Strength in Numbers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brad Helton is the kind of guy a lot of people might describe as an experienced single. He joined Parents Without Partners 18 years ago, and has been attending weekly meetings of One Again, a nationwide singles organization with about 200 members in Ventura County, for the last 14 years.

Most of the people he knows in both groups, he said, know why he's there. It's more to see his friends and meet new people than get emotional support.

"Basically, there are two categories of people who join these groups--the kind of person who's been single for a number of years and is just looking for a social outlet, and the person who's just been widowed, divorced or jilted and is more desperate for help and support," he said.

"The problem is, a lot of groups try to satisfy the needs of both kinds of people," he said. "Sometimes it takes awhile to find out who is who."

Sometimes it also takes singles time to find out which group is right for them. The age and background of members vary, as well as the types of activities that are offered. Some groups function more as social clubs--offering everything from dinners in members' homes to picnics on the beach--while others are more like support groups.

Parents Without Partners, said Judy Kavanagh, PWP associate zone administrator, was designed to be a little bit of both.

"Some people come in wounded and need healing, but others just need people," she said. "The fact is, being a single parent isn't easy at any time. We're here strictly to give support to single parents and their kids."

On the flip side, there are groups like the Conejo Valley Singles Group. Members tend to be from their mid-30s to mid-50s, and most of them are more interested in going out dancing, meeting at restaurants and getting together for a volleyball game on weekends.

"When people call, the first thing I tell them is that this is not a support group," said Daphne Erikson, one of the founders of the 2-year-old organization. "We're past all that. We don't want people crying on each other's shoulders. Come here later, when you're ready to meet friends."

Sierra Singles, an arm of the Sierra Club, also is not exactly what might be called a support group.

"We're more of an enjoyment group--unless, of course, you get support from doing something fun," said Ted Gunther, who leads hikes for singles throughout the county.

Not everyone falls neatly into one category of singles or another.

Angela Keyack, a resource specialist at Sinaloa Junior High School in Simi Valley, took a look at the selection of available groups and couldn't find what she needed. In 1983, after 31 years of marriage and seven children, she got divorced.

Two years ago, Keyack started the Support Group for Widowed and Divorced Catholics in Camarillo. The group, which Keyack said welcomes anyone who believes in God, now has up to 60 members at each meeting.

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