Thursday, October 28, 2004

Moms Meetup


They met through a Web site, Meetup.com, that links all kinds of people who have something in common

By John Johnston
Enquirer staff writer

[photo]
Jackie Hurley of Reading (right), holding 3-week-old Vance, and Brianne Prince of Monroe, with son Jack, met at the Sharon Woods picnic shelter recently with other moms.
The Enquirer/ERNEST COLEMAN

Linda Campbell acknowledges being both nervous and excited as she waits for others to arrive at a Sharon Woods picnic shelter.

For three months the 35-year-old Middletown woman has been in contact with other stay-at-home moms through Meetup.com, a Web site that links people with common interests. This day she'll meet some of her cyberspace acquaintances in person for the first time and share a potluck lunch.

Campbell has brought 4-year-old Joshua, the youngest of her three children. He's anxious, too; he knows kids are invited.

"I want the kids to interact," Campbell says. "I want parents to interact with other people's kids." She also hopes this initial meeting leads to "friendship, people to talk to, and girlfriends who can get together and have a slumber party."

About 1.5 million people have registered on Meetup.com, including more than 7,500 in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. There are Meetup groups for newly single people, pug owners, entrepreneurs, knitters, hot rodders, biracial families, vampires, witches, scrapbookers, Elvis fans, Spanish speakers, poker players - in all, more than 5,000 interest areas are represented.

Meetup.com co-founder Scott Heiferman, who was recently named Technology Review's Innovator of the Year, has said that in the wake of 9/11 he felt a need to find new ways to create face-to-face communities in an increasingly Internet-based world.

BY THE NUMBERS
Members worldwide: Almost 1.5 million
Meetup groups: 179,401
Meetup topics: 5,029
U.S. members: 1.2 million
Ohio city with the most members: Columbus, with 7,996
Cincinnati members: 7,537
MOST POPULAR
Top five Cincinnati Meetup groups, by number of registered members. (Registered members, however, might not be active in the group):
1. Democracy for America
No. 197; 835 members.
2. Kerry in 2004 Meetup Group
No. 430; 398 members.
3. Democratic Party Meetup Group
No. 314; 368 members.
4. Poker Meetup Group
No. 63; 242 members.
5. Kerry in 2004 Meetup Group
No. 92; 220 members.
Brianne Prince, 25, of Monroe, and her son, Jack, almost 2, are the first to arrive at the Sharon Woods gathering organized by Campbell.

"I had joined another moms' group, and it wasn't really my cup of tea," Prince says. So she typed "stay-at-home moms" into an Internet search engine and found Meet-up. Her hope is that Jack "has some interaction with other kids. That's important for him at his age."

For Eli Ehrler, 28, of Columbia Tusculum, who is the mother of 13-month-old Nathalie, connecting with other adults is most important. "I'm new to staying home," she says, "and I only have a couple of friends that have children. They're working. So I want to meet more moms who are home."

Adult conversation is what Brianne Miller seeks, too.

"You can only talk about Dora the Explorer so much every day without banging your head against the wall," the mother of 3-year-old Hannah and 3-month-old Brookelyn says with a smile.

When Campbell sees Jackie Hurley, 27, and her sister-in-law, Dianna Gahimer, 36, pushing strollers near the picnic shelter, she invites them to join the group. They accept. Soon Hurley's middle child, 22-month-old son, Jaq, is playing with Campbell's son, Joshua.

The moms, meanwhile, occasionally chase down a runaway child while discussing everything from soy milk to the best pumpkin patch to visit.

Pick a different Meetup, and the conversation may change drastically.

Progressive politics is at the core of a Meetup group called Cincinnati Democracy for America. It began as the Cincinnati Dean for America Meetup, back when Democrat Howard Dean was trying to win his party's presidential nomination.

Lynn Worpenberg, a 52-year-old systems analyst from Westwood, is the group's organizer.

"Something we all value very much from this whole experience is the friendships we form with like-minded people," she says.

Dean's departure from the presidential race caused some people to leave the group, but attendance remains steady at about 25 to 30 people each month, she says. The group meets at a condominium clubhouse in Clifton.

"We have new people coming in every month," she says.

Among the newcomers is Sabrina-Louise Holloway, a 32-year-old single mother from Westwood, who has attended three of the group's Meetups.

"We can talk online till the cows come home," she says, "but without the face-to-face interaction, it's not the same."

She's trying to build more. A freelance writer, she has joined Meetups for writing and poetry, and one called Stop the Patriot Act. She'd like to get a racquetball Meet-up started.

Meetup, she says, is "a place to build great friendships."

Which is also what the stay-at-home moms are hoping. Their potluck lunch has ended.

"It was nice meeting you all. I hope we meet again," Gahimer says.

Campbell is handing out her e-mail address, ensuring it'll happen.

E-mail jjohnston@enquirer.com




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