Are you new in Canada? Have you just landed either as an immigrant, a student or on a working visa and donít have your circle of friends yet? Or have you been living most of your life in Canada but have not had the opportunity to expand your social network? Literally, there are billions of potential friends in our world. You can even diversify your options and choose wisely. However, take a look around. How many of us take the initiative to meet new people and spend time with friends?

In this day and age, majority of us are pre-occupied with the hustle and bustle of life that we no longer have time to prioritize some of lifeís essentials, one of which is meeting new friends. To keep a healthy and balanced life, it is fundamental to be a part of a social circle that allows individuals to share mutual knowledge, esteem and interests. With this mindset instilled in our Young Achiever, Christine Phillips started dedicating her life by creating an enjoyable environment for people to meet, greet and ultimately build friendships.

Christineís outgoing, fun and amiable nature combined with her distinct personality earns her ĎGTA This Monthís Young Achiever.í She has lived most of her younger years in Brantford, where it is more laid-back, and where people seem to have all the time in their life to do solitary endeavors like go for meditative walks and read books at the porch of their home-sweet-home. Coming from a small town in Ontario, she describes herself as someone who had inhibitions meeting new people, but her drive to find her destiny led her to leave Brantford and cultivate bigger and better things in the fast-paced city of Toronto.

After having the chance to work as a project coordinator for a leading bank in Canada, Christine knew she had to give back to the community. She became a part of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Toronto. Her experience with the members of Big Brothers and Big Sisters was the key inspiration in pursuing her focus in life Ė and that is, giving other people a chance at friendship.

On May 7, 2008, Christine organised the Toronto Meet up Group, an online social networking group where members from ages 20-30 can meet new people and make friends conveniently through the Internet; and although you can chat your heart out endlessly, it wonít get you far if you donít open up an opportunity for an actual meeting. Besides, making friends online may not be that safe and secure nowadays as people might not be who they say they are. So, we have to be extremely careful with people that we meet online. To avoid putting any members in any identity dilemmas, Christine initiated a face-to-face meet up and actual social interactions through events like picnics at the park or organizing a BBQ. Whatever the season, whatever the mood, Christine always comes up with the perfect event for all the members.
Amidst her hectic schedule, Christine has managed to maintain a fully active group of almost 1,000 multi-cultural members. GTA This Month was inspired by Christineís bold and successful attempt to make a difference in peoplesí lives and invited her to tell us her story with the hope of inspiring everyone.

GTA: What are the most dominant characteristics do you think people love most about you?
CP: Definitely my outgoing personality. People tell me that I am a very friendly person. I have a lot of passion for things I do especially with this group (Toronto Meet up Group). Anything that I do, whether itís my job or something else, if I really like doing it, Iím extremely passionate about it.

GTA: What is your focus in life right now? And what have you been doing to stay on track and achieve your goal/s?
CP: ďBesides my current job, my Meet up group is definitely the main focus in my life. Itís not hard to stay on track and focus Ďcoz I do really really love it. When I go home thatís all I do. I constantly think about things that I can do for the group. Because I like it so much itís not hard at all to stay focused.

GTA: What can you tell us about Toronto Meet up Group? How did you get into it?
CP: Itís basically a group of people new to Toronto or have been here forever who may want to meet new people and want to get out, Meet-Up is basically there for that. I try to provide a safe environment for people to come out and have fun with everyone in the group. I organize events once to three times a week, allowing people to meet and socialize with each other.

How I got into it? Well, I was never really a social person but I became a part of Big Sisters of Toronto about a year ago. They had an event where the Big Sisters got together and went to a baseball game. I went there alone, scared, but after the event, I realized that I had a lot of fun. I was then thinking of ways to organize events the same way and looked for ways to do so. The next day, I ended up on Meet up and realized that I could start a social group. I know I am a stronger leader than a follower, so I definitely have that ability to start something where my leadership skills can make things successful.

GTA: How has the group succeeded so far?
CP: Within four months, the members have soared to over 800. Iíve been told that itís the fastest growing group and Iíve had so many successful events so far. The BBQís held at the Toronto Islands have been the most successful because people really like them and the event has had the most number of attendees. Also, the way that the group has expanded in a short period of time definitely measures its success.

GTA: What is the main highlight of the group?
CP: People are surprised and amazed how one person can organize the events that I do. It can be tiring but because itís so much fun, doing it on my own is not a challenge. Another highlight as well is the rapid increase
in the number of members who joined in less than four months. Because of the response I get and because people are very much involved in the events, Iíve started to look into holding events for charity. Iíve been thinking that if people like doing events so much, if they
would be willing to do it for charity,
Iím definitely considering it.

GTA: What is your ultimate goal for Toronto Meet up Group?

CP: I want to have as many events as I can and have as many members attend. I want people to be able to make friendships through the group. There have been relationships built. There are some who had started dating through the group but Iím really trying to do something here for people to build friendships. I do want to make it clear that itís not a dating group. I want the group to be really really big. Iím thinking of starting my own business, in which I do want this group to be a major part of.

GTA: How would you link the group to our multiculturalism? Is this an advantage or disadvantage in having to maintain a large group with many cultural differences?
CP: I think that I have every culture represented in this group. In every event that I have, there are members from different cultures involved. I didnít even know that there was that many. Iíve noticed a lot of people have spoken about their culture to another person from a different background. So itís definitely an advantage. I have not faced any obstacles or difficulties due to cultural differences of the members of the group.

GTA: How many members does the group have? Who can join and how can people join?

CP: The group is reaching 1,000 members to date. Anyone can join. Itís an open group for people between the ages of 20 to 30 but the age bracket is not a strict requirement. People can go online on www.friends.meetup.com/756, then sign up for free.

GTA: Other than getting fully involved with this group, what are your other priorities in life?
CP: Definitely the business that Iím going into, besides my work of course. The business I have in mind is definitely something that I know I would be good at. People have been asking me if Iím an event planner and Iíve said no, but they suggested that I should pursue event planning. Iíve had too many people telling me that Iím good with what I do with the group to not realize my potential. So Iím definitely going head on and make it a priority to start my own business.
Christine and the Toronto Meet up Group will be having a New Yearís party, their 1,000th member party, as well as a forthcoming trip to the South.

Christineís dedication to the Toronto Meet up Group kindled by her genuineness and social wits have helped the group continue to flourish with so many members who have now gained true friendships through the group, including Christine herself. She has high hopes and great plans for the group and can only wish that people out there who tend to think that it is hard to find new people to build friendships with, can now have access to starting new friendships, with just a click of the mouse. With times changing and technology overpowering our lives, Christineís idea of allowing people to meet through the easily accessible internet is now our modernized friendship tool.

So this Christmas season, let us not consider snowstorms or the cold weather as barriers to getting a chance to meet people. Christine has made friendship as easy as one mouse click away.

To Christine, we wish the Toronto Meet up Group continued growth and may you encourage people to have a shot at friendship, no matter how gloomy the weather is or how difficult or busy we think our lives may be. After all, friendship multiplies the good of life and friends will surely bring the sunshine in. They hug when the spirits sag!