Meetups: An Easy Way to Share Your Interests and Make New Friends
Adjusting to retirement, as with any life change, can have its share of challenges. One of the most common concerns is how to fill all the newly discovered time that was once occupied by work. But for Martie Richter, who retired from her job with an insurance company, this hasn’t been a problem.
Martie organizes a group in Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona for people who, like her, are finding their feet in retirement. It’s been so successful she’s having a problem finding the time to take part in all her group’s activities.
“We meet for lunch, games, and crafts. We go to live theater shows, indie and foreign films. We’ve gone on progressive lunches on the light rail, stopping three times: first for appetizers, then for mains, and then for dessert. We just did something similar on the Scottsdale trolley, where we included wine tasting on one of the stops. We also do some volunteering. And we are now doing a book club and a seminar series.”
Her group, “Adjusting to Retirement & Friendship” has become a fantastic success, partly due to how easy it is for like-minded people to create social groups and events using the online platform Meetup.com.
Meetup was launched in 2002 and has since become the most popular way for creating clubs and groups in local communities, anywhere in the world. One of the striking features of Meetup is the sheer diversity of groups available, even in relatively small areas. It is used by parents to create field trips and playdates, young professionals to organize sporting events, and retirees to create events based around hiking, fishing, dancing, dinners, and much more.
“When I first discovered Meetup I spent time learning how to find events I wanted to go to,” says Martie. “At some point, I said to one of the organizers of a group I had joined that there wasn’t enough to do on Tuesdays, they should plan something. She turned to me and said, ‘Great idea, Martie. What would you like to host?’”
Martie began creating her own events, and also started posting events on Adjusting to Retirement & Friendship. When the organizer of that group had to step down, Martie volunteered to take over and keep it running.
She says it’s been a rewarding part of her life ever since. “I’m the first to admit—as I tease my fellow members—I don’t plan these events to entertain them, I plan the events so they will entertain me, because if I’m not having fun I would stop doing it. Martie adds that many of the retirees who join her group are new in town and searching for a social outlet. “A lot of people retire or snowbird here. Meetup gives them a chance to meet new people. It keeps you busy, and it’s always good to surround yourself with busy, happy people.”
When Terry Cunningham moved to the Chicago area with her husband, she wanted to continue hiking and also meet people with similar interests. That’s when she started the Meetup group, “Southwest Suburban Weekday Woods Walkers.”
“I thought there might be other people—women, retirees, people with flexible work schedules—who might enjoy walking in the local forest preserves during the week when they weren’t as crowded, and who also would like some company or feel safer hiking with others,” Terry says.
Terry’s group now has over 1,200 members, with each event attracting between five and 20 people. “We try to meet once a week, usually Tuesday mornings, for a hike in a local park or forest preserve. Sometimes we bike or kayak instead of hiking, or do a special event like eagle watching on the Illinois River in the winter. We also have an annual holiday brunch in December and a group picnic in the summer.”
Like Martie, Terry finds that using Meetup is a great way to fill a time gap, and more importantly, it has given her the chance to meet new people. “I’ve met so many wonderful new friends. We’ve all really enjoyed meeting other people who like walking together. I’ve learned so much about the parks and forest preserves in this area, and, of course it’s kept me physically active. It has also given me an activity in retirement where I have a leadership role, responsibility, and use my organizational skills.”
If you’re looking for a way to meet new people and share your interests with others in your local community, joining a Meetup group, or starting your own, is a quick and simple way to do it.
Tips for Organizing a Successful Meetup Group
Once your group is established and you’ve had a few meetings, Terry recommends that you ask a few of your fellow members to become co-organizers. “This makes the group self-sustaining and not dependent on just one person. Holding regular events is important too—weekly or monthly.”
Monetizing your group is a no-no. Members will expect your events to be free of charge, so don’t ask for money or dues. Because Meetup charges a small subscription fee for setting up a group ($4.99 a month), you can ask for small donations from people who attend regularly to cover your costs.
An established group will eventually have a core group of members. But it’s important to always make new members feel welcome, as Martie does with her group: “I always arrive early so there is a smiling face to greet everyone. I will then keep my eye out to make sure everyone is engaged in conversation.”
And finally, rule with a light touch. Encourage input from others and be tolerant of different preferences and different needs as far as schedule and potential activities.
Written by Paul O’Sullivan