‘A geek is just someone with a very strong interest in something,” explains Jenny Stamm. As a coordinator for the Central Jersey (geek) Culture Appreciation group, she should know.
With a goal to connect similar-minded young people to meet and enjoy one another’s company, the group was founded as an Internet networking site on Meetup.com in 2011. Earlier this year it found a home at the South Brunswick Public Library. In both the virtual and the physical manifestations, the group’s working philosophy has stayed the same.
“If you have a geeky interest, one of us probably shares it!” Stamm chuckles when she uses the “g” word, a term that was once used to alienate but now embraced by individuals willing to step out of the mainstream. But she doesn’t laugh when she talks about why the sessions exist and what they mean to those who attend.
“A lot of people who joined the group were new to the area and didn’t know many people. Others wanted to meet people who shared interests or to expand their circle of friends. People really like to meet others with similar interests, talk, and enjoy playing board games and seeing movies with one another.”
Stamm’s own history with the group shows its importance to young individuals living in central New Jersey.
Originally from Boise, Idaho, and then a student studying American Sign Language at Rochester University in New York state, Stamm married fellow student James Regan, a computer programmer from Bergen County, New Jersey. When she and her husband moved to the Garden State for employment reasons, Stamm found herself far from home in Monmouth Junction. Without the family and friends most people take for granted the NJ transplant began searching for ways to find others who also wanted to meet new people.
“I am very shy and have trouble introducing myself to others. Meetup.com was a great way to meet more people and become more comfortable,” she says.
While others helped establish the Central Jersey (geek) Culture website, Stamm was there at the start and now has become one of the key coordinators, along with her husband and member Jermaine Brailey. Stamm was also the one who contacted the South Brunswick Public Library to host the group.
“We were having a problem where we didn’t have a public place to meet; I didn’t feel comfortable going to apartments or taking over a restaurant, so I went to the South Brunswick Public Library. The library director, Chris Carbone, talked to me, thought it was great that we were 20 to 30-year-olds and ‘geeks,’ and agreed,” she says.
The group now meets from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on the first Sunday and fourth Saturday of each month in the library’s octagon room.
Stamm explains that the members have developed a pattern of activities for their meetings. One month the two sessions will be devoted to playing cards or board games, such Risk or Settlers of Catan. The next month they will view films, with recent offerings including a vintage Walt Disney production and “Star Wars: Attack of the Rabbit.” The latter title was a fitting choice because, as Stamm notes, “Most of us tend to be interested in sci-fi or fantasy.” But that’s not the total picture. “Some others are interested in sports and movies. The fact that we have ‘geek’ in the title makes people be more open minded. Everyone loves finding new things,” says Stamm.
Sessions usually attract between 5 and 20 attendees. Since Meetup.com requires that those registering on the Internet be over 18 years old, the age of the average participant is in the upper 20s, although Stamm herself is 23.
While the ages and interests are fairly homogeneous, the professions of those attending are not. Stamm lists computer programmers, librarians, accountants, chefs, engineers, artists, and other individuals with keen interests and academic backgrounds as part of the group. Stamm herself is currently returning to school to study animal science at Rutgers University’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences in New Brunswick.
Although the group has a developed that general formula for sessions, the participants are also open to suggestions and state on their website that “all members are welcome to suggest events to the group.” The note adds that “we also have occasional events such as Comic-Con, stargazing, exploring New Jersey, trying out miracle berries, and much more. The organizers have a list of geek-inspired meetups for the future, but that’s no reason to not suggest an event about something cool happening in your neighborhood that you think might be interesting to others. What can you add to the mix?”
Flexible with most things, the group is adamant about one subject. Their website clearly states, “While most of our members are, in fact, single, we are not a singles group. Our purpose is to hang out and have fun, not date or meet people to date.” Stamm says that this has not been an issue.
A quick glance at visitor responses on the Meetup site suggests that the group is moving in a positive direction. A posting last December reads, “I definitely think this is a great group. Great, fun, open-minded people who come from all sorts of backgrounds and love a lot of the same things (but many who can still be introduced to other things). Always lots of fun and a good time!”
A more recent note claims, “This group has awesome meet ups, great people, would definitely recommend.” And just last month, there was the simple, “I think it is awesome.”
The shy and formerly unconnected New Jerseyan Stamm provides her own testimony: “I would never have expected to have a situation of leading a group and having a library room open to us. It’s worked out really well.”
To participate, RSVP through www.meetup.com/Central-Jersey-geek-Culture-Appreciation/. That way Stamm and the other coordinators can determine how many people will be attending a session and plan accordingly; however, the group also welcomes people who just show up on the spur of the moment. As they write on Meetup.com, “Don’t be intimidated to come out and say hello! We’re friendly and always glad to see a new face. Hope to see you at an event soon!”
Central Jersey Geek Culture Appreciation, South Brunswick Public Library, 110 Kingston Lane, Program Room 2 – Octagon, Monmouth Junction 08852. Saturday, August 25, and Sunday, September 2, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Free. www.meetup.com/central-jersey-geek-culture-appreciation