The Newcomers Club is hoping to welcome new members this fall, knowing there are likely many women who have moved to town during the pandemic, and have been unable to get out, meet people and learn about their community.
As difficult as it has been for those new to town, it’s also been a challenge for the social club, which usually has many groups and opportunities to meet, most of which were put on hold or became virtual meetings during COVID-19 restrictions.
Now, with some loosening of rules, the club is planning a hybrid of in-person and virtual events.
Sue Henry, a five-year member of the social club, says as an example, one of the most popular and long-standing events, a coffee and conversation group, was mostly held through Zoom throughout the winter, although this summer met a few times in the pavilion at the Centennial Sports Park in Virgil.
The club has been embracing women new to Niagara-on-the-Lake since 1991, and at one point, had almost 400 members.
Many women come to NOTL, as Henry did, knowing all about the Shaw, the wineries and the restaurants, but not about the rest of the community. Some women are hesitant to venture out on their own, others, like herself, jump right in and join some of the activities that are available.
“Many come to NOTL from Oakville or nearby, have lunch, do a few things while they’re here, and go home. But there’s so much more to NOTL than that,” agrees long-time member Susan Kziazkiewicz.
It’s the friendships that newcomers are looking for, says member Sharon Frayne.
“You can go to the Shaw Festival, or go to the wineries or out for dinner, but you’re not making the connections that are meaningful. That’s what the Newcomers Club is there for. People often come here for a new stage in their lives, such as retirement, or bereavement. It’s the connection they need, and the Newcomers Club is a good source for making new friends with shared interests, and getting to know the community.”
As part of an international organization, the club is for women only. It was started at a time when events were held during the day for women who weren’t working, and would get home in time to make dinner for their husbands.
Although there are many events still held during the day, there are evening groups and special excursions as well, says Frayne, that include opportunities for couples to participate.
When she came to NOTL about 12 years ago, she was retiring from a very hectic job, and was looking for some activities to continue to keep her busy.
In pre-COVID times, there would be something to to do almost every day if you wanted to be that busy, she says, as well as the special tours and excursions, which in the past have included Shaw Festival backstage tours, McFarland House, Willowbank, and Niagara College.
More recently, during COVID, Zoom meetings have included representatives from various community groups, including Shaw actors, members of the NOTL Historic Society and the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre, and the Voices of Freedom Park were all topics of monthly meetings last winter held by Zoom.
“They are great ways to learn about the community,” says Henry. Additionally, there are opportunities to join about 15 or so interest groups, such as dinner and lunch clubs, biking, hiking and walking outdoor groups, and a new one starting this fall for “weekend walkers,” says Henry.
There have been three lunch groups at one time, with about 60 members, cycling groups for all abilities, and two book clubs, although a third one is needed, says Kziazkiewicz.
A group called Watercolour Wednesdays has been adapted to Zoom meetings — a book on a particular subject or a picture is chosen, and then all members discuss how to go about painting what is presented.
This fall, as meetings resume, it will be “an evolving situation,” says Frayne, as COVID meeting protocols determine what can be in-person and what must be virtual — what was a 25-limit social gathering restriction would not work for general meetings.
Membership has declined, partly because of COVID, but also because the club is designed for people to join, make friends and move on.
“That’s a healthy club when that happens,” says Kziazkiewicz. “That’s the intent of the club.”
Next Wednesday, Oct. 20, the club is holding a Welcome Back Event at the pavilion in the Centennial Sports Park in Virgil, at 1565 Four Mile Creek Rd. It’s intended to be an opportunity to renew $25 memberships, get together with old friends, and make new ones — newcomers are welcome to attend to see what the club has to offer.
Members can sign up for interest groups, and those who attend are encouraged to bring a lunch. Beverages will be provided.
Members will also hear of the plans for monthly meetings and special events.
“We welcome new members, and hope they too will build connections and links,” says Henry.