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Where the girls are: Cheap, fun therapy

Published June 29, 2007

Members of the Dinner Dames, including Cherie Skaggs (on the table), have their portrait taken at a recent dinner party. The group gathers one Thursday a month for dinner at an alternating member's home.
[Carrie Pratt | Times]

In March, the University of Manchester published the results of a four-year study about how men and women are drawn differently to friends.

The result?

Men are drawn more to teams and clubs. They are strategic about making friends. They focus on networking. They think, "What's in it for me?"

With women, "it's much deeper and more moral; it's about the relationship itself rather than what they can get out of it, " said Dr. Gindo Tampubolon.

They meet more informally and more emotionally, the study concluded. They hold on to their friends longer. Think The Joy Luck Club and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

In Tampa, three groups of women have formed their own sisterhoods.


'La Buona Hora'

In 1938, about a dozen teenage girls in Ybor City created a club where they could meet at someone's home and share desserts and secrets.

Growing up in the melting pot that was Ybor, the girls decided to call their meetings La Buona Hora, a translation of "the good hour" in a mix of Italian and Spanish.

Back then, the girls paid 10-cent dues and had a president and secretary. In the years to come, they would walk in one another's weddings, become godmothers and lend support through some of their husbands' deaths.

They still meet. Their group has grown to include daughters and sisters of some of the original members.

They're the animated patch of gray at the Valencia Gardens Restaurant, or wherever they vote to have their monthly lunch.

They talk excitedly about their grandchildren and old friends and about how much Ybor has changed.

Rose Dibona, 82, will never forget the excitement the ice cream man brought. Angie Zambito, 82, remembers her first kiss at the Ritz Theatre.

"Those were the days, " said Zambito, one of the original members.

Dibona agreed. "We had a beautiful world."

And for one good hour a month, seven decades later, they tap back into that world.

"This club is my lifeline, " Dibona said.


Dinner Dames

While Janet Line's husband plays poker with the boys in their garage on Thursdays, she heads out to dinner with the "dames."

Tampa's Dinner Dames have met for dinner one Thursday each month for 31/2 years.

There are 25 women in the group. Half are married, and only a handful have kids, says founder Cherie Skaggs.

Laura Leon, a 37-year-old school nurse about to get married, is one of them. As is Chris Epstein, who used to work in mutual funds but now stays at home with her kids. Line, 29, is a speech therapist.

Skaggs is a 36-year-old massage therapist in South Tampa. A veteran of corporate networking events, she organized the Dames after having trouble meeting new people in Tampa's close-knit social scene.

"These are people I can call up and say, 'Do you want to grab a cup of coffee?' or 'Can you pick me up from the airport?' " she said. "I can count on every girl in this group for something."

They help one another through rough times. For example, the Dames banded together recently to support a member whose fiance died of Lou Gehrig's disease. They've also done charity walks in high heels.

But mostly, they just get together at their Tampa homes - regularly, reliably and after RSVPing - to eat and talk, about careers and pets and guys and upcoming vacations.

"It's a good excuse to get out, " Line said.


The Tampa Bombshells

Kathleen Barrett had a secret. She would take the weekend for herself and tell no one. Duffel bag in hand, she got in her car last year and drove to Camp Bombshell in Orange Springs. It's a place where women can let go of responsibility and just be themselves.

A vascular access clinician at Tampa General Hospital and a single mom, Barrett cares for everyone, leaving little time for herself. She never stops moving. This was her chance to relax and let loose.

"As I drove to camp, I giggled and felt such a release that I was finally doing something all for myself for the first time in years. I didn't care if anyone liked me or not. This was for me, and I was going to have a good time no matter what, " she said.

Camp changed her life.

Barrett was finally able to deal with the death of her best friend and said her soul was freed after a Reiki master performed energy healing on her.

This year Barrett, 45, started her own group, the Tampa Bombshells. The group has met four times and is still growing. Once a month, five women share stories about hair, sex, kids and everything in between.

Group members have met at a Tampa restaurant but soon will gather in one another's homes for a more intimate setting. The group also attends various Bombshell Camps in Miami. The next one is in September.

"It's just a chance to gather as women for women, to sit, talk and laugh, " Barrett said. "It's cheaper than a therapy bill and you get a lot more out of it."



If you go

The Tampa Bombshells

Meet one Saturday a month. The next meeting is on Aug. 11. For more information, contact Kathleen Barrett at

Dinner Dames

Meet once a month. For more information, e-mail Cherie Skaggs at


[Last modified June 28, 2007, 08:14:20]

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