By Stephanie Dufner, Freelance Writer
There is an adage that rings true for many: It becomes more difficult to make friends as you get older.
Newbury Park resident DeAnne Cool-Tomasi understands this. The fifty-something-year-old launched “What the Fifties” (WTF) three years ago to connect women with other women at the midpoint of their lives.
“Just striking up conversations with women in their 40s and up, I learned that we’re struggling with what’s next. The kids are grown. We’re becoming empty nesters or have moved to a new area and are facing this next chapter of our lives with fear, anxiety, and feeling alone,” she discloses.
Cool-Tomasi intuitively knew women in her age group needed to form new friendships, but how would these women find one another?
Bringing People Together
Cool-Tomasi, an entrepreneur, naturally enjoys nurturing others. “I love helping and empowering women and bringing people together,” she professes.
In July 2017, she established a page on Meetup naming it “What the Fifties,” and two months later, she hosted the group’s first coffee “Meet and Greet” event at the Starbucks on Ventu Park Road in her hometown.
The coffee get-togethers became regular happenings and attracted women from around Ventura County, including Lily Wood.
The Simi Valley resident became a WTF member in October 2017 with the goal of meeting new people. Although she initially felt isolated when she joined the group, Wood acknowledges it has enriched her life over the past few years.
“What the Fifties has made me feel like I’m not alone, and there are events that I can go to and connect with other women my age.”
Second grade teacher and mother of two grown young men Jenna Allee-Munoz also joined WTF in late 2017. She has established friendships with a few members and credits Cool-Tomasi for these ties. “DeAnne came up with an amazing idea by bringing women in their 50s together. I have made a few friends whom I meet up with regularly,” says the Camarillo denizen.
Two of these friends are Judy Popovich and Jennifer Felton, respectively of Westlake Village and Newbury Park. Like Allee-Munoz, Popovich is an empty nester. Her three grown children have relocated to other parts of California. “I’ve met some remarkable people through What the Fifties,” Popovich attests. “The group is so much fun. I’ve enjoyed camping trips and hiking as well as going to movies and local beaches.”
“This group has been welcoming and amazingly fun!” concurs Felton. “After moving around with the military, WTF was a great opportunity to meet ladies in the area who actively socialize with a variety of events.”
“There have been some great friendships that have been formed, and women really appreciate the social time together,” admits Michelle Kam-Biron, a licensed structural engineer who became a group member two-and-a-half years ago. “I joined What the Fifties because I wanted to enhance more of my personal life and to connect with other like-minded women.”
Adapting — and Growing — During COVID-19
What the Fifties members can partake in a variety of activities and have adjusted during the coronavirus.
According to Cool-Tomasi, the group holds regular Zoom chats and meets in local parks where members can wear masks and practice appropriate social distancing. They also continue to convene outdoors as they did pre-pandemic.
“We have adapted to COVID by the need to connect in whatever capacity we can. Activities we do include paddle boarding and kayaking on the water as well as hiking.”
These countywide get-togethers have proven popular with the group’s membership, which has grown to more than 1,000. Chapters have expanded beyond Newbury Park to nearby Camarillo and Simi Valley.
Last month, the United States Patent and Trademark Office conferred a service mark on the group. The “Class 41” designation specifically cites “social club services, namely, arranging, organizing, and hosting social events, get-togethers, and parties for club members.”
Cool-Tomasi sees this designation as an impetus to the continuous expansion of What the Fifties. “A member is moving to Arizona and wants to lead that chapter,” she remarks. “My hope is to grow it everywhere as it’s much needed and has been such a wonderful experience for myself and the members.”
To learn more about What the Fifties and the group’s upcoming events, visit: https://www.meetup.com/Newbury-Park-womens-What-the-Fifties-WTF/.
Stephanie Dufner is a resident of Ventura County, freelance writer and Public Relations Specialist