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Local Group Helps Women Overcome Pandemic Isolation and Make Friends

Long since out of college, and done with the bar and party scene, Northern Virginia resident Brittany Goetz discovered she was struggling to make friends her age.

When the pandemic struck and thriving office spaces were exchanged for living rooms, it became nearly impossible.

She realized she was not the only one. Two of her friends, Alexandra Zamalloa and Rebekkah Johnson, noticed they and other acquaintances were likewise having a hard time forming connections with women, even with the ubiquity of social media and networking events. So they decided to take action.

Goetz came up with the idea for Neighborly NOVA, a social group for women that hosts events in Arlington, back in June. She recruited Zamalloa and Johnson, who both work in marketing and communications, to help create a website, organize in-person events and develop an outreach strategy.

“It’s really heartbreaking how disconnected we can all be, so we really wanted to be that platform,” said Johnson.

Their first four events have brought dozens of women from all around the region to Arlington, which they chose for its walkability and central location for attendees and themselves. Zamalloa lives in the county while Goetz lives in Alexandria and Johnson in McLean.

They’re targeting women in their 20s and 30s who are ready for adult friendships, but not yet ensconced in domestic life with partners and kids.

“Less and less, people are getting married at 25,” said Johnson. “I got tired of going to bars years ago, so I’ll just be home now. I have a dog and he’s great, but he’s not a person.”

The three said they hope to turn the organization into a certified nonprofit that provides women with mental health counseling, legal advice and other services. But for now, they’re focused on helping socially starved adult women make friends.

“Our thing is to leave politics, religion at the door,” Goetz said. “Because, despite our difference, I feel like as women we should find commonality and come together. We hope it becomes something really beautiful.”

Neighborly NOVA has hosted a variety of events, from a “Friends” trivia night to a dance fitness event at Quincy Park. In one event, women who spoke different languages taught the basics of their native tongues to their new friends. Last weekend, the group hosted a flower arranging competition in the Virginia Square Plaza apartment building. The event was sponsored by Clarendon flower shop Full Bloom, which provided the flowers and equipment.

As for the rest of the costs, like renting out the room, providing snacks, drinks, prizes and a chocolate fountain, Goetz, Johnson and Zamalloa have taken that onus upon themselves in the name of creating a space with no barriers to entry. The women say they’re happy to do it.

“This is our passion,” said Goetz. “For the most part, our lives have been blessed that we’ve been able to provide this.”

Their dedication has inspired other members to go out of their way to make Neighborly NOVA a success. Some have started reaching young women in the community by stopping them on the street in populated areas of the county, like near Ballston Quarter. Zamalloa got the idea after her and her colleagues at Unidos US — a Latino civil rights organization — found this outreach style effective for raising awareness about COVID-19 vaccines.

“Research showed that the best way to connect with people was face-to-face,” said Zamalloa. “During that campaign, the outreach was over 30,000 people in Texas and Arizona, and then we went up north. It was really successful. So I thought we could probably do the same thing here.”

Johnson’s marketing background helped Neighborly NOVA on the digital side.

“I make websites, I know how to track the back end,” said Johnson. “I’m very fortunate to have a bit of an eye for design. We each had a little bit of what was needed to bring this to life. It’s really — ”

Zamalloa finished her sentence: “Serendipitous.”

“Great word,” said Johnson.

One event they’re looking forward to is a “Mean Girls” trivia night tomorrow (Wednesday), Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m. at Virginia Square Plaza. Online registration is required in advance.

“It’s a guilty pleasure for all of us — ‘On Wednesdays, we wear pink,'” said Johnson, quoting from the movie.

“Or, ‘You go, Glen Coco,'” added Zamalloa.

“‘She doesn’t even go here,'” Goetz tacked on.

“It’s just endless moments of bonding,” said Johnson. “You don’t have to be here to impress anybody, you don’t have to blow a bunch of money, it’s nothing about pretense. It’s all about actually being able to connect with people and that was something we all missed greatly from the pandemic.”

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