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Going out and meetin new friends in Hampton Roads
Source: Virginian-Pilot
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By: JENNIFER JIGGETTS

The Virginian-Pilot

The volleyball flew back and forth at the fifth court on the Oceanfront and landed in Colette "Coke" Laegeler's direction.

She backed up, bent her legs and extended her arms to keep it from hitting the sand.

"Nice!" screamed teammates - and members from the opposing team - as Laegeler saved the ball.

It's support like that which Laegeler, general manager of zpizza in Williamsburg, has found in www.meetin.org.

When Laegeler, 46, moved to Virginia Beach from Chicago, she was clueless about the entertainment scene. She had just lost her husband and needed some time to heal her soul, so she lived in an Oceanfront hotel for three months.

Her nights were spent in bars.

Then she "met" meetin.org. She found out about the social group from a bar buddy.

Life became full again with events such as dodgeball, pool parties, salsa and happy hour.

So goes the life of a meetin member.

The group was started as a hobby five years ago by Mike Heard, a computer programmer in Washington, D.C. The Hampton Roads chapter is based in Virginia Beach.

Laegeler, a Canada native, was elected leader in January, about two years after she joined the group.

Members can choose to participate in a variety of events as diverse as the Olympics, cha-cha lessons, comedy shows, white-water rafting and hang gliding. Different members schedule different events, although it is not required.

Its membership also is diverse, with individuals of various ages, races and occupations.

Meetin now has about 8,000 members in 90 chapters worldwide, including in Paris, the Netherlands and Australia. The group receives money from ad revenue and member donations, Heard said.

The organization emphasizes safety, Laegeler said. Members have to attend at least three events before hosting an event at their own house. And the Webmaster can ban a person from the site for bad behavior.

At a recent salsa event at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Laegeler said she was skeptical of joining the group, thinking it was a dating Web site. Bowling was the first event Laegeler attended, and it was strictly platonic. There was no pressure to date anyone, she said.

But when she found out the group aims to be strictly platonic, she signed up and has since enjoyed activities she normally wouldn't have.

"I would never have played dodgeball or volleyball," she said in a raspy voice.

At salsa night, members chatted and ate nachos, meatballs and veggies. They sipped neon green and hot pink drinks. There was lots of talking but not much dancing. But that was OK.

Carlina Stafford, a Virginia Beach special education teacher, organized the salsa dance night. She joined in January, after discovering meetin on a local Web site.

"With meetin, you're going to meet people that have your similar interests," Stafford, 32, said.

Jeff Bergstedt, 38, of Chesapeake said he didn't do a lot before joining meetin in January. A single father, he spent most of his time with his 4-year-old son, who now spends a lot of time with his mother. Bergstedt, whose friend told him about the group, plans on organizing a snowboarding event this winter.

"I've had the opportunity to meet friends to do stuff I'm interested in," said the business operations analyst. "It's better than doing it alone."

Terry Bader, an IT specialist who lives in Virginia Beach, has been a member for 2-1/2 years. He said he was looking for a way to meet people without dating. He's never dated anyone in the group, he said. He's formed close friendships with six members.

Laegeler is one of them.

She said she's also made plenty of friends and tries to catch up with other local members.

"I can't be friends to 700 of them, but I can try."

Jennifer Jiggetts, 446-2538,jennifer.jiggetts@pilotonline.com

07/28/07