By Ulya Aligulova
Originally from Colombia, Sara Lopez lived in Puerto Rico for 10 years until Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017. That was when she decided that she wanted to find a safer place to live and raise her children. “My priority was to find a friendly place that would be supportive of immigrants,” she said. “When I was doing research, I found that Maine was perfect…. I’ve found [Mainers] to be so welcoming to internationals. I immediately fell in love.” However, coming from a different culture, at first Lopez found it difficult to connect with people and form friendships.
“The first year I moved here, I was pregnant. I was working and looking after the kids, so it was very difficult for a lot of reasons to connect with other families,” she recalled. “At the time, I was thinking, ‘OK, I have this [isolation] problem so how do I go about solving it? And is this problem unique to me or do other people struggle with it too?’ ” Lopez soon realized that she was by far not the only parent feeling isolated. Studies show that over half of new parents experience loneliness and social isolation. Additionally, social isolation increases the risks of postpartum depression and other health conditions in parents. For immigrant mothers like Lopez, these issues are compounded by the challenges of overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers in order to integrate into their new society. This social isolation may be one of the reasons why immigrant women report having higher rates of depression in the United States.
“About three months after I moved to Maine, I was having a conversation with a friend, and we were saying how great it would be if we had Tinder for moms in order to [help them] find other families for play dates,” Lopez noted. “So I started doing research and joining mommy Facebook groups to see what resources were available for parents out there. Maine has many good resources. For example, on specific days there are different public libraries where you can bring your kids so they can play, and the parents can connect. But still the problem is that when you go to an activity, it’s so hard to know whether the person sitting next to you shares the same interests, lifestyle, culture, language, religion. Kids can become friends immediately, but for adults there are so many factors that are important in making that human connection…. In addition, searching for a good place to take your kids takes a lot of time and effort so you usually just end up going to the same park you always go to.”
So Lopez set out to create a mobile application that was meant just for that – connecting families that share values and a desire for inexpensive play date activities. The app, called Match2Play, will benefit small businesses in addition to families, because families will learn about small businesses that provide space and family friendly activities.
The app works by allowing families to create a profile and answer various questions about their culture and their lifestyle, in order to be recommended to other families with similar interests in the community. The app also recommends local, family friendly businesses that meet the family’s needs for recreational pastimes. The businesses can also create a profile on the app and try to attract customers with special family-aimed offers and discounts.
“This app will also help all the mom-preneurs and dad-preneurs in the community,” said Lopez. “They often have a lot of great ideas but don’t have the tools to promote them properly. So, for example, if there’s a mom-preneur who makes great cakes, and your child’s birthday is coming up, you would be recommended her profile and given a special discount. We want to make sure that every business we contact can provide a family friendly experience.” Lopez is working with many different businesses, like restaurants, hotels, summer camps, and others offering various recreational activities.
Match2Play is planning to launch this coming summer, and over 12,000 families in Maine already are pre-registered. Initially, the app will launch in English, but Lopez hopes that soon it will be available in other languages as well. For more information and to join the waitlist to be notified when Match2Play launches, visit Match2Play.com