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Single Volunteers of DC

by Lee Jernstadt

There's a saying I heard when I first moved to Washington, DC: You know you're a Washingtonian if you can name all 100 senators but you don't know your next-door neighbor. Well, I can't name all the senators (60 or 70, maybe), but I've never even seen my next-door neighbor, and when I hit the dating scene about six months ago, eligible men seemed almost as scarce. I quickly discovered that in this town, meeting a nice, available, intelligent guy who doesnít have to schedule your date around his appearances before a grand jury is about as easy as, say, getting the NFL to approve your multimillion dollar bid to buy the Redskins.

But when it got to the point that my entire love life boiled down to eye contact with strangers on the Metro, I decided it was time to be a little more proactive. That's when I discovered Single Volunteers of DC. Such an amazingly simple concept, yet such a stroke of genius: Save the world and your love life, all in one easy step. Sign me up.

Single Volunteers is catching on in other areas, too -- new chapters are popping up all over the country, in fact.

SVDC volunteer events, which range from helping local charities with fundraising telethons to picking up litter in Rock Creek Park, are posted on the SVDC web site a few weeks before they take place -- all you do is email the project leaders to sign up. All projects are evenly split with equal numbers of men and women participating, and volunteers usually go to lunch or a local bar for socializing when the events are over.

So? Does it, like, work? Well, my first volunteer event was helping out with grounds work at the National Zoo. The start time for the project, on a Saturday morning, was earlier than I usually roll out of bed for work. And when I was informed that we would be spreading mulch, I had guilt-inducing flashbacks to the yard work my father diligently took on every spring. I mean, I never lifted a finger to help him.

By the end of the event, my misgivings had faded. I was pleasantly surprised at how friendly the other volunteers were, and the feeling of actually having done something both social and (gasp) useful was very satisfying. (Just don't tell dad.)

I did run into one good-problem-to-have drawback almost immediately: SVDC's phenomenal popularity. It seems I'm not the only person in Washington who has decided that this is a revolution in dating. SVDC started two years ago with 20 people. A year later, the group had 800 members, and today, that has grown to an astounding 5,500. I don't know what that says about the social lives of Washingtonians, but I do know it has made it difficult for many people to sign up for SVDC events -- there actually isn't enough volunteer work for all us lonely-hearts helping hands! This is particularly true for women, since a disproportionate number of those 5,500 members are female. But SVDC co-founder and self-described Queen Bee Dana Kressierer, who is the first to admit that the group has grown beyond her wildest expectations, has worked heroically over the past several months to round up enough events to fill the demand. Last week alone, there were 19 projects for volunteers to choose from.

What's really behind SVDC's success? Maybe it's that a group like this is perfect for Washingtonians -- it appeals to our do-gooder instincts, while simultaneously giving us plenty of opportunities for flirting, networking, and shameless self-promotion. Or maybe we're all just panting for a viable alternative to the bar scene. Then again, Queen Bee Dana has her own theory, which sounds dead-on to me: In a world designed for couples, nobody wants to go out and do anything alone. Most of us won't even see a movie by ourselves, much less venture to a place where we could meet Potentially Significant Others. So instead, we just stay home -- where we're not likely to meet anyone, unless home is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

"People are terrified that others will think they are 'alone,'" Dana says. "SVDC gives people a legitimate reason to be alone, and the knowledge that they are going to be among tons of other people who are alone. They won't be the odd person out at an SVDC event. They won't be freaks for showing up by themselves."

But here's what you really want to know: Have I met any datable guys? Lots, actually. I haven't found my soulmate while chipping paint or raking leaves just yet, but I've had three dates in the month or so since my first event. I'll take that over eye contact on the Metro any day.

Lee Jernstadt is a freelance writer living in Washington, DC. She also has a Real Job, but, well, she'd rather not talk about that.

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