A Berkshire singles group makes connecting fun

As published in Berkshire Magazine, August 2015

Photo by Carrie Snyder

Photo by Carrie Snyder

When four young creative women met for drinks at Pittsfield’s Thistle & Mirth in January, their goal was not to start a dating business. In fact, their conversation focused on something much more personal.

“To not be alone for Valentine’s Day. That was it,” says Stephanie Mendoza with a boisterous laugh.

“And then we were like, ‘Let’s have a party!’ And we’re really good at throwing events together,”adds Noel Henebury. “From that, Julia [Dixon] was the one that said, ‘Let’s think bigger. We could actually make a difference and an impact.’”

Dixon, who is managing director of Berkshire Creative, had been meeting with the Berkshire Initiative for Growth—what she describes as a “population task force”—since August, strategizing ways to recruit and retain young people in the county. That, combined with her own experience with online dating, sparked an idea.

“You start dating online by looking at people in your community,” explains Dixon. “And if none of them are interesting to you, you have to expand your geographic reach.  So I was looking at profiles of people that lived in Boston and New York City, and I thought that this is crazy. And thinking about how to retain young people in the area—online dating is not the way to do it. So I thought there’s got to be people in the Berkshires that I might like, but how would I know who they are if I don’t meet them? And how am I supposed to meet them?”

And so, BerkshireFlirt was born. The founders—Mendoza and Henebury, who both work at Barrington Stage Company, Jenn Gomez of the College Internship Program in Lee, and Dixon—are all Berkshire transplants ranging in age from early 20s to mid-30s. They quickly planned their first singles event, a casual mixer and erotic reading at Thistle & Mirth, and set up an online event page with an equal amount of tickets for men and women, which promptly sold out. The event was a huge success, and attendees couldn’t wait for more.

“I would recommend it to anybody who’s single,” says Gillian Jones, a photographer for The Berkshire Eagle. “The fact that they’re having people get tickets and reserve them ahead of time, there’s almost an exclusive feeling about that.” Jones is one of BerkshireFlirt’s favorite success stories: She met someone at the group’s second event at the Taggart House in Stockbridge, and they’ve been dating ever since. “It’s still early, it’s still evolving,” she says. “But I don’t think we would have met otherwise. It’s kind of exciting.”

Participants at the events range in age from 20s to over 60. The founders learned that not only were these Berkshire singles meeting potential dates, they were making new friends as well. Gomez admits that when she moved to the area five years ago, she had no idea “where to go to meet people who I could just sit down and have a conversation with” and thinks BerkshireFlirt is a great way for young transplants especially to meet other singles outside of their own industries.

“That is so important while you’re trying to date,” adds Dixon. “It’s hard enough to go to a bar by yourself to try and meet somebody and get your flirt on. But also just new people that are coming into the area, to introduce them to the Berkshires. This is such a good way to do that.”

Pete White, who is outspoken about the need to attract young people to the area in his campaign for Pittsfield city council, agrees wholeheartedly. “That’s a complaint I hear from a lot of people concerned that there are not enough ways just to meet people. So I think BerkshireFlirt is really filling a needed niche.” White has been to all the BerkshireFlirt events so far, and often recommends it to other single friends. “One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most is just talking to other single people. I’ve gone out with other guys I’ve met at the events and made some good friends, both male and female.”

Still flying high from the successes of their events in Pittsfield, Stockbridge, Williamstown, and Richmond, the founders have big plans for the future. First up, a series of singles nights for each gender, starting with a late-August “Ladies’ Night” in conjunction with Barrington Stage Company’s production of Engagements. Later in the year, the group is throwing a big holiday party and hopes to partner with another organization on an LGBT-specific event as well. Most important, the group will continue to expand and bring BerkshireFlirt to venues up and down the county.

“Not only can we put our talents together to create an event, we can also bring people to businesses, we can bring people to friendships,” says an excited Henebury. “And we’re getting better at planning the events and planning them far out because now we know there’s a need, and we’re serving a purpose.”