By KATIE WATTS / Petaluma Towns Correspondent

Renee Minero grew up on Petaluma’s east side, part of a close and loving family. A soccer star, she received a scholarship to the University of Wyoming.

“I didn’t know anyone there, but I got to travel almost every weekend (with the team), held down a job and made friends.” Those friends included Matt Ho, the young Hawaiian who later became her husband.

During college, she traveled twice to Central America, living there as a student teacher. Ho holds a dual major in regular and special education. There too, she made friends.

In 2005, she and Matt Ho moved to Maui where she got her “dream job,” teaching severe and profound special education students throughout an entire school. But instead of the happy life she had expected – in love, living in paradise, ideal job – she found herself floundering, homesick, lonely and desperately unhappy at work.

“Everything was new, state, culture, job, people. And friendship had always been a pillar of strength for me,”  she said. But in Hawaii, Ho had not yet made friends. Her staff found her teaching methods rigid, and she struggled at work. “I cried almost every day,” she said.

Until, in a seminar she and Matt took, she discovered Raymond Aaron’s “The Monthly Mentor,” an online life coaching program.

“It guides you to find what it is you love to do,” she explained. “It helped me realize one of my true passions in life is my friendships.”

Now, six years later, she’s married, is mother to 14-month-old  Ninel and again lives in Petaluma. At 30, she is an author, having turned her passion into a self-published book, “The Friendship Effect.” She researched the subject, learning of studies that document the physical and mental benefits of friendship.

“With all the uncertainty in the world,” she said, “if ever there was a time for unity, it’s now.”

Ho isn’t alone in that belief. President Woodrow Wilson wrote, “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.”

Much of what she learned about friendships came from her parents. Her father, Al Minero taught her by example to treat everyone equally, to stand up for and protect underdogs. Her mother, Michelle Minero, also was an inspiration. “She got her master’s degree while bringing up four kids,” Ho said. “What a role model!”

As she talks, Ho lights up with enthusiasm about her subject. It’s easy to see why. Although she’s new to the online friendometer, Facebook, she has more than 500 friends. She listens intently and responds thoughtfully. There’s a serenity in her manner as well, a poised optimism that would be more expected in someone much older.

So, how does one make friends?

First, Ho said, “You need to be a friend to yourself to be a friend to others. If you have that sense of balance, you’re happier.”

When she meets someone, she practices what she calls Magical Ease, a friendship-making technique. Make eye contact. Give a genuine smile, a hug rather than a handshake. Offer a compliment. Call people by name. And listen to them with genuine interest.

In a nutshell, she writes, “the mother of Magical Ease is being positive … (in) actions towards others.

“Some people instantly love it,” she said. “Others can be put off, but don’t get discouraged; people will warm up.”

She said she has already seen results. Following a talk a week ago in Sebastopol, she watched as her audience began to practice what she preached.

Other techniques are understanding people from their points of view – walking a mile in their shoes and being nonjudgmental. Ho also recommends avoiding snap judgments, perhaps because the person is shy or looks different. “If we do that, we can overlook amazing people.”

This book is, to Ho, a gift of friendship, a way to make every reader feel that he or she is special, worthy of giving and receiving friendship. To that end, it’s modestly priced at $2.99.

“If it helps one person,” she said, “my goal is achieved.”

Renee Ho’s “The Friendship Effect” is available as an e-book at her website, thefriendshipeffect.com.