Meetup groups in Kamloops, Okanagan helping lonely people connect | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Meetup groups in Kamloops, Okanagan helping lonely people connect

Hikes are a common outing for people on Meetup, but you can find a group for nearly any hobby.
Image Credit: MEETUP / Friends of Kamloops
November 15, 2019 - 6:00 AM

Some kids find it daunting to make new friends. As an adult, it’s even harder to reach out and create lasting friendships.

Groups of people are gathering around the world thanks to Meetup, an online platform that inspires human connection. There is a group in Kamloops with nearly 300 members, as well as various groups in Kelowna, Vernon, and Penticton.

Some of the groups meet for specifics reasons, like to try the food and wine in the area, to practice art, writing or photography or to discuss topics like spirituality, real estate or tech. Some of the groups are more generic, meeting for holiday dinners, bowling, shopping, hikes, and generally creating friendships. One such group is the Friends of Kamloops, which now has a branch in Vernon.

Kelly Heenan moved to Kamloops from Ontario over three and a half years ago to be with her newborn granddaughter. Heenan says when she moved to the river city, she felt out of place until she found out about a local Meetup group.

“I was so homesick, it was ridiculous… I would say, ‘I can’t wait until Kamloops grass recognizes my footprint,’” Heenan says. “Any time I went anywhere, I felt like I was totally out of place. Now, I have a great social life.”

Although she was happy to be putting herself out there, Heenan was disappointed by the poor turnout at events. Meetup works with an organizer pulling together events, and when the previous organizer wanted to step down, she took on the lead role.

“I had gone out to a couple of events they posted and nobody would show… I took it over, I saw it as a way for me to build a network of friends and then I just went crazy,” Heenan says. “I said… 'there’s got to be others like me who want to have a sense of community and have friends to be able to do things with.’”

Heenan took over the group in the summer of 2016 and used her business background to increase the group numbers. Now, every event posted on the Friends of Kamloops group gets sent out to 299 members.

“Having done this, and being the organizer for the last three and a half years, I realize what it takes… other groups people are starting, they reach out to me and ask how I do it, and it’s just pure perseverance.”

Heenan says she had a plan that included business cards and constantly communicating with the members. She says one of the members moved to Vernon, where she started her own Meetup group.

“For her to start out and get 25 signed up in a week that’s impressive because it means people in Vernon are looking for things to do and groups to do it with,” Heenan says.

She says her group has been successful, with a core group of ten to 15 people at each event, and newcomers who join in based on the activity. Most of the members are between 40 years old and 70 years old, but she says younger and older people join in every once in a while.

Meetup helped get this group together for a Thanksgiving dinner.
Meetup helped get this group together for a Thanksgiving dinner.
Image Credit: MEETUP / Friends of Kamloops

The group does fundraising for community initiatives, supports a family every year for Christmas, and celebrates birthdays and holidays together. Heenan says their Thanksgiving dinner brought in some first comers who were happy to be with others on the holiday.

“We had 17 people at a sit-down dinner. Two of them were (Thompson Rivers University) students that came here from Nigeria who knew nobody,”  Heenan says. "They stood up to do a speech, both of them, to say that up until that moment, they had felt like outsiders.”

Heenan plans to run the Friends of Kamloops for the foreseeable future. She encourages people who want to start their own local group to give a few hours every week to planning events and says patience is key when trying to build the group.

For more information on Meetup and to find people to connect within your own area, check out the website here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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