanding what is happening in her neighborhood.
She’s seen first hand what can go wrong when neighbors are not involved in city hall matters, for example.
So-called Oak Cliff Gateway rezoning, which allowed teardowns and construction happening at Zang, Colorado and Beckley today, was approved in 2015. Despite being a real estate agent and property owner, Whatley knew nothing of the legally required public hearings that took place beforehand.
Today she can practically touch the five-story Zang Flats, which looms over her home, from her kitchen window.
It’s too late for her to object to that or several other green-lit apartment developments encroaching on her neighborhood, but the ongoing construction reminds her about the urgency of staying proactively informed and involved.
Now she watches and shares pertinent city commission and council agenda items. If she can’t interpret the opaque terminology, there is likely a group member who will. When she recently saw that a developer in the Gateway was trying to make zoning changes, she started a petition to stop it. More than 1,000 people signed it in the next 48 hours, and local media picked up the story.
It was less about opposing the developer’s request to replace retail with additional apartment units and more about letting developers and council representatives know the community is invested with what happens here, she says.
Often multifamily residential developers are met with opposition from distrusting neighbors, and this is why, she says, referring to the teardown of historic homes and towering blocks of expensive apartments.
“I just know that the more that gets destroyed in Oak Cliff the more we all become concerned,” she says.
Whatley and trusted members sell merchandise, including OCLC hats, T-shirts, mugs and stickers — she says the group uses royalties altruistically.
At Christmastime, the club “adopts” families. Last year members raised $11,600 in five weeks and bought gifts for 22 families, Whatley says. Other group-funded projects come up incidentally. During the “Snowmageddon’’ freeze, Wilson led a campaign to raise money that helped about 12 families harmed by the storm with things such as home repairs or purchasing groceries.
“I figured [we’ve given] somewhere around $32,000 in the past six-ish years, not including the countless acts of giving that happen throughout every year where no records are kept,” Whatley says.
Several subgroups — buy/sell, financial literacy, fitness, over-60 and political, to name a few — have emerged from OCLC, Wilson points out.
“If there was a way to hover from above and look at the ripples coming off this club, we would see how far-reaching it is,” Wilson says. “I don’t think even Katrina realizes.”
The hard work required to keep the group safe, useful and fun has been worthwhile, Katrina Whatley says. The group’s initial mission accomplished — not only did she and her co-founders make new friends, but so did hundreds of other Oak Cliff women.
“People are finding our tribe. Best friends have found one another,” she says. “It’s really pretty special. And I don’t personally take any credit. I think the reason that’s so special is because of all the people who love Oak Cliff.”