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What's Brewing

Singles can turn to book

By SUSAN THURSTON
Published June 30, 2006


Looking for love?

Patti Hirsch has all the places to find it in her new book, Finding the Right Connection, a guide to singles organizations from Tampa to Naples.

The book lists more than 90 organizations devoted to making love matches. The motto: One is not a lonely number; however, one with nothing to do is lonely!

Proof is in the wedding cake. Featured groups have plenty of happy endings. Tampa Friends of Old-Time Dance reports one marriage a year among members.

Hirsch, 49, dreamed up the book this year to help area singles get connected. A transplant from Kansas City, Mo., she knew firsthand the challenges of meeting people in a friendly, no-pressure environment.

"If you're new to the area, widowed or divorced, where are you going to turn?" she said.

Hirsch moved to Sarasota three years ago to take care of her ill mother, who died nine hours before Hirsch arrived. Her stepfather, brokenhearted, died five weeks later.

Divorced and raising two teenage sons, Hirsch found herself alone in a new place.

"I kind of felt like an orphan," she said. "My support system and structure were gone. I just needed someone to talk to."

It took her 1½ years to find a group of singles her age. She joined Sarasota Catholic Singles and became its marketing/membership director. Her first task: Change the group's name to Suncoast Singles to accurately reflect a nondenominational focus.

Puzzled by the lack of awareness about singles groups, she founded Singles Organizations Unite. "There's a lot of singles groups out there, but no one knows about them," she said. "They don't have deep pockets."

In March 2005, she organized a singles group expo at the Hyatt Sarasota. More than 1,000 singles and 30 organizations showed up.

The event's success prompted Hirsch to organize a similar expo at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, on the Courtney Campbell Parkway, in January. About 4,000 people attended.

"The Hyatt had to call in more police for crowd control," she said. "They just kept coming and coming and coming."

The huge response sealed Hirsch's decision to publish the book. People can be shy approaching a booth or talking to a group leader. But with a book, they can review group descriptions and Web sites and make contacts at their own convenience.

Hirsch's employer, a glass company called Bella Concepts, offered to pay for the first printing through Hillsboro Press. Bella's president, Vincent Dessberg, who is single, believed in the concept and posed for the book's cover photo.

The cover shows seven intentionally ordinary people of various ages and interests. There's Dessberg in a bike helmet and business suit - his two passions. There's 83-year-old Suzanne Luff in a tennis outfit talking on a cell phone. And there's Kyle Gross, tattooed and goateed, holding a beach ball.

Initial response has been positive, Hirsch said. Several listed groups gained members. While Hirsch can't tie the book to any walks down the aisle, just give it some time, she says.

The book divides organizations into categories, such as sports, travel, dance and faith. It doesn't mention online biggies, such as Match.com and eHarmony.com, because most people already know about them and want alternatives.

Hirsch sought the lesser-known groups, such as Tampa Bay Tall n' Terrific, for men at least 6 feet 2 and women at least 5-10, and the Tampa Bay Snow Skiers, who take ski trips together. A lot are from outside Tampa, which might be a good thing for people looking to dip into a new singles pot.

Each page ends with trivia, like the "U.S. Census Bureau reports 51 percent of American men spend over $100 monthly on dates and 29 percent spend over $150."

Hirsch doesn't expect to make a profit from the book but hopes it breaks even. Next year, if demand still exists, she may publish an updated, expanded version.

But for now, she's enjoying her new life and friends in Florida and reaping the rewards of her efforts. A few months ago, she met a great guy at a singles dance.

They've been dating ever since.

THE LAST DROP: Copies of Finding the Right Connection are available at www.therightconnection.net for $18.90.

Susan Thurston can be reached at thurston@sptimes.com or 226-3394.

[Last modified June 29, 2006, 10:33:54]


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