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Social Network

by Jessica Beym

From co-ed softball leagues to folk music jams, unique social groups are helping South Jersey adults connect in new ways.

After emerging from what he himself describes as “a really bad marriage,” Voorhees resident Michael Powell found friendship and hope in a source he never expected: kickball.

“I was going through a divorce and didn’t have many friends at the time. I was trying to reestablish myself,” Powell says. Then, he found out about Glory Days Sports, a two-year-old Marlton company that offers sociable adult sports leagues including basketball, softball, wiffle ball, flag football and more. Some 4,000 people have joined up so far. Through the group, Powell says, “I have made, honestly, 15 to 20 friendships, and eight to 10 of them are really close friends now.”

Off the field, Powell and his new pals hang out at each other’s houses or go to Phillies games together. “It came at the perfect time,” Powell says. “It was exactly what I needed. Without it, I’d probably be struggling to make friends and I would have missed out on people that I’m happy to have now. They’re friends for life.”

Getting older. Moving away. Personal changes. We all have our reasons for losing touch with friends. But more South Jersey residents are finding friends through a wide variety of social groups for adults. Whether they’re sharing interests in sports, food, beer or music, local adults are forming new bonds every day.

It worked for Tiffany Hair, who, like many other South Jersey residents, grew up in Philadelphia and moved across the river to raise her family. As a young single mother, Hair rarely found time to venture over the bridge to see her old friends, and she didn’t know many people in her new neighborhood either.

Determined to make new connections, Hair ventured onto the website, and created a group: “Saturday Dining in Cherry Hill.”

At the first dinner Hair attempted to organize, not a single person showed. It was disheartening, since Hair is a little shy anyway. Still hopeful, the Pennsauken resident scheduled another event—and about half a dozen strangers joined her for dinner. Now, three years later, about 20 to 30 people come to each event to taste new cuisines. Often, there’s even a waiting list.

And for Hair, the experience has been transformative, introducing her to what are now some of her closest friends. “It’s definitely improved my social life,” she says. “I love having girlfriends.

“A few of us have gotten to be closer and will plan things outside the group,” Hair adds. “People are meeting each other and discovering things they have in common. It’s wonderful.”

While chatting over dinner, Hair and a few other regulars found they had something else in common: they had never been on a cruise. So Hair and three of her new friends booked a vacation together. Since then, they’ve also rented a house down the Shore, and, most recently, spent five days in Rome trying some of Italy’s best restaurants.

Linda Caspermeyer of West Deptford, a member of Hair’s dining club, first turned to social groups about a decade ago, after her husband passed away. At the time, she was looking for “a clean slate,” she says.

“I wanted a situation where I could have friends that got to know me as just ‘Linda,’ and don’t know me as ‘Chris’ wife,’” she says. “When something like that happens, you find your circle of friends changes. But you can replenish it.”

Moreover, she says, the dining group gave its members an ice-breaker in the form of a common interest: food.

“You talk about your favorite restaurants, then your favorite books,” Caspermeyer says. “Through those conversations, you start to find out more. It gave me an opportunity to meet people with different interests.”

Exploring different musical interests—and sharing them with others—is why Drew Podolski helped form the South Jersey Acoustic Roots Music Society last year. The group meets on the second Monday of every month at the Medford Arts Center, hosting open mic nights, jam sessions, concerts featuring professional musicians and presentations on various aspects of music.

“I’ve always been interested in different kinds of music,” says the Medford resident. The society, which now has a five-member board of trustees, began as just a group of friends but has since grown tremendously. “We wanted it to appeal to a lot of people,” Podolski adds.

While he himself has always been partial to acoustic bluegrass sounds, now the offerings include both traditional and contemporary acoustic music—and even the occasional dulcimer performance. “It’s broadened my taste in music,” Podolski says. Prior to joining the group, he had never even heard of a dulcimer, a stringed instrument that’s hammered or plucked.

For fiddle player George Herquett, the monthly meet-ups have given him a chance to meet other musicians with similar interests.

“For people like me, it’s great,” says Herquett, of Mount Ephraim. “You’re isolated if you don’t have a place to jam or people to play with in public. I’ve made new friends and my own playing has improved so much.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 4 (July, 2011).
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