When Patrick Guerra came home from Afghanistan last year and settled into classes at Sacramento State, he was in search of new friends and a way to stay fit.
Guerra could have signed up for a recreational sports league or hit the bars. Instead, he went to online social network Meetup.com and became a spirited leader of a ragtag group called Activities and Sports for the Awesomely Mediocre.
Between swigs of water on a muddy field in Curtis Park, Guerra explained how playing flag football with a dozen strangers became a regular Saturday morning activity.
Its always a time in life to make new friends, he said. My whole view on it is I dont ever want to stop having new experiences. I dont want to stop meeting new people, and I dont want to stop learning.
Activities and Sports for the Awesomely Mediocre is one of nearly 500 Sacramento-based social groups created on Meetup.com, which connects people online for the purpose of having them socialize in person.
More than 73,000 Sacramentans are registered on Meetup.com, said Meetup Headquarters Community Lead Kate Hawley, and registration numbers are increasing every year. There have been 27 Sacramento Meetup groups founded in the past month. The continual growth is in stride with the wider network, which now serves nearly 16 million people in 196 countries.
Of the 10 largest Sacramento Meetups, hiking groups dominate five spots and include more than 14,000 registrants. Also in the top 10 are Really Cool People from Downtown/Midtown; Pitbull Lovers; Freethinkers, Atheists and Nonbelievers; and The Sacramento Vegan Society.
After noticing a few group leaders organizing Ultimate Frisbee games, Guerra started a weekly flag football event. A group of seven men and women showed up on a recent Saturday, only one of whom Guerra knew pre-Meetup and only two of whom knew one another. The group usually gathers for lunch after the game to catch up and welcome new members.
To me, its gone to prove what Ive always believed that people in general are good people, he said. And in this whole Meetup group, we havent met a single mean person.
Anyone can start a Meetup group around any theme, be it career building or ballroom dancing. The Sacramento directory of 468 resident-generated groups includes the Sacramento Hot Air Balloon Team and Whole Food Plant-based Toddler Moms and that doesnt even scrape the surface. To join a Meetup group, a person can register a free account, search for a certain interest in a given geographic area and attend or not attend posted events.
Its superprominent, said Kyle Cassano, partner at social media consulting agency Sacramento Marketing Labs, who runs three Sacramento Meetups. Once youre on Meetup, its not uncommon to be looking at hiking, and next thing you know youve been on the computer for an hour and youre in 12 groups.
Cassano has seen everything from tech startups to marriages take seed during his Meetup events.
You can make solid connections online, but those connections are strengthened when you meet people in the physical world, offline, he added.
Meetups can be held at bars, parks, athletic facilities and even in members homes. Rudy Perez, organizer of 1,000-person Meetup NorCal Snowboarders, said choosing venues for his group has bolstered his ties to local businesses.
The group, which organizes weekly carpools of 60 to 70 people to Tahoe ski resorts, has agreements with a handful of local gear shops in which anyone with a NorCal Snowboarders sticker is granted a special discount. When Perez hosted the preseason party at Clarks Snow Sports in Roseville last year, the group spent thousands of dollars in a matter of hours, he said.
A lot of our group is business professionals, said Perez. If we go to a bar, theyre going to buy alcohol, and if we go to a store, theyre going to buy gear.
Dan Dreher, owner of Folsom Lake Sports Bar, said he has noticed a number of Meetup groups frequenting his location in the past three years, including the Folsom Leading Young Professionals and the Chamber of Commerce. Meetup groups often call in advance to reserve seating or special equipment like microphones, he said, and they return consistently.
Theyre bringing in bigger groups of people instead of just a couple at a time, Dreher said. We work really hard to accommodate them and make it easy and possible for them to hold their function with us.
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