Dancing4Fun studio and social club. Photo courtesy Sean Christopher

Mix and mingle with social clubs

Story by JATIKA PATTERSON and ADRIANNE MURCHISON/Photos by JASON GETZ

Creating a social life, let alone maintaining one, isn’t easy. Yet it can feel like we’re supposed to go out on the town this time of year, or at least make a few rounds of holiday parties.

If you have a shy nature but would like to get out more and meet new people, it’s only a matter of how, because the choices are plentiful.

Social clubs on the Northside and nearby gather people of all ages with common interests who partake in activities that they love, from dancing to hiking and more. Here’s a variety to choose from.

Ready to Mingle

Marguerite Pons of East Cobb brought an idea to her church in 2003 that soon turned into an enthusiastic social group and remains so today. Pons was mourning the loss of her husband at the time. He passed away earlier that year, and in the months that followed she realized that a spouse’s death impacts more than the heart and soul. Friendships, financial and legal matters — and even the ability to navigate the days of the week — can be daunting.

Pons, a parishioner at the Catholic Church of St. Ann’s, suggested that the pastoral care department start a support group for surviving spouses. The office administrator already had a long list of names to get the group going.

The twice-a-month meetings of Widowed Helping Others would evolve into light-natured mingling. “I had no expectations,” Pons says.

One day she suggested they all go to dinner afterward.

“Across the table, people were enjoying themselves drinking beer and wine and I thought, ‘How cool is this,’” Pons says. “We had all been serious [earlier] talking about our problems.

“One lady loved to cook, and she started inviting people over to dinner, and they would bring stuff to eat. That’s where that family feeling and closeness came about.”

Over the years, Widowed Helping Others has swelled in number to 120 members and shifted into two sections. One offers counsel to the bereaved and the other is focused on social activities.

Socially, folks go out for cocktails, dine, bowl, enjoy pickle ball, go to concerts and plays, take day trips and do many other things together.

“We’ve had 12 marriages,” Pons says. Another dozen people have become romantically involved with a fellow member.

Widowed Helping Others honors late spouses at “Night of Remembrance” services where they light candles and announce the names of those who passed away.

The social group has been especially helpful to men, Pons says. “When I have asked for testimonies, the men have said, ‘I didn’t know what to do with myself [before this group].’ It offers them a basis of friendship.”

Widowed Helping Others. Catholic Church St. Ann. 4905 Roswell Road, Marietta. 770-552-6400. st-ann.org

insider Tips:

Interested prospective members should contact the church before attending a gathering.

Churches nearby including Saint Brigid Catholic Church have started Widowed Helping Others groups. Anyone interested in starting a group within or outside of a church setting can reach Marguerite Pons for helpful information through St. Ann’s. 770-552-6400, ext. 6019.

Dancing for Fun

Sean Christopher throws a Latin dance party nearly every Saturday night. No worries if you can’t merengue. Every week there are dozens of beginner- and intermediate-level students at his Peachtree Corners dance studio who come together to cha-cha their cares away. Some come after a long day of work. Others dance just to relax, work out and have fun.

During class, returning students practice old steps and add new ones to create routines. One-hour sessions include salsa, bachata, rumba and more. Three-hour boot camp sessions are held on weekends.

Christopher’s Tropical Elegance Salsa parties, held next door to the dance studio at Nemoes Tavern, start off with a beginner salsa and bachata lesson at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays through the New Year.

As with Widowed Helping Others, romantic relationships have been known to come about at Dancing4Fun. Students connect after partnering for spins around the floor or at Christopher’s dance parties.

Dan and Carla Zalacain of Johns Creek met in 2011 at Dancing4Fun’s Halloween party. “We practiced salsa [together] for a little over two-and-a-half years, and I proposed to Carla in Costa Rica, on horseback, on Tambor Beach on March 9, 2014.”

Making new friends through dancing has become a natural blend at Dancing4Fun.

“When someone comes in at first, they’re kind of timid,” Christopher says. “They’re a little bit more shy, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that they gain more confidence as they learn more [dance routines]. Just like anything, once you get good at something you think ‘Hey, I got this!’ Your confidence goes up.”

