Volunteering for Love 

Is romance in the STARs?

Ah, the first date: the dinner, the movie, the ... fishing rodeo?

For local residents in the Singles Together Achieving Results (STARs) volunteer group, that's not so strange. STARs, a group within Volunteer Memphis, doubles as a dating service, and its 92 members -- ages 35 to 70 -- participate in volunteer projects ranging from Youth Villages' fishing rodeo to the National Kidney Foundation's Chocolate Fantasy.

"Our dual purpose is social gratification and volunteerism," says STARs chairman Rich Martin. "A lot of the people we get through Volunteer Memphis are looking for volunteer work, but then of course we get people interested in singles events, so it's a little bit of both."

Sure, it's nice to see the best side of a romantic interest, but how romantic can it be to spoon out soup together?

Evidently, romantic enough: In his five years as chairman, Martin has seen several couples date within the group. Two couples have even gotten married.

"When they get married, we kick them out because they're not single anymore," Martin says, laughing.

But even for those STARs members not seeking a soulmate, the group's gatherings are enjoyable.

"The main reason I got into it was because of the volunteer work," says Eloise Graziosi, who joined STARs last August. "I've been in volunteer groups with married people, and sometimes you feel left out. I'd rather be with single people. Whether I meet anybody or not, I just feel like we have more in common."

Members mingle at monthly meetings, which are held at a different person's house each time. Activities change from month to month, depending on what attendees select from the Volunteer Memphis docket. "We're especially interested in things that involve kids," Martin says. "But members are always free to recommend projects."

Beyond the social aspects, STARs offers the personal gratification that often comes with volunteering.

"If you have spare time, it's better to do something that's helping others," says Donna Lyon, who joined STARs two years ago. "Some of the people who didn't have families even delivered meals on Christmas. It's a really fulfilling way to spend your time."

Prospective members are welcome to attend three meetings for free to determine whether STARs is for them. After joining, members pay $15-a-year dues and must attend at least one project a year.

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