“I believe family is based on love, loyalty, trust and support,” said Kim Parshley, Astoria resident and founder of Chooseafamily.com.
“Blood and genes have nothing to do with it,” she added. “Even a small group of friends can easily morph into a small family network.”
This is the theory behind her social networking Web site, designed to foster family-oriented platonic relationships, as opposed to romance and dating.
Parshley launched the site in the beginning of December, at the start of the holiday season, and collected roughly 500 members in its first three months.
“Some of these people have no where to go during the holidays, they’re feeling very lonely,” she said. “And it’s harder for adults to make new friends. It’s really difficult.”
Kids can go to their neighbor’s house and ask another child, whom they may not know, to “come out and play,” Parshley said, but adults are trained to be wary of strangers.
Chooseafamily.com is free to join and allows its members to register as a family member and search for another by zip code.
Options include parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, siblings, friends and mentors.
“I cannot believe how many people have been thirsting for this,” said Parshley, who advertises the site on television and the Internet. “Every little exposure of the Web site, I end up having so many people signing up.”
People from all over the world signed up so far, from Canada to California, and England to Greece, she said.
But the site has a particular significance in New York City, since although the five boroughs have eight million residents, many come from other places with no familial connections nearby.
“New Yorkers definitely know first-hand about loneliness,” Parshley said, and specified that “coming from a really small town into a big city, if you don’t have family around, you don’t have anyone you feel safe and comfortable with.”
Often, she said, members are looking to fill a void. Only-children look for the siblings they never had, or a grandfather to play chess with. Some, however, have a healthy family life and want to show support for the less fortunate.
Others are searching for someone with traits similar to a loved one they recently lost.
“When you find people who have the same exact issues and the same story,” she said, “it makes you feel a lot better and you can connect with them.”
Parshley knows first-hand how it feels to lose a loved one in a big city.
After the tenement building on the upper east side of Manhattan that her parents lived in was torn down, shortly after the Valentine’s Day holiday they were married on, Parshley’s family moved across the then-Triboro Bridge to Astoria, where her sister was born in 1973.
Then, when Parshley was 13, their father passed away from skin cancer. After going to college, she became a real-estate agent, with the hopes of buying her mother a new home.
However, in a sad turn of events, her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007 and passed away 12 days later.
But, she recovered from the loss with the help of her best friends – a support network that inspired her to develop Chooseafamily.com.
“I think the three of them really, really stepped up to the plate when I had that empty feeling, that void in my life,” she said, and added that she wants to give the same opportunity to her site’s users.
However, Parshley warned that like on all social networking sites, people can post whatever information they want on their profiles, whether it’s genuine or not.
She recommended meeting in a public place, and doing background checks on people before inviting them into a home.
“I always tell everybody that you have to follow your gut instinct and your best judgment when you’re meeting someone,” Parshley said. “You’ve got to listen very, very closely.”
Because the site is not intended for sex and dating, it invites less predators, Parshley believes. It’s about building familial and mentoring relationships based on trust and understanding, she said.
“Over time and getting to know someone and developing that comfort and that safety that we all long for in these people,” Parshley said, “you can develop an unconditional love for someone.”