Dancing4Fun. 6025 Peachtree Parkway, Norcross. 770-855-4396. salsaatl.com or meetup.com/salsaatlanta

Socal Media-Driven

In 2013, Amira Jones commented to a co-worker that she wanted to find a new way to meet interesting people. He invited Jones, a former Northsider, to a local gathering of his Facebook group STARS Social Club.

“My first event was a Thanksgiving potluck party at someone’s home,” says Jones during a trip back to the area from her current home in Upstate New York. “They were having it early in November. I knew my friend was going and I thought that the worst that could happen was I would have a horrible time. And if so, I would leave.”

Her friend, who she planned to meet at the party, was late. “I literally did not know anybody but I was like, ‘I’m here now,’” Jones recalls. “I had a good time. We played cards and charades. I ended up staying until midnight. I kept a lookout for other events. Sometimes they would go bowling. Sometimes they would have [impromptu] parties and gatherings.”

Ja’Nese Jean, an opera singer, started the social club partly hoping to interest people in going to cultural events with her. “We started as a little community on Facebook and it was kind of like tumbleweeds,” says Jean, 33. “It grew and grew.”

One of their early outings included attending a performance of the Atlanta Opera at Cobb Energy Centre and having dinner parties at restaurants.

“We would call far in advance and say we are bringing 50 people,” Jean says. Posting photos of the events on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram helped the social club to grow in popularity and start chapters in North Carolina, Florida and New York.

STARS Atlanta is also a nonprofit that holds community outreach activities. In September, folks met at Lowes parking lot in Chamblee to stock three trucks bound for Houston with nonperishable food, water, baby supplies, first aid, clothing and other items for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

“People saw us on social media and came out,” Jean says. “Not one TV camera was out there, or needed to be. We just kind of do these things.”

STARS Social Club. 888-671-7471. starssocial.club or facebook.com/STARSsocialclub

insider Tip: Members of STARS Social Club work in variety of successful professions. The group has networking events and utilizes that aspect as a helpful resource when members have a need for someone with particular expertise, such as a physician or attorney.

Sports and Recreation

Carolyne Naser has been hiking with her friends in the Atlanta Outdoor Club for five years. She credits the group with getting her through a divorce and a cancer diagnosis.

“I got to the point where I was doing four or five [Atlanta Outdoor Club] events per week,” she says. “That was my social life. My best friends are people that I’ve met in the club.”

Members of the recreational social club bike at Big Creek Greenway, hike on Northside trails along the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, as well as camp, run, kayak and canoe nearby and at destinations that are farther away.

Since the group was co-founded in 2000 by Amy Pickwick, who noticed a lack of outdoor social groups, more than 10,000 activities have been held.

Workout warriors in search of camaraderie have also joined teams like ZogSports. The intramural sports league plays basketball, volleyball, softball, soccer, kickball, dodgeball, flag football and cornhole. Games are held around the Atlanta metro area including Dunwoody and East Cobb.

Some players discover the increasingly common component of social clubs: love. Yes, ZogSports can boast of romantic relationships resulting from on-field play. One couple became engaged at a dodgeball league party.

General manager Brian Caldwell says he started out as a player of some of these sports when he was new to Atlanta and wanted to meet people. “It’s not just something you sign up for to come play and go home,” he says. “We want you to find your sense of play in this sports community.”

ZogSports. 2175 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 678-974-1772. zogsports.com; Atlanta Outdoor Club. atlantaoutdoorclub.com

insider Tip

If your challenge is less about meeting new people and more about making time to spend with close friends, consider starting a private social group. Callie Greene started one three years ago. The supper club of 10 friends makes time to meet regularly at different restaurants. Members rotate, choosing the eatery for each occasion. Because several of them travel frequently for work, they are considering starting a supper club with people in other cities.

“Our friendships and our bonds have grown and that’s the only time, really, that I get to see that group of friends all together at the same time,” says Shari Blalock during a recent dinner at Bistro VG in Roswell.

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