Newcomers Continue to be Town’s Welcome Mat

Simsbury Life, October 2004

by Kelly Callaghan

The pineapple has long been a symbol of welcome, with the fruit symbolizing the high spirit of social events far and wide and offering up the feeling of good cheer, human warmth and family affection. So it is no coincidence that the featured fruit pattern on the Simsbury Newcomers Club fits right in — that being a pineapple.

For more than 20 years, members of the Newcomers Club have welcomed new residents to town, not by going door-to-door, but by offering a myriad of activities and companionship to women of all ages. The club aims to extend a friendly and neighborly helping hand to all newcomers by introducing them to others and starting them on a new social and civic life in our community.

That helping hand has been extended to most, if not all, of the club and board members, who in turn do the same to incoming residents. With 176 members, the club meets monthly and offers more to its members than just a bunch of friendly faces.

The club operates with a board of directors and offers activities that range from ladies’ bridge, bunco, dinner out, an evening book discussion, couples bridge, day book discussion, a baby-sitting co-op, golf, French discussion group, pot luck, quilting group, theater group and more. And the best part is, one doesn’t have to be “new” to town to join.

New President Donna Magnussen heard about the club from a friend last year and joined, long before knowing that her hometown of Avon has its own club.

“I thought it would be a good networking opportunity and that I could meet new people,” she said.

Ms. Magnussen joined last year and is now the new president of the group, which includes mainly town residents but does have members from Avon, Farmington, Canton, West Granby, North Granby and West Hartford.

Charlotte Ray, who served as president of the club from 2000 to 2002, the past six years as a member of the Newcomers Club has found her expanding her French, walking five days a week and honing her skills as a bunco player.

Ms. Ray heard about the club from a friend when she moved to town six years ago from St. Louis, Mo. Today, the wide range of 25 activities has kept her interested in the Newcomers, in addition to providing an outlet for women to gather.

“It’s a group organized to welcome people to Simsbury and the surrounding area and provide them with information about the area,” said Ms. Ray, who works at home part time as a freelance copy editor for medical journals. Many newcomers to town need a resource for simple questions like finding a plumber, dentist, baby-sitter or possible volunteer opportunities.

“The club gives them a social networking group immediately,” said Ms. Magnussen. “And provides resources for new people coming into town.”

While most Newcomers clubs specify a time frame for membership, the Simsbury group doesn’t. All women in town, new residents or even longtime residents, and members range in age from mid-20s to early 70s.

“People tend to stay with us until they move,” Ms. Ray said. “For us, it’s more of a social group.”

New member coffees are held a few times each year in addition to a regular monthly meeting. Membership runs from September 1 through August 31 of the following year and costs $22. Membership in the Newcomers Club includes a copy of the monthly newsletter, a copy of the membership directory and periodic quick lists, full access to a variety of activities and child care for morning coffees and daytime programs for a small fee.

The club will host a new member coffee from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. September 8, 2004 and from 9 a.m. to noon September 9, 2004 in the Parsons Room at the First Church of Christ.

The coffees offer new members a chance to sign up and current members to maintain their membership. This is where members will choose their activities for the current membership season. The coffee meetings are broken up into night and day meetings to meet the needs of women who work out of the home or can’t get to one or the other.

“It’s not only people moving in, but maybe women who have worked outside the home for 15 or 20 years, retire and don’t have the same kind of social interaction like they had within an office,” she said.

Ms. Magnussen called the Simsbury Newcomers “a great group of people with a social focus.”

While the club maintains its primary membership, there are also smaller groups that form as a result of the many activities. Those meet on a more regular basis than the monthly group meeting.

“The nice thing is that you have the overall group and within that, the smaller groups,” Ms. Ray said.

The two women are constantly speaking about the club to those they meet.

“Somebody new might come to my church and I’ll tell them about the club … you can try us out,” said Ms. Ray.

Ms. Magnussen, who is also a make-up artist for Mary Kay Cosmetics, will also mention the club to those she might meet at a consultation.

“I think everybody from the Newcomers Club is doing that in some way,” she said.

Volunteerism is also another aspect of the Newcomers Club. For the 2003-2004 membership season, members continued the ongoing support of Gifts of Love, which serves Simsbury in addition to other towns within the Farmington Valley. Members collected food items and toiletries and created Easter baskets for Gifts of Love families and clients.

For the past several years, the club has held a luncheon and silent auction. This year, the event raised $5,000 which was donated to 15 valley-wide charitable organizations, Ms. Ray said.

Members can also bring their own causes to the club. It has had a team participate in the annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life. This past membership year, the club hosted a meeting on volunteerism in the Farmington Valley with 17 representatives from Meals on Wheels, Gifts of Love, Interval House, the town’s social services department and others.

The meeting was designed to give members looking to volunteer their time some local choices. Providing volunteer choices is just another way the club can contribute to the community and to the lives of its members, both women said.

“I think people want to be welcomed in a group where good things are being done,” said Ms. Magnussen.

Some members join for just one year, make their contacts and move out of town, Ms. Ray said. Others simply stay for the fun of it.

“It just makes you feel good,” she said.

The group used to find out the names of new residents through the real estate transactions at Town Hall, “but it was a challenge,” Ms. Ray said.

The best return, she has found, has been the easiest — by word of mouth, local newspapers such as Simsbury LIFE and by the club’s orange brochures that can be found at Town Hall, the library and at the chamber of commerce office.

“We have a nice spectrum of ages from women in their mid-20s to women in their early 70s,” Ms. Ray said. “That’s what makes it nice. People with a lot of different interests can contribute.”

For more information on the Simsbury Newcomers Club, call Ms. Magnussen at 673-8634 or Ms. Ray at 651-4611. Information is also available on the club’s web site at http://simsbury_newcomers.home.comcast.net/.

SL