A new meet-up group in South Orange and Maplewood brings together stay-at-home parents and those working outside the home, caregivers and other family members by facilitating fun and informative meet-ups throughout the community.
SOMA Families, a group for families in the SOMA area and surrounding towns is housed on meetup.com, a website that facilitates meetups for groups. Similar to groups such as Mothers & More, Maplewood Moms or other social parenting groups, SOMA Families allows members to create and take part in social events and supportive groups for parents, families and caregivers.
Events — most of which are in South Orange and Maplewood — are geared toward all age groups and interests and include playdates, outings, adult-only events, social services, book clubs, family activities and more. For instance, one upcoming event is a parent/child football morning event.
The group describes itself as a “welcoming and inclusive community of moms, dads, and caregivers from South Orange and Maplewood (and bordering towns including East Orange, Irvington, Millburn, Newark, Orange, Short Hills, Union and West Orange)” that embraces all types of families and values diversity.
SOMA Families also provides a calendar of events going on in the community. Members are encouraged to be active and attend at least two events and organize one meet-ups per year.
Find more information or to join, visit the SOMA Families website. Potential members are asked to fill out a questionnaire; dues are $20 per year to cover the costs of meet-ups, supplies and equipment.
We asked co-founder and South Orange resident Gina Preoteasa some more about how the group came into being and what it is like:
How and when did SOMA Families start? Did the idea come from a similar group somewhere else?
The group has been something a few of us have had in mind for a long time. My husband and I moved to South Orange from Jersey City about two and a half years ago. There was a Meetup Moms group in Jersey City called JC Moms. After having our first in JC, I met a bunch of moms with babies the same age and we became very close. In fact, we’re still friends, all had our second kids at around the same time and all moved out to SOMA together.
The JC Moms group was a very active and large group. It had over 700 members at the time we were members. When we moved out to SOMA, we were looking to join a similar group. We all joined Mothers & More. One of these friends and I pushed and helped Mothers & More to launch the Meetup component of our local Mothers & More chapter. However, there was not the same focus on Meetup that we had in mind and so it didn’t take off in the way that we envisioned.
When news came in January that Mothers & More was going to dissolve, Allyson Murphy (also from JC, though I met her here) reached out to me asking if I was still interested to start a Meetup group that more resembled the JC Moms group. I jumped on the opportunity, along with 11 others. Our group of 13 have been meeting regularly since January to get the group going.
We launched officially on March 16.
Who manages the group?
The 13 of us manage the group.
How many active participants? Are most of them stay-at-home parents, working parents, or a combination? Can you describe some of the more successful meet ups?
As of this moment, we have about 165 members. More are joining every day. Members have all types of careers and work situations. We have stay at home moms and dads, full time working parents, part time working parents, parents working at home, in New York City, New Jersey, etc.
In terms of Meetups, we are still getting started, but some of the successful ones are playdates in the park, a new mom group (for babies under 1), museum trips and a parents night out that we recently had.
One of the most important elements of our group is that it’s an active group where we encourage all of our members to participate by both attending and creating Meetups. It may sound daunting to host a meetup, but it’s really as easy as setting up a playdate at the playground or a gathering at a local museum. You can think about it this way: Have you ever thought: “It would be great to go to X place, but I wish I could have some parents or kids my kids’ ages joining us.” That’s what it’s about.
How does this differ from Mothers and More or other similar groups?
One of the major differences between our group and Mothers & More and other mom groups is that it’s not only for moms! It’s for the entire family. We live in such a diverse community and we wanted to make sure that when we created our group that it embraced this diversity. For example, we wanted to make sure that LGTB families felt welcome to participate. Also, we wanted to make sure that fathers felt welcome! We have many stay-at-home dads in our community or dads who are working from home, etc. The mom groups are not welcoming to fathers and we wanted to make sure that our group was.
On this note, we also wanted to make sure that caregivers were welcome to participate by bringing members’ children to events when members can’t because they are working, etc. So if you have a nanny taking care of your toddler, you can use the group as a social calendar for your nanny and toddler’s activities!
Another big difference is that this group is really whatever the member wants it to be. It’s a bit of a different mentality. Usually, you join a community group (or any group) and have to buy into their agenda, events, etc. With SOMA Families, we want members to not only participate in events that we have on the calendar, but also to create events that interest them. It can be as simple as a playdate in the park or it can be a networking event, a painting class, exercise class, group sporting events, etc.
Finally and at the heart of this whole idea is of course the community aspect. SOMA Families is about our community and making in-person, face-to-face connections with people who live near to you. We require all of our members to have a profile picture that clearly shows their face so that when members see who is RSVP’ed for an event, they can recognize those people when they arrive at that event and make those connections.
A friend of mine responded to the question in her Meetup profile, “What are you hoping to get out of this Meetup group?” by writing: “A Village – It certainly takes one these days!”