In the “old” days the Welcome Wagon hostess stopped by a new homeowner to officially welcome them to the neighborhood, but the Newcomers & Neighbors Club of Jefferson City is a lot more fun.
This group of women aren’t tied together by the geography of a specific neighborhood, but through a shared connection of exploring and giving back to their community.
The group has walked at the Runge Nature Center and on the Katy Trail, made wind chimes at