On a not too distant Friday night, a group of seven young adults including me heads for ice cream at Halo Pub on Hulfish Street after watching a performance in Palmer Square.
From afar, it looks like a regular friends’ outing, but actually — amid spoonfuls of ice cream — we are trying to get to know one another. In fact, that is precisely the purpose of the group — for people to connect with strangers in our community.
We are part of a Meetup group called the Princeton Social Group 20’s and 30’s (PSG).
Meetup is an online social networking portal that facilitates group gatherings and meetings — not in just Princeton but in towns and cities around the world.
Some groups are created by a founder or organizer and formed according to culture, ethnic identity, language, sexual orientation, or age — like PSG. Others focus on activities and interests, such as hiking, salsa dance, movies, music, and photography. One can also search for groups according to location.
Membership requires joining. It’s usually free of charge, but some groups do charge a fee to offset costs, usually between $9.99 and $14.99. All groups expect members to be active in their participation.
Signing up is simple. Go to www.meetup.com, then click on “Join us!”
Some groups require an additional step and ask users to state their age, hobbies, and reasons for joining. After viewing each membership request, the group’s organizers either approve or deny it.
I joined PSG soon after I moved to Lawrenceville to attend Rider University’s master’s program in clinical mental health counseling in September, 2014. But Meetup was no stranger to me. I was a member of a few groups while I was living in New York City and working as a reporter. Now being new to Princeton and hardly knowing anyone here, I wanted to join a social group and participate in fun activities with other young people.
Since PSG’s description listed events and activities mainly in the Princeton area — other social groups in Central Jersey are based in New Brunswick or further from Princeton — I picked it.
And in addition to the Halo Pub gathering, PSG organizes regular brunches and movie outings, dance parties, and sports activities that typically attract between four and ten people. The group has also held some larger-scale gatherings such as the Asbury Park Beach outing and the 40th Annual St. George Greek Festival — each attracting about 30 members.
Though the PSG is little more than a year old, it has grown to more than 700 members and has held more than 300 events or activities, making it one of the most successful Meetup groups in the Princeton area.
Its founder is Rich Tuscano, a West Windsor resident in his early 30s. Though he holds a full-time IT job, he has been making sure there has been a PSG event or activity going on every day. A former member of “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,” a 20s and 30s social group located in Freehold, Tuscano decided to start his own local group in Princeton because he foresaw a demand in the area.
His first PSG event — a concert in Palmer Square in August, 2014 — attracted about a dozen members and convinced him he was on to something.
Tuscano says members join Meetup groups “to make new friends and get introduced to local activities.” But, he suggests, a group is as good as the members who participate. Consequently, if someone signed up has not been to at least three events in the past six months, he or she will be removed from the group.
Additionally, Tuscano says, it’s not the size of the gathering, but the quality of the event. As an example, he points to “The Art of Taking Selfies,” a gathering where members learned how to take the “perfect” selfies and generated a lot of laughter.
I was a little nervous when I attended my first PSG event by myself — a breakfast at Pj’s Pancake House in West Windsor. But I soon realized that it was easy enough to flow with the group. Conversations were lighthearted and witty. Everyone tried to make me feel like part of the group. Now when I join the group, I feel good when the organizer and the members greet me like an old friend. I also get to meet new members.
That includes Tyrone Fain, a 32-year-old web administrator who grew up in Trenton. Fain says he joined because he wanted to “see what’s out there. The Meetup group has enabled me to explore different activities and not do the same thing over and over again. I wouldn’t have known that there is a pancake event.”
Praneeth Purighella, a longtime member of PSG who took the role of co-organizer to help out Tuscano, likened Meetup to Facebook, “except that people are coming together to do fun things together.”
“We are all social people. We go on Facebook to make connections with friends and people we already know. But Meetup groups help you to reach out to people whom you do not know, and you are now hanging out with them,” says Purighella.
To keep the momentum rolling, PSG coordinators — including the newest one listed on the website, Adrian Rich — set up a day for apple picking, a drinks and Halloween ghost tour night in New Hope, and a disc golf session in Mercer County Park.
Having recently celebrated PSG’s one-year anniversary at On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina restaurant with about 30 PSG members, Tuscano says he hopes the group will continue to attract and retain members.
And why shouldn’t it? With more 40 events planned in the future, it is an open door to the area. One that will enable someone — like me — to explore the area and learn about different places with others, rather than alone.
Returning to that Friday night at Halo Pub, as I bid goodbye to the group, a few members ask me to join them for the next outing — rock climbing in an indoor facility. It sounds enticing.
For more information on Princeton Social Group 20s & 30s, go to www.meetup.com/Princeton-Social-Group.
Ariel Tung was raised in Singapore and received a BA in sociology and English Literature from the National University of Singapore in 2000 and an MA in journalism from Indiana State University in 2009. She is currently pursuing an MA in clinical mental health counseling at Rider University and lives in Lawrenceville.