Parents Without Partners is many things to many people. It is a social club for the lonely. A therapy group for the insecure. An extended family for the familyless. And, most of all, a societal equalizer for its members.
Members speak of finding a comfortable niche where there formerly was none for the single parent. In a society where you're either part of a family or alone, they are both. PWP, they said, provides an acceptable middle ground they can belong to.
The D.C. chapter of the 150,000-member international organization is the largest chapter, representing nearly 4,500 members. The chapter is nearly 4,500 members. The chapter is divided into nine subdivisions throughout D.C. Maryland and Virginia, each having 250-750 members.
Robert Nader, a Maryland resident, is president of the chapter. The engineer and father of five said he became interested in the group because it provided a valuable outlet, both socially and economically, for him and his family. In fact, Nader and his children have become so involved in the organization that he was named Single Parent of The Year.
"I really wanted that," he said of the title. "I think we have a gold mine with this organization. I'm glad this thing exists. Basically we're an educational, nonprofit organization devoted to the welfare single parents and their children."
In addition, Nader said that the group provides members with a consumer buying service, life and hospital insurance at reduced rates, mental health services and a social calendar that could keep you exhausted every day of the month. A monthly newsletter lists 10 daily social activities for parents and their children, he said. Members take camping trips and boat rides, go on outings to museums, and visit the circus. There are always enough people, said Nader, to provide youth with a surrogate parent.
"We're actually providing an extended family," said Nader.
Dick Kelly became a recipient of the extended family amenity when he came to PWP three years ago as parent without a child. After the breakup of his marriage, his ex-wife and son moved to Seattle, said Kelly.
"I became a long-distance father, and it was three years before I saw my son again," said Kelly.
"During that first year, I sat and brooded and drank, trying to realize what I did that killed the marriage," Kelly recalled. "I talked to my son by phone, because I had to stress to him that I did care. That I wasn't abandoning him."
When he finally decided to socialize, Kelly said he didn't know where to go.
"I didn't want to make the bar scene; that was too precarious. I didn't necessarily feel like a bachelor. I felt like a single parent."
A neighbor steered him to PWP and through the organization, Kelly said, he has a social life and family life rolled up into one. He dates. "But I never date what I call single singles." He has family. "I'm still around kids even though they're not mine." And he feels he's lost the bitterness of being left alone.
"Some people go into Parents Without Partners to meet people. I went in to find out how men and women are adjusting to being alone," he explained.
Ronnie Kranz believed there were no divorcees in the world except herself until she attended her first PWP meeting, she said.
"I was really shocked. There were 50-60 people there I couldn't believe there were so many divorced people," said Kranz.
Today as a believer and vice president of membership services, Kranz is working to make the transition period from married to single life easier for other PWP members. Her goal, she said, is to expand the group's career development counseling program. She especially hopes, she said, to intiate new career programs for women re-entering the work force or stuck in unfulfilling jobs.
"I feel the organization can - and does - provide moral support," said Kranz. "The fact that you're with people who share similar life styles is beneficial. That's what brought me here."
After learning she wasn't leading an alien existence as a single parent, Kranz said she eventually became more self-confident as a parent and an individual.