Let’s Meetup

Online site helps people find and create groups based around ideas and activities

By Marilyn L. Pinsky

Do you want to hike but don’t have a partner or friend interested in hiking? Or are you a foodie but don’t have friends as excited as you to try new restaurants? Are you divorced or widowed and missing the activities you used to do as a couple?

To the rescue — Meetup — an online site (meetup.com) that helps people find and create groups based around the ideas and activities that matter to them. To quote one of the local meetup organizers, it’s like saying, ‘’I want to do something and I want someone to come with me.”

In just the Syracuse area alone there are more than 140 different groups, from outdoor adventures to engineering, religion, dining and the list goes on. I spoke with a few organizers to get a sense of their groups.

Carol Jerose is one of many organizers for the Syracuse Area Outdoor Adventure Club. “After my husband died I was looking for things to do with people who shared my interest. There is no charge to belong to the group, but people can make donations if they want,” said Jerose.

This is an active group with many levels of hiking available. “Anyone can post a hike noting the miles to be hiked, the hours and other relevant information. In the winter I post cross-country skiing and snowshoe adventures. Other people organize hikes on different days and once you have joined, you get access to what is going on.”

Shari Clark organizes the 40+ Group for Single, Divorced, or Widowed Males and Females. Though there is no charge to belong to the group, there may be fees for special activities, like a $5 ticket purchase to go to a comedy club or when going out for New Years Eve.

“It is not difficult coming up with activities in this area, as there is plenty to do out there, you just have to look for it,” said Clark, who greets new members and introduces them to others when they arrive. “The age group generally runs from late 40s and up and we try to schedule activities for weekends. Trivia Wednesdays at Cicero Country Pizza is popular and new participants are always welcome.”

Kim Pomeroy organizes the Syracuse Happy Hours Adventures Group. “We do a lot of happy hours, bands and other things like movies, occasional dinners and downtown scavenger hunts,” explained Pomeroy. Anybody can join — married, single, young, older. If you sign up you’ll get emails about what’s going on and there is no charge to join. It’s easy to connect with the group. If you’re new and no one looks familiar — just ask the hostess where the group is seated. “Meetup is one of the best things that’s happened to me,” said Pomeroy. “It gets me out of the house and I’ve met people who have become good friends because we’re all in it for the same reasons. I know it’s hard to get yourself out to an event where you don’t know anybody but once you’ve done it, you’ll see how welcoming everyone is.”

There are all kinds of book clubs around, including at local libraries. One that is very welcoming to new members is the Syracuse Book Club and it seems appropriate that the organizer, Alyssa Tassone, is a librarian. They have met for the past six years in downtown Syracuse on the first Monday of every month. As meetup.com charges to use the platform, a $2 donation to keep the site going is requested.

“We have a wide range of people and ages who attend — college students, retirees, people of many different backgrounds, men, women, everyone is welcome,” said Tassone, “We try to choose books that aren’t the hottest things at the moment so we can get them from the public library. People can sit in and not talk until they feel comfortable and we usually have one or two new people at each meeting.”

They meet at different places downtown where people can get a drink or a bite to eat if they want.

I hope you are getting the idea that there are sites for all kinds of interests and discussions. One I wanted to know more about, The Syracuse Atheists Meetup Group, is chaired by Gwen Bradshaw.

“I joined the group three years ago and just recently took over organizing, though the group itself has been around for a long time,” said Bradshaw. “We have two regular meetings a month and there is no charge. You can find us on the second Wednesday of the month at Al’s Wine and Whiskey Lounge downtown where we order what we want and then discuss a topic. During the school year, we meet for brunch on the fourth Sunday of the month at the Wolf’s Den on the Northside.”

A new monthly event is ‘debate night’ where they watch an online debate and then discuss it. A recent debate was on ‘whether God of the Old Testament is a moral monster’. “We have a lot of fun,” said Bradshaw. “It is a great group of people and anyone can attend — even if you are a believer, but enjoy good conversation.”

To give you a sense of how one group started, let me tell you about Community Dining Syracuse (CDS) a site I started seven years ago. Two of my friends had become widowed at an early age and were experiencing the “third wheel” syndrome.

Like to dine out? Play tennis? Watch movies? Meetup.com offers more than 140 groups that offer all sorts of opportunity to socialize and meet new people who share similar interests

They wanted to get out at night and socialize, but as most of their friends were “coupled,” they either had to wait for someone to call them or continually reach out themselves. They missed the spontaneity of just going out to dinner with a partner.

At the time I was the AARP/NYS president and proposed the idea of a community dining concept. They found the online platform, meetup.com, that I could program and use locally. Then I visited restaurants to sell them on the idea of a group of strangers sitting at communal tables which would mean separate checks and making reservations for a number of people that I couldn’t guarantee would show up.

In June of 2009 we had our first dinner. (As an aside, at that time I never thought I would soon be in the position of my friends who were widowed; it was only six months later that my husband Philip was diagnosed….and through the almost two years of treatments, we still went together to CDS dinners.)

Seven years later CDS is still going strong. We usually have around 15-20 per dinner although the total membership is much larger. There are different people each time, as the nights and venues change each month but either Heidi Holtz, my co-organizer, or myself is there to greet new attendees and make them feel comfortable.

We meet at 6 with some people arriving earlier to convene at the bar; then we order dinner, talk and are usually out by 8. There is no charge for membership — just sign up at meetup.com/communitydiningsyracuse.

I hope these examples of local meetup groups encourage you to go on the website and find some that interest you. You will be surprised how welcoming everyone is and how comfortable you’ll soon feel.

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