In the late 1990s, a Los Angeles man dreamed up speed dating — a way to meet many eligible bachelors in one structured evening. Like in musical chairs, participants rotate to new seats each time a bell rings.

Now people in greater Tucson can speed date not just for Friday night swing-dance partners and life-long mates but also for babysitters.

Earlier this year, two Northwest moms introduced Southern Arizona to the Mommy Mixer, an event that pairs university students eager to earn a few extra bucks with parents who need time off from their children.

“This will make it easier for moms new to an area to find a sitter or for people in college temporarily to find employment,” said Charlotte Van Woert, who attended the first Tucson event in January. “I’m glad it’s come to Tucson, because we are living in a society in which people don’t necessarily stay in one place for long.”

Mommy Mixers was founded in Austin, Texas, in 2003, by a mom who had babysat her way through college before marrying and having children. In January, NBC’s “Good Morning America” showcased the concept, and people began setting up franchises across the country.

Janey Russell, an Oro Valley resident, happened to know one of the people closely involved with the original Austin venture. When she got a call from Texas suggesting she introduce the Mommy Mixers idea in Tucson, she immediately thought of her friend Beth Muehlhausen.

Both stay-at-home moms with backgrounds in media, the moms cared deeply about watching their children grow up but still found themselves wanting non-kid-related work. They empathized with parents who needed a break.

“We have both been stay-at-home moms for eight years,” Russell said. “I was starting to climb the walls.”

They held greater Tucson’s first mixer in January, and it sold out. So they set about planning about 10 other events that will be held throughout 2008.

The Mommy Mixers take place in retail spaces where both the potential babysitters and the parents might enjoy shopping. The babysitters sign up for free online and provide information about background and experience. The parents pay $100 for a chance to mingle with about 25 sitters and for a book with their contact information. Returning customers pay only $75.

Russell said the set-up allows parents to handpick babysitters who have skills specifically related to their children’s needs.

“One story made me teary,” she said. “One mom was speaking, and she said, ‘We have a son who is autistic, and we would like a sitter who could understand him and be patient.’ One of the babysitters said, ‘Well, I’m an education major, and I’m specializing in autism.’”

• The next Mommy Mixer is 7 to 8:30 p.m. April 29 at My Gym, 7366 N. Oracle Road. To sign up, go to

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