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North Hills Monthly

Online Site Meetup Encourages Face-to-Face Interaction

Feb 26, 2016 05:38PM ● By Shelly Tower Rushe
We all know that Pittsburgh is overflowing with things to do. But finding events—or finding someone to go with you—can sometimes be a challenge. Maybe you’re looking for a group of married couples to try out that new restaurant or a group of single parents (human or pet) in your area to arrange playdates. Whatever your hobby or interests are, is the place to find like-minded individuals to, well, meet up!

Based out of New York City, was developed in 2002 after one of the founder’s 9/11 experiences. Feeling a deeper sense of community and a need to connect face-to-face rather than digitally, Scott Heiferman created a website where people could find get-togethers. The idea took off in a big way—with more than 24 million members in 180 countries, the site now boasts over a half-million meetups per month.

Meetup groups are typically created and owned by an individual. The group focuses on a topic that would organically encourage face-to-face interactions. A calendar on the site is then propagated with events by the owner and approved contributors. Most meetup groups recruit event organizers, people who want to host and run events.

Frank Halling is the owner of several Meetup Groups in the Pittsburgh area. His most popular—and the largest Pittsburgh-based group—is Free and Almost Free in Pittsburgh. Contributors add events to the calendar that are either free to attend or cost under $5. Halling said that one of his favorite things about Meetup is the ability to find out about events that you might not have heard of—such as the pillow fight before one of the outdoor movies in Schenley Park, or Santarchy, where participants dress like Christmas characters and bar hop while singing carols and handing out candy canes. “Meetup is basically an anti-boredom tool,” he laughed.

Debbie Zerbini, of Ross Township, started her Meetup group, North Hills Socializers, about a year-and-a-half ago as a way to find people who wanted to do fun things in an area close to home. “I couldn’t find another North Hills’ group at that time,” said Zerbini, whose group has now grown to more than 600 members.

The group, which is open to anyone, meets for dinners and happy hours, as well as attends local theater productions and participates in activities such as hiking, bowling and miniature golf. “We do just about anything that people say they want to meet up and do,” said Zerbini, of the group that includes singles, couples, widowers, divorcees, senior citizens and more.

“People join our group for a variety of reasons; maybe they’ve had a change in relationship status, are new to the area, have children that have grown up and left home, and more,” she said. “They all want to have social lives, and we provide a safe place to come out and do what they want to do.” Members of North Hills Socializers range from people in their 40s to those in their 70s.

Safety in numbers is one advantage of Meetup. “Since you usually meet in public spaces, it’s safer,” Halling explained. The demographic he has experienced has been mostly 35 years and up, “but no one is ageist,” he said. He sees empty nesters, divorcees, widows, transplants to the area and just those looking to meet new people.

Setting up a group isn’t difficult. Once you have an idea of who your meetups are for, you decide how public to make your group. Individuals already registered to the site can join or ask to join your group. From there it takes a little work to keep the groups growing and active, explained Halling. “Depending on how your settings are, members may or may not be able to post events. You have to delegate the group duties to other members.”

There is an annual fee to own a Meetup page. To recover the costs, some groups charge dues while others will ask for a periodic donation; still others ask for nothing. As with any get-together, it can be a bit of a numbers game. “People often sign up and just don’t go,” Halling explained. “That’s fine with the 50-person events but not with the seven person events.”

Those who enjoy traveling will also find Meetup to be helpful. “I use it when I travel to find out what I can do while I’m there,” said Halling.

With almost 200 meetup groups it would be impossible to list them all, but a few examples include the Pittsburgh Hiking Group, Bicycling Pittsburgh, Coffee Shop Meet-Up, Pittsburgh Cultural Arts, Pgh. Tech Meetup, Pittsburgh Social Club, Pittsburgh Widows and Widowers Meetup, and Steel City Ukuleles.

And you don’t always have to travel to downtown Pittsburgh to find what you’re looking for. Groups abound throughout Pittsburgh and the North Hills. These include the ORTC Outdoor Adventure Group, dedicated to campers, hikers, kayakers, and other outdoor adventures; North Hills Board Game Meetup, a very active group that plays board, card and role-playing games; Pittsburgh International Food, Languages and Cultures Group, a group dedicated to travel stories, ethnic foods, and learning foreign languages; the Pittsburgh Mass Mob, which tours Pittsburgh Catholic Churches; and the North Hills Socializers.