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How to find your people if you're new to Tucson (or just want to make friends)

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Realtor Yolie Oropeza, center, talks with Min Yve, a sales rep for Creative Costumes, during the Tucson Young Professionals First Fridays event at the Tucson Museum of Art Friday, February 5, 2010.

Chelsea Skovgaard has called Tucson home since last June, when her husband, a medical resident, was assigned to Banner - University Medical Center Tucson.

They moved here from Denver. 

Skovgaard works remotely as a web developer, so when the work day ends, she's ready to get out and talk to people — easier said than done when you're new to town and still trying to find your people. Skovgaard isn't the only one.

Let's face it. Making friends when you're a grown-up is HARD. 

Between July 1, 2016 and July 1, 2017, Pima County's population grew by about 1 percent — or roughly 10,250 people, according to the United States Census Bureau. That growth represents births, deaths and moves to and from the area. 

That's a whole lot of people who need Tucson friends. (If you're one of them, hi! 👋 Welcome to Tucson!)

Skovgaard, 30, describes herself as "pretty outgoing," which helps on the friend hunt. She's met people through Meetups such as Wanderful Women, book clubs and joining local online groups connected to her interests (DIY and crafting). She says she has also met people through Banner spouses groups. 

"I think friendships form when you see the same person over and over again, but it's harder when there aren't as many organic opportunities for that," she says. "In the workplace, you're going to see them daily, or at school, but when you don't have those, you have to make plans, and it's not as organic, and it's more awkward." 

But it's definitely worth it. And even good (really good) for your health. We chatted with Atina Manvelian, a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona studying clinical psychology. Manvelian, 26, spends a lot of time working with clients in therapy and researching relationships and their connection to health. 

She echoes Skovgaard's experience: When we're kids, our lives are structured, down to the point that we don't even decide when it's lunchtime. Those structures make it easier to develop friendships. 

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Julian Meyers-Richter, 6, left, leans over to watch as Ben Beil, 7, corrects his spelling of the word "green" during their lunch hour at Miles Exploratory Learning Center located at 1400 E. Broadway Blvd on Friday February 10, 2017. The school participated in "No One Eats Alone" day. Students received colored paper and had to sit with someone with the same color and ask a series of questions. No One Eats Alone is an initiative by Beyond Differences, a group that is trying to combat social isolation in schools. Julian and Ben had never eaten lunch together before. Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

In adulthood, many of those structures disappear, forcing us to intentionally cultivate relationships, she says. Which, we all know, can be challenging. 

Manvelian adds that it gets harder when people start coupling off. It's called dyadic withdrawal, a fancy term for how your married friends seem to disappear after they say, ”I do.” The disappearance gets worse when babies start arriving.

But here's the thing: Having friends isn't only fun, it actually makes you healthier. Manvelian explains.

Hypothesis 1: "Getting social support from other people decreases your stress levels, and we know having high levels of stress can compromise your immune system, because your body is attending to the stress and has less energy to focus on ... taking care of wounds or fighting off infections," she says. "The more stressed out you are, your risk of disease, infection and early death goes up. That's the social buffering hypothesis. You have more social support and feel less stressed so your immune system can function longer." 

Hypothesis 2: "When you are surrounded by other people, maybe they help you engage in healthy behaviors such as exercise and a healthier diet, and we know those things are related to health," she says. 

Either way you look at it, having friends makes for a healthier you. But how exactly do you meet people when you're long past your teens and early 20s? 

Julie Hoshizaki, a programmer, has been bouncing back and forth between Tucson and Texas for about a year. Only in the last month has she really settled down and started exploring Tucson. 

Hoshizaki, 58, has attended Women, Trans*, and Femme nights at BICAS and Roadrunner Bicycles and took Pilates for a while. She has joined online LGBTQ and alumni groups and attended events at Reid Park. All in the name of meeting people. It's a long road. 

"When my mom passed away (recently), I lost all interest in doing stuff for a while, so now it's just forcing myself to go out there," she says. "My mom was the one who was always wanting me to go out. She definitely wasn't an extrovert, but she was always like, 'Go try this.' And I was like, 'I don't want to.' So now it's more like I'm doing it for her." 

But that's what it takes — getting out there. 

Manvelian, who came to Tucson about three years ago from Los Angeles to earn her doctorate, says the layout of the city can complicate friend-making. Most people drive, so there's not a lot of opportunity to meet people just by walking around, she says. 

"What we try to do with our clients who say they're socially isolated is get them involved in some kind of activity or hobby, whether it be some kind of religious institution where they're going to church every Sunday or a book club or the gym, just some kind of activity where they're doing what they like and they're surrounded by other people and have to go every week," she says. "They're getting repeated exposure and maybe even have something in common with these people."

So that's where we'll start. 

We try to keep you updated on what's going on in Tucson, so you can meet new people that way, but there are plenty of organizations planning cool activities all the time. 

To jump start your friend dating process, here are 11 areas of interest you can take advantage of to meet your people. 

