New in town? Local groups help young professionals connect for friendship and community impact

CINCINNATI -- It can be hard to be the new kid on the block in the Tri-State, but for new Cincinnatians, making friends is possible, as long as you know where to look.

Yelp: Creating community

Kenwood’s Yoga Alive studio was glowing on a Saturday night.

Dressed in bright workout gear, a number of young Cincinnatians are busy getting to know each other by using paint to adorn new friends with designs and squiggles so they can get ready for a free glow-in-the-dark hot yoga session. (See photo below)

At the center of the controlled chaos is Cindy Galea , whose infectiously warm personality is catching on with the group as she greets new arrivals and makes introductions.

Galea is a community manager with Yelp: Cincinnati , and proof that the wildly popular review website isn’t just for choosing where to go out to dinner. In Cincinnati, it’s a way for young people to make new friends.

“Yelp is different in every city and every city as a different culture,” Galea said. “Part of my job as a community manager is to connect people to great local businesses. I know Cincinnati is known for food, beer, pork and art. Those are the things we do best.”

For Galea, going out into the community is part of her job, and she invites others to join her, especially if they’re new in town and looking to make some from friends.

Galea was at a yoga studio on March 15 as host of Yelp Quirks Out , a month-long event offering Tri-Staters a chance to try some out-of-the-box workouts with new people.

“In every community right now,  a giant thing is ‘Where are we going to workout? Let’s lose weight.’ And I like taking my own spin on things,” Galea said. "(So we’re doing) Aerial silks, glow yoga. Not everybody knows that there’s those kind of exciting things to do (here) that are fresh and keep people wanting to come back.”

If Yelp’s glow yoga event is any indication, it looks like young people will keep coming back and, more importantly, forming new friendships.

“It’s kind of a running joke, I think we just had our first Yelp baby that was born between two Yelpers,” Galea said, speaking to the long-lasting friendships. "These are solid relationships we’re building. The good thing about Yelp is that it’s an online community as well as offline.”

That’s the reality for Yelper John Borntrager, a Covington resident who has been able to foster relationships with the group.

“Yelp did an event called ‘Yelp Drinks’ and it was kind of to promote local bars in downtown, Over-The-Rhine, and I just started going. I didn’t know what it was, I just found the website in City Beat,” Borntrager said “And then I just met a lot of people and thought,  they’re cool. They like to go out, they like to drink, they like eat, they like to have fun.”

From there Borntrager continued to attend Yelp events and has advice for anyone interested in trying some out.

“First off, they don’t need to be afraid, everybody is welcoming,” he said. “…I do try to meet and greet new people. I can tell, once you’ve been in the group for while you can kind of tell who’s new and who’s not.”

Making the volunteer connection

Hamilton County is home to more than 117,000 adults ages 25 to 34, according to U.S. Census data, meaning that young adults make up nearly 14 percent of the county’s population.

To some, Cincinnati is a “big small town," even when newbies leave lifelong Tri-Staters scratching their heads after revealing their out-of-town high school alma mater.

“It feels like everyone knows everyone,” said Bethany Miller, communications director for nonprofit Give Back Cincinnati. “You’ve got people from all over moving here to take jobs at Cincinnati’s big companies like Kroger, Macy’s and Procter & Gamble. People come from all over, but I think Give Back Cincinnati is one of those organizations that exists to help people recognize that.”

Give Back Cincinnati  started in Dec. 2000 with a group of friends who were looking for a way to make a contribution to the community. Today the group boasts a membership of about 2,300.

Miller isn’t a native Tri-Stater  and didn’t know many people when she moved to the area. The service group was recommended to her as a way to make friends and local connections.

“I just kind of started going to events here and there and that became (going) to more events more often,” Miller said. “…initially my involvement in the committee kind of satisfied my need to do volunteer work and work with a nonprofit. I got to volunteer and get involved on the operations side.”

Give Back Cincinnati members get to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, while doing things like revamping more than 1,000 homes or preparing Thanksgiving Dinner for 6,000.

Joining a group can be daunting if someone’s new in town, but Miller said Give Back Cincinnati’s website is a gateway for potential

volunteers to poke around and see what interests them. From there, Miller suggests new members to take a step out of their comfort zone.

“I would say, just give us a shot. We’ve got something for everyone, really,” Miller said. “If you like to work with kids or like to work with people, or if you’re more interested in community engagement or civic involvement. We’re guilt-free volunteering. If you want to come to even one event a year, that’s fine. “

Taking online friendships offline

Not looking to volunteer, but still looking for a good time? Connecting with peers could be a good place to start.

As of March 12, groups with interests as far-reaching as the San Francisco 49ers, the Rogue Cincinnati Book Club, and the Cincinnati Adoptee Reunion Support Meetup are among 153 groups with common interests are listed on Meetup.com as “nearby” to Tri-Staters.

They’re easy to find, too.

Meetup.com is like an online bulletin board that connects community members with similar interests offline.

“Five minutes of awkwardness is worth not having years of loneliness,” said Clayton Loden, who runs a Meetup group for young professionals in Cincinnati.

The website boasts 15.92 million members in 196 countries. Each month more than 315,000 Meetups occur, like those who belong to the Cincinnati New in Town 20s/30s group .

Cincinnati isn’t actually Loden’s home base, but he spends time almost weekly in the Tri-State through his Denver-based consulting job.

“I use MeetUp in Denver as well. I’ve lived here for two years and created a group here,” he explained. “(I figured) I’m going to be in Cincy every week, I might as well make some friends and not be in a hotel all night.”

Meetup is all about momentum, Loden explained, and his group has leaders who are able to keep events happening while he’s away. There's no typical Meetup setting, which keeps things fresh.

“We’ll go out and have a drink, we’ll go out and (for example) I bought six tickets to see the 'Book of Mormon' play in Cincinnati,” he said, adding the group’s also gone to a trampoline park. “It was thirty 25-year-olds jumping on trampolines, having a good time. Random, fun stuff that people our age don’t get to do often.”

The friendships Loden has made through Meetup transcend social outings, too.

“I’d say I probably have four or five good friends here. If my flight gets canceled, I could call them up and crash at their place or something,” he said. “None of my co-workers that fly in have that. They’d have to be stuck there at the airport.

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