A Potluck Club Grows in Crystal City

Lisa Curtin wanted to widen her circle of friends in Arlington. So she invited some strangers to dinner.

In warm weather, the club moves outdoors. Photo courtesy of Lisa Curtin

By spring of 2016, Curtin’s idea began to snowball and the club’s events moved outdoors. Curtin started thinking about all the people she hadn’t yet reached with her intranet posts. “I started making my messages a little bit more encouraging,” she says, “like, I know you’ve probably seen this ad before, but don’t hesitate to reach out. It all starts with someone.

The post that caught John Beckius’ eye said: Don’t be shy, we all had to show up for the first time. Beckius, 47, had recently moved to Arlington from Indianapolis for his job with the Department of Homeland Security. At first, he says, he was hesitant to join a group of complete strangers for a night out. “Then I started thinking, the worst thing that can happen is I don’t like any of the people, but it sure beats sitting in my apartment watching SportsCenter.”

Beckius joined the group for a trip to the pop-up wine and beer garden in the Crystal City Water Park, where he found himself sitting by a fountain, sipping a beer and listening to live music. “I literally hadn’t been out and about like that since I had moved to the area several months before,” he says. “I had a fantastic time.”

Today the club has more than 120 members ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s. The group has gotten so big that it can longer fit inside even the largest apartment, so events have moved to the building’s lounge or rooftop deck.

Club-related outings have expanded as well, to include hikes, art shows and comedy nights at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse. Beckius started a boot camp in the building’s gym to help residents who want to get in shape. To keep track of events, the club uses a Facebook page where anyone can post a plan or let others know of an impromptu happy hour at the nearby Tortoise & Hare Bar and Grille on 23rd Street.

Within the larger group, smaller circles of friendship have started to form. “Before the club,” says Beckius, “I went to work, went to the gym and sat in my apartment watching TV. Now, I can’t remember the last Friday, Saturday or Sunday that I wasn’t doing something with a friend. It’s made a huge difference to my happiness level.”

Healey credits the group with her decision to renew the lease on her apartment for another year: “I sometimes think that if I had not met this group of people, I might not even have stayed here,” she says. “I might have gone back home. But now I just love it.”

From left: Janet Healey, Paul Bauman, Lisa Curtin and John Beckius. Photo by Michael Ventura

Curtin says she feels like she’s found a new family. Several friends are taking an improv class together, and she has come up with a creative new organizing tool: the bucket-list jar.

“Everybody has something on their bucket list that they want to do. So we’re going to [write down those items] and put them in a jar,” she explains. “And then when we’re bored, we’re going to pull one out and say, ‘Okay, anyone who’s available on this Saturday or Sunday, we’re going to do this.’ ”

Curtin’s first bucket-list item? Paddleboard lessons.

“A lot of times, I think people are just afraid to reach out to other people,” she says, looking back on that fateful Saturday night when she decided to try something new. “But you don’t have to be lonely. You can choose to be happy.”

Laurie McClellan writes our Neighborhood Watch column. Her bucket list includes snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and zip-lining.

Categories: Food & Drink
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