Baby Boomers gather for meetings of the mind

North Atlanta meetup group gathers to share interests, friendship.

As a showing of “The Help” came to its gut-wrenching end, the women seemed stuck to their seats.

Denise Meckelvaney took her glasses off and lingered in the darkness with 20 or so other women who’d come for a baby boomers outing.

It’s hard to say who finally moved first, but when they did, the others followed and headed to a nearby yogurt shop to settle in the warmth of one another’s company.

After all, this meeting was no different from any of the others. It was a chance to meet others of like mind, to share outings like this one, to perhaps become friends, the fuel that in many ways drives the North Atlanta Metro Baby Boomers Meetup Group.

In the beginning, there were just a few gathered together by Linda Kavale, then a newcomer to Alpharetta.

“It was May 2007, a beautiful day, and I realized that I didn’t know anyone to go out with to enjoy a glass of wine or dinner,” Kavale remembered.

Then just 53, she also realized she had a lot more living to do. For one thing, she wanted to take the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway ride but not alone.

Seated at her computer that day, she stumbled upon Meetup.com, an international network that makes it easy for people to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting.

The metro Atlanta group is one of more than 2,000 gathering in local communities, each with the goal of improving its members or their communities.

Kavale clicked on the baby boomer group and began filling out the questionnaire.

“The last question was, ‘Would you like to be the organizer of a baby boomer group?’ ” she said the other day. “My heart sank.”

Kavale, surprised to learn there was not already a baby boomer group in Atlanta, said yes and immediately organized a dinner.

Five people showed up. Three of them are still friends today, she said.

“That was my goal, initially — to find friends for myself,” Kavale said. “But as time went on, and more and more people joined, I realized there was a need for such a group.”

Fun and friendship

Judi Braun of Dunwoody was among that first group of transplants to metro Atlanta seeking a new circle of friends.

“I’d just moved here from Michigan, and I didn’t know anybody,” she remembered recently.

Her son also was becoming more independent, and Braun just wanted to have some fun.

One day on the Internet, she started searching for social groups and up popped Kavale’s Baby Boomers Meetup Group.

“It was just that easy,” she said. “I joined and went to the first meetup on Thanksgiving Day.”

It was a little tough at first, but she and about 19 other women seemed to hit it off nicely. “They were just lovely,” Braun said.

Not unlike today’s baby boomers, they were mostly transplants from the North, most of them were widowed or divorced, and most of their children were grown and gone.

Two and a half years later, however, Kavale had grown tired of trying to do it all herself.

“I loved the group so much,” she said, “but ... I had drained myself, and after almost three years, I decided to step down.”

An urge to give back

By then, the baby boomers had so filled Braun’s life, she couldn’t possibly just allow them to disband.

Braun recruited a group of co-organizers, including Kavale and Kathy Mims, and the meetup group went full throttle.

In addition to more social gatherings, they saw the boomers as the perfect forum to feed their social consciousness.

Members of the group, which numbers about 300 now, are just as likely to gather for a game or trivia or to watch a movie as they did last Saturday as they are to help feed the hungry or build a Habitat for Humanity home.

“We’ve all been around for a while, and we’ve all been blessed in so many ways,” said Mims, a Roswell resident. “We wanted to make the effort to give back.”

Mims, 59, joined the group in 2009, about the time she and her husband were divorcing.

“I suddenly realized my whole life had been him and my work,” she said.

When Mims started looking around for the support she needed, she stumbled upon the boomers meetup group.

Her first meeting was dinner at a local culinary school.

“It was great,” she said. “Within a month, I was organizing.”

Just as Braun and Mims were ramping up the group’s activities, Mims was faced with another curveball.

She lost her marketing job. “It would’ve been really easy to go to bed and stay there, but I had to organize,” she said. “The friends I made in this group forced me to be a part of my own life. They saved my life.”

A variety of needs

While the group fed Mims’ need to be in charge, not every boomer is so inclined.

Most, however, are in search of something.

Meckelvaney, a stand-up comedian from Alpharetta, said she was looking for material for her act.

Patti Oliver, on the other hand, was simply in search of friendship.

A 64-year-old widow from Dacula, Oliver said a California friend told her about the boomers meetup group, and she joined the metro Atlanta group about six months ago.

In fact, she said, the movie was just one of two activities for her last Saturday. She also was going bowling with another group, she said.

“It’s wonderful,” Oliver said of the groups. “Everyone’s so friendly and just plain fun to be with.”

Although Kavale has spent the past year working on her daughter’s wedding and putting in long hours at her job, she said she has never forgotten the boomers she met over the years or the group that gave them to her.

“It offered me the opportunity to meet some very interesting and good friends which I would have, otherwise, never known,” she said. “It was such a sanity saver for me.”