Good luck, and may your coffee dates be abundant. 🙏

You like staying active

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Veronique Pardee, right, leads a group of Joy Riders on the Richard Genser Trailhead at Starr Pass on Tucson’s west side.

If physical fitness is your thing, check out Bell Joy Ride, a local chapter of a national organization that organizes mountain biking rides for women — even if you don't have tons of experience. To beat the heat, they're hosting a summer program with REI. Trade mountain biking for rock climbing at The Bloc for $20 (for non-members) on Thursday, June 14. 

"The great thing about our events is we structure them around a ride or some other physical activity..." writes Veronique Pardee, the Tucson Bell Joy Ride ambassador, in an email. "The activity really helps ease the awkwardness of just standing around with new people making small talk. On our rides, we usually do fun ice breakers to help people feel included and get women talking with each other." 

You could also try a fitness class like Hoshizaki did. Tucson has tons of options: Obviously, there are your YMCAs and gyms, or try Floor Polish, a funky studio on Fourth Avenue that has affordable, creative classes. (A few of our staffers tried their burlesque fitness class at their previous location). We also put together this list of bucket list classes if you want other fitness ideas. 

If you're a runner, Southern Arizona Roadrunners has a big list of running groups. If you'd rather walk, Meet Me At Maynards is a lovely, free walk through downtown every Monday. Or you could check out the free Meet Me Wednesdays, starting at St. Philip's Plaza. 

Or head to the hills with one of Tucson's many hiking groups. Here's a huge one that hikes regularly. 

You need mom friends

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We hear you. Actually, we wrote a whole story about how to do this. For you mamas with school-aged kids, our education and families reporter Angela Pittenger recommends joining the school's parent-teacher organization or chatting up other moms at baseball practice or gymnastics. 

If you have littles, Tucson Moms has playgroups all over Tucson and organizes regular moms' night outs. We've interviewed several moms who moved to Tucson and found their tribe through one of these playgroups. 

Cindy Garcia, director and chair of Tucson Moms, says playgroup leaders can give newcomers information about Tucson and things to do here. 

"The biggest ice breaker is our kids," Garcia says. "That's the common ground for all of us, and I think it's easier to talk about our kids than ourselves. I think finding connection with other moms, we all go through the same stuff and feel the same thing. Especially in group gatherings, we all feel awkward." 

The libraries' story times also have friend-making potential. We went to a story time just last week for toddlers, and it was packed with tons of moms toting babies, toddlers and preschoolers. 

If you're new to navigating the mom life, check out Milk and Honey's play and support groups. Some of them specifically offer breastfeeding support

You're an entrepreneur

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Co-work spaces such as Tucson’s Connect Coworking (pictured above) can help “solopreneurs” feel less isolated.

Leave your business cards at home. That's what Lara Gabrielsen, a co-leader of Tuesdays Together Tucson, will tell you if you come check out one of the group's monthly mixers. Tuesdays Together is a monthly meetup and part of the national Rising Tide Society. It's basically a support system for creatives, makers and other entrepreneurs. It's definitely not for networking. 

Each month the group gets together to talk about something relevant to creative business owners. Maybe, taxes, SEO or branding. 

"You don't have to worry about putting on a front," Gabrielsen says. "It's completely about being real. ... Sometimes you think you need to put on this image to network with people ... but that's totally not what our group is about. We want to celebrate successes, but we want to be real with the struggles of being a business owner." 

You could also try going to Startup Tucson Coffee, a weekly presentation by a local entrepreneur meant to provide support for that community. 

If you need a place to work, you could try a coworking space. Tucson has a few: Connect Coworking, Rail Yard Executive Suites  and Story Land for writers, to start. 

You're a reader

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Participants in the Mocha Girls Read book club gather at Antigone Books once a month to discuss the monthly pick. 

Book clubs are the obvious answer here.

We actually have a digital book club on Facebook (search #ThisIsTucson Book Club) and are in the middle of a Summer Reading Challenge for Grown-Ups with the Pima County Public Library

You can also find book clubs at the library or local book stores. We recently wrote about the Mocha Girls Read club at Antigone Books. One of the co-leaders of that book club actually joined to find her people. You can find more book clubs at Antigone, or try Mostly Books, Bookmans or Clues Unlimited

If you'd rather pick your own reading material, head over to Analog Hour at Exo Roast Co. and Tap and Bottle on Sixth Avenue and Seventh Street. The monthly event is a celebration of all things without screens. So bring your reading or a puzzle and revel in some screen-free time. 

You're an animal lover

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Volunteer Alicia Johnson and Juno take a rest during a walk at Christoper Columbus Park. Karen Hollish of the Pima Animal Care Center says walks help the dogs “stay emotionally happy and physically healthy.”

If you have a puppy, take her to the dog park. That's easy access to other dog-lovers just standing around, watching their pups play. Here's a list of Tucson dog parks and here's the Pima County list

You could take it a step further and volunteer to walk dogs or cuddle kitties at the Pima Animal Care Center.

Or do your downward dog surrounded by cats at the Hermitage Cat Shelter. Every first and third Sunday of the month, the shelter hosts yoga from 1 to 2:15 p.m. It's $15 to register and you need to sign up early. You can get your kitty fix, work on your flexibility and make friends. Win win win. 

You ❤️ STEM 

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The Tucson pod of 500 Women Scientists spoke out at the Tucson Rally for Science on April 22, 2017.

For those of you with a passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), check out 500 Women Scientists, a local pod of an international organization. The group celebrates women in science and mentors and reaches out to future scientists (a term they use in the broadest possible way). Also, these ladies want to support each other. 

To find out about their monthly meetups, sign up for the mailing list here. They also post about volunteer opportunities on social media.

"We define a scientist as inclusively as possible," says Rachel Gallery, a founding member of the Tucson pod. "We get people who say, 'I'm not a scientist, so I can't be a member.' But we're all scientists. If you're curious about the world, you fit into our umbrella category." 

Volunteering with SARSEF (Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Foundation) is another way to share your passion with the next generation. This local nonprofit organizes epic science fairs every year for Southern Arizona students and empowers kids in kindergarten through 12th grade to explore STEM careers. Volunteer at one of their events.

You're a foodie

Chef and instructor Samiro Elmi leads a class on Somali cooking at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.

Do some restaurant exploring and then make yourself a regular at your favorite Tucson eatery. This also works with coffee and tea shops, btw. Or join a cash mob. You'll meet fellow Tucsonans who love to eat and support local businesses. Basically, members of a Facebook group vote on where to eat each month, and then they all show up on the same day during a specific time to boost business. The June cash mob is at Dante's Fire on Saturday, June 16. 

Or take a cooking class. The Tucson Jewish Community Center has some great options. Many of them highlight local traditions. Upcoming classes include a Syrian and Iraqi cooking class on June 10, a summer pies class on June 24, a Mexican cuisine class on September 16 and a Tohono O'odham class on October 21. You can get more details here

You're looking for fellow professionals

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AskWOT hosts events that enable women to form partnerships and a network of support. 

Tucson Young Professionals is a good place to start. Bring your networking skills to the monthly mixers and glean wisdom during frequent CEO roundtables. You've got this. Everyone is super nice. In addition to networking, TYP focuses on community building. Membership is $150 for 12 months. 

If you're looking for some lady mentors (and awesome peers), check out Ask Women of Tucson, a local organization that connects women and girls across fields. They don't meet often, but when they do it's a fantastic opportunity to meet other women professionals. 

You're an activist

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Marchers fight cold and wind during the Tucson demonstration of the Women's March on Washington. 

Start by knowing what's going on locally. Go to a Tucson City Council meeting (every other Tuesday evening, usually) or attend a Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting (often Tuesday mornings). Find out when the board for your kid's school district meets. Hopefully, you'll meet a few other civic-minded citizens at these meetings, and if not, at least you'll be able to have educated conversations with other Tucsonans you meet (subscribing to the Arizona Daily Star can also help with that). 

If there are specific causes you care about, find a local organization working in that field, and then find out how you can volunteer. Here are a few groups to consider. And by no means is this a comprehensive list. 

If you care about immigration or refugees, check out No More Deaths or the Iskashitaa Refugee Network

To support local ladies, get in touch with the YWCA of Southern Arizona or volunteer at Sister Jose Women's Center

Book nerds should check out Literacy Connects and Make Way for Books

Wanna save the planet? Check out the Sky Island Alliance or Tucson Clean and Beautiful, Inc.

You're crafty

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Women gathered at Belle Starr Salon in September 2016 for Creative Tribe's flower crowns and braid bar workshop. 

Theresa Delaney and Susana Starbuck started Creative Tribe as a way to meet friends while learning creative skills. 

"I didn't feel like I fit in at professional networking events or with mom groups," Delaney told This Is Tucson last January. "Puppies don't count at those. I didn't have that university bubble to go to either, so I was struggling with finding a place where I felt comfortable asking questions." 

At Creative Tribe workshops, women gather to make flower crowns or learn to paint with watercolors. The next workshop is a make and sip tie-dye workshop on Friday, June 8.

(If you're a fan of the make + sip experience, we made a list of 15 places where you can do that.) 

You could also take a class at Delectables Catering and Venue with The Craft Revolt's Maker Mondays (next one is Monday, June 18) or sign up for a sewing class at the cute boutique Sew Hip.

You love your neighborhood 

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If your community has a neighborhood association or homeowner's association, pay attention to where they're throwing that cheesy Fourth of July block party or back-to-school bash. And then go. Eat the hot dog.

You could also join the association and get involved with the decisions that  directly affect your community. 

The West University Neighborhood Association just started organizing "Hey Neighbor" happy hours to gather downtown dwellers to hear stories about the area. No reason you couldn't start something similar in your own neighborhood. 

The City of Tucson has a handy neighborhood map to show you how much ground your community covers. And if you happen to live in a historic neighborhood, share some of these fun facts with your neighbors. 

Take a walk. Meet your neighbors. Knock on their doors and say, "Hi." This is old-fashioned friend-making at its finest.

Now get out there and befriend some people. We'll see you around.🙌