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Charlie Shoemaker
Charlie Shoemaker
Work

Do Good On Your Next Date Night

Here's how to combine volunteering with romance.

Several years ago, I stumbled on the Orlando Date Night Guide website when I was looking for something different for my husband and me to do together. The impressive selection of unfamiliar destinations and things to do really caught my attention, as we’ve lived in Central Florida for 20 years. I soon discovered that the brains behind this wonderful resource was Kristen Manieri, a 42-year-old Orlando mom who had launched the website back in 2007.

Turns out, Manieri is an entrepreneurial tour de force, with one venture organically leading to the next — books, websites, app, podcast and more. And the cool part? Her efforts all focus on making (and deepening) our connections.

Born and raised in Toronto, Manieri and her husband, Marc, moved to Orlando in 2006. To get acclimated to her new hometown, she began researching fun date-night ideas. This effort spawned both the Orlando Date Night Guide website and a book (Great Dates Orlando: 52 Ways to Discover Orlando's Romantic Side). This popular website is the go-to resource for local date-night ideas, ranging from comedy clubs and dodgeball nights to planetariums and tubing. Her team even developed an app so locals (and visitors) can tap into its idea bank on the go.

Fast forward to 2015, when Manieri added a unique twist to date night. She began offering a series of affordable events, called Do Good Date Night (DGDN), that combine a fun, connective couple’s night out with impactful, local service opportunities. The event starts with a service component (like sorting vegetables at a food bank) topped off by a meal, cocktails and entertainment.

The result? Since its launch, Do Good Date Night has hosted more than 25 sold-out events, with 1,000 participants stepping up for a night of service and socializing. The on-site event raffles have raised over $10,000, but the bigger impact lies in the hands-on results: 40,000 pounds of food sorted for Second Harvest Food Bank, 20,000 meals assembled for Feeding Children Everywhere, 12,000 hygiene kits created for Clean the World, 7,000 books sorted for Goodwill Industries, and two homes built for Habitat for Humanity.

Plus, Manieri stresses the importance of “friend-raising” — connecting charitable organizations with local community residents who often continue their involvement long after the DGDN event ends.

With the growing popularity of her Orlando website and DGDN, Manieri decided to expand the concepts. In 2017, she launched Date Night Guide to inspire “your coupled quality time.” It’s a national resource that offers ideas to connect and grow your relationship no matter where you live, as well as serving as a growing number of city guides (including Tampa Bay, Fla.; Asheville, N.C.; Boston; New Orleans; and Columbus, Ohio).

Manieri held a similar vision for DGDN, which received national attention after being featured in Good Housekeeping magazine. The DGDN series has since expanded to Indiana, Ohio and Louisiana. Watching how DGDN resonates with others, she is writing a book to share the framework for setting up the DGDN concept in other communities and provide tips for couples who want to do good together.

She also launched a podcast (which I’m currently addicted to!) called The Synced Life. Now in its second season, the podcast features inspiring guests who share their insights to help us connect (with self and others) in a deeper, more meaningful way. Recent episodes discuss saying thank you, creating sanctuary, spending time outside, and how food brings us together.

“Our lives could be exponentially upgraded just by bringing more attention to the way we connect with others,” says Manieri. When it comes to upgrading our connections, she says, “all it takes is intention and presence to make a shift.”

Manieri’s latest venture — called Up Date — serves as a connection tool for couples looking to transform time together through more meaningful conversations. Luxe, beautifully designed cards prompt thoughtful discussions and amp up the fun with playful activities. “Dinner or a movie isn’t what makes the date night — it’s how deeply you connected,” notes Manieri.

Did I mention Manieri is also mom to two daughters, Aly and Elizabeth? She is one busy mama! But she’s setting a wonderful example for her girls by embracing her passions and pursuing her dreams. Along the way, she’s forging connections wherever she goes.

Lisa Beach is a freelance journalist and copywriter. Her work has been published in the New York Times, Good Housekeeping and several other prominent magazines. Her website is LisaBeachWrites.com.

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Charlie Shoemaker