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COVER STORY : The Dating Game With Heart : L.A.C.A.N. helps single people find companions and worthwhile causes.

February 12, 1993|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray is a regular contributor to Valley Life.

Sally Maisel was browsing through a singles column in the newspaper when she saw an announcement for a get-acquainted meeting for L.A.C.A.N.

Maisel, 41, a single Van Nuys television game show writer, was looking for a way to do something for the community--"to work with illiteracy or older people," she says--and to meet others with a social conscience.

She signed up right away at the orientation meeting and says the organization is exactly what many single people in the San Fernando Valley are looking for. While she didn't join L.A.C.A.N. to expand her love life, Maisel says she did have an interest in widening her social circle. And it was through some of the friends she met in the organization, she says, that she got a few dates and developed some relationships.

L.A.C.A.N. (the "C.A.N." stands for Community Action Network), was designed as an alternative to the traditional singles social scene in the Valley. Members--98% are single and about one-third live in the Valley--get a bimonthly newsletter that lists 60 to 100 community fund-raising and service events for which they can volunteer, ranging from a celebrity drug-free hero softball game at North Hollywood High School, to answering phones for the United Cerebral Palsy telethon at KCET in Hollywood, to staffing booths for the Chamber of Commerce business fair at Northridge Park.

The organization stands out from other fund-raising groups and charities because of its unusual percentage of singles. As a contrast, Becky Day, director of volunteer development for the Los Angeles-based organization Love Is Feeding Everyone, estimates that about 50% of the volunteers in her group are single. TreePeople estimates that only about one-third of its volunteers are unmarried.

L.A.C.A.N., which has 850 members, was founded in 1983 by John Scherrer, a retired Santa Monica Unified School District history and English teacher who was moved by television news footage of starving children in Ethiopia to create a volunteer corps for singles.

The organization--initially called Singles for Charity--is based in Santa Monica, but is trying to meet the needs of Valley members by holding alternating monthly meetings in Woodland Hills, Maisel says. The name was later changed to L.A.C.A.N. because the group thought the other name might mask its serious intentions.

Many members are attracted to the organization because it gives them the flexibility to volunteer when they can without making a regular commitment for a particular day or a consistent time frame. "L.A.C.A.N. fulfilled my desire to volunteer without tying me down," Maisel says.

It's also a nice way to meet people. "At least you know you have one thing in common--some sort of altruism--as a basis to start a discussion. You can always talk about other events you've done," Maisel says. She also has found that the organization attracts people who work independently and are isolated in their careers--such as entrepreneurs or free-lancers--or who want to meet people outside work.

Michael Stenger, 46, president of L.A.C.A.N., says his experience in the singles scene was so frustrating that he first looked to the group six years ago as an antidote to the bar-hopping, get-a-date world that he hated. "You just don't typically get into that many situations where it's easy to meet people. Going to rock concerts and the smaller clubs, I just kept running into a lot of guys.

"The key to meeting people is to be in the right environment for it. The biggest challenge to living in the Los Angeles area is the isolation. There are few outlets for people of common mind and spirit," he says.

At charity events, people tend to be in a positive mood, which makes introductions easy. "People meet not just L.A.C.A.N. members but other people working the event too," he says.

Judy Morton, 45, met her boyfriend with the same last name, Bob Morton, 60, of Venice, at an L.A.C.A.N. get-acquainted meeting almost four years ago. Bob got up and gave her his seat, she says, and then they discovered they shared a name. "He was just very open, very nice," Morton remembers.

The two started to car-pool to L.A.C.A.N. events. On their first time out, Bob and Judy joined two women, also L.A.C.A.N. members, on a drive to the Girls Club of Santa Monica's fund-raising softball game at Pepperdine University in Malibu. They stopped for breakfast on the way. "L.A.C.A.N. gives you such an easy way to explore each other--your interests, what's for real--without having to get too serious," she says.

Judy Morton says she now considers herself pre-engaged. "If I were ever going to marry anyone, it would probably be Bob," she says. Neither has ever married, so they are somewhat hesitant to tie the knot, she explains. But they still spend many evenings at L.A.C.A.N. events.

Bob Morton says that while he joined for the chance to do something for others, the opportunity to meet people was also a draw. Meeting Judy, he says, was an unexpected life-changing benefit.

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