June 13, 2006


Interest Groups for Singles Are on the Rise

By Lisa Ann Williamson
Staten Island Advance

Maria Giura was missing something.

She had searched her parish for a group that would connect her to other Catholic single 30- and 40-somethings, but no such group existed.

Inspired, the New Springville resident decided to go to the St. Francis Friary in Todt Hill with a proposal to start a singles group for people ages 30 to 49. The group would be called Serving God as a Single Person (SGSP) and would be a place where people could address spirituality, stimulate the intellect, enhance practical living, encourage charity and socialize with like-minded peers.

The group's initial meeting five years ago drew 60 people. Today, under the spiritual leadership of the Rev. Philip Blaine of the friary and several other group leaders, SGSP has attracted about 200 people from Staten Island and Brooklyn. A core group of about 35 people meet monthly to discuss Catholic doctrine, watch movies, attend baseball games, catch up over coffee, learn about financial planning or travel and volunteer their time to charities.

While one of the club's focuses is Catholic identity, it's not necessary to be Catholic to join. Similarly, while it is not a "dating" group, meeting someone with whom you have a genuine connection is celebrated.


When Ms. Giura first founded SGSP, these type of singles interest groups weren't very popular. That is a much different story today.

More and more, religious -- as well as non-religious -- singles interest groups are sprouting up all over the country, partly because the number of single people continues to grow. (Nationally, there are about 89 million adults who are single by choice, situation, divorce or widowhood, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.)

The fact that these interest groups are catching on isn't surprising, said Thomas Coleman, executive director of Unmarried America, a non-profit information service that tracks issues that affect single adults. He said groups that are primarily dating focused or divorce recovery used to be popular but, in the last several years, specialty groups, such as SWAN (Single Women's Alliance Network) in New York and SingleVolunteers.org, are taking off.

"You are more likely to want to do things together [with people with whom] you have more in common," he explained as to why singles are drawn to interest groups. "Then you feel more comfortable and compatible [with them]," Coleman, who lives in Hawaii, added.

Singles like them because they are not solely about dating, which takes the pressure off. Also, they are good for having like-minded conversations, sharing common interests, expanding personal knowledge and, with groups like SGSP, deepening spirituality.

The options on what type of organization an unattached person can join are limitless. There are clubs that run events for the athletic or intellectual to singles circles centered around volunteerism or advocacy. Some folks go to singles groups to party, others to pray.

And some go to get an adrenaline rush -- something Canadian Travis Hartley had in mind when he formed Meetmarketadventures.com in Toronto six years and more recently in the New York City area.

Perfect for thrill-seekers, Meetmarketadventures.com offers brave singles in their late 20s to late 40s the opportunity to spend an afternoon hang-gliding or out on a scavenger hunt. The club also hosts wine tastings, kayaking outings, weekend getaways, even long vacations to exotic locations.

"Many of my friends didn't want to do the bar scene so we needed an alternative to the god-awful singles dances," said Hartley, as to why he initially formed the adventure club. Today over 30,000 bold singles have attended his events.


Religious discussions, not adventure, was what John Salimando was searching for in a club. Originally part of an Italian club, the Rossville resident jumped on board when his friend, Ms. Giura, told him of her plans to start SGSP. He was one of the group's first regular members.

"I really had a strong interest in theology, almost a historical draw," said Salimando, 39, as to why he was drawn to the club. "I was looking to integrate my spirituality with the socialization." SGSP provided the perfect opportunity to do so, he said.

The intermediate school administrator is now married to his wife whom he at the only SGSP meeting she ever attended three years ago.

On the other hand, Siobhan O'Brien, 35, didn't join SGSP necessarily to find her future husband. In fact, dating was the furthest thing from her mind after she divorced two years ago.

"I wanted to reach out and meet new people. I was really learning to be single," said Ms. O'Brien, a sociable Great Kills teacher whose friends are married with children.

"I liked the name Serving God as a Single Person rather than 'Swinging Singles' because I was looking for like-minded people."

After learning about the club from an announcement in the church bulletin, Ms. O'Brien attended with members of the group a Staten Island Yankees games, a discussion about "The Da Vinci Code," an ice cream social, a multiple sclerosis walk and a discussion about online dating.

SGSP has been a great outlet, Ms. O'Brien said. It helps her to feel comfortable where she is in life without her feeling pressured to date or meet that special someone.

And if she does happen to meet Mr. Right, then all the better.

Lisa Ann Williamson is a features reporter with the Staten Island Advance. She may be contacted at williamson@siadvance.com