TikTok post opens the door to new social connections.
There was a time when Erica Schulte King felt isolated. She had moved from Connecticut to Minnesota in 2002. While trying to establish herself and her family in the new community, she experienced the challenges of breaking into established friend groups—and it was winter.
Flash forward several years, and Schulte King’s two children were leaving for college, and her life was faced with another transition—becoming an empty nester, which can present challenges of its own. “We celebrate milestones from childbirth to marriage, but we don’t celebrate sending our children into the world,” the Excelsior resident says.
In October 2022, Schulte King was experimenting on TikTok and posted a thought that was on her mind: “Tell me who you are now that your babies are gone!” she wrote. While Schulte King expected some replies, she didn’t expect the post to go viral with more than 180,000 views and 5,000 comments.
That statement clearly resonated with followers, and it got Schulte King thinking. She posted a last-minute invitation to meet at Lake Harriet a few weeks later. The turnout of almost 100 women surprised her, and Debby Kwong was among the group on that cold November morning. She had recently moved to Minnetonka from Milwaukee and found it difficult to meet people. She saw Schulte King’s post on TikTok and was inspired to attend that first gathering, expecting only a handful of women. “It was invigorating to see the number of people there,” Kwong says.
To break the ice, Schulte King jumped up on a rock and introduced herself, and others quickly followed. Kwong met women who moved to Minnesota from all over the country and others who drove over two hours to attend the gathering. “[Schulte King] has such a vivacious personality. Those who were nervous about meeting new people knew they would feel welcome,” Kwong says.
Since that first event, Schulte King has organized more than 10 (and counting) gatherings, which are free or up to $50, and created Kookaburra Meets LLC. The size of the events vary, and anywhere from 15–150 women attend. The group’s name is inspired by a tattoo of a bird Schulte King received when her oldest child left for college. Its flightpath features her two children’s initials, and she knew she wanted to riff off of that when deciding on a name for the group.
Within five months of that viral post and the Lake Harriet gathering, Schulte King left her full-time job as a director of marketing and communications to focus on Kookaburra Meets, planning and organizing events, including walks around Lake Harriet, nature hikes, dinners and happy hours—all of which are listed on the website.
While most participants are empty nesters ages 45–55, women from 28–70 are actively involved. Kookaburra Meets was initially aimed at women who were empty nesters or transplants to the state, but it has evolved into welcoming women facing any type of life transition.
The group fills a need many women don’t know they have. “We all experience transition differently, and we need to allow ourselves to go through the stages with time to grieve,” Schulte King says. It’s a time when some women don’t know what to do with their newfound time or who they want to be when their lives, as they knew it, begin to change. The time together helps women understand that they are not alone in their experiences. Schulte King often hears women say, “Thank you. I wasn’t allowing myself time to transition.”
What makes this group different than other meet-ups is Schulte King. She’s at every event. “If you don’t know anyone, come stand next to me,” she says to people who are hesitant to attend Kookaburra events.
When asked if there are any online-only events, Schulte King says, “We’re all a bit tired of Zoom.” Kwong agrees. She says, “The work environment has changed, and social connections aren’t made through work” like before the pandemic. Meeting people in person again was “like a shot of adrenaline,” Kwong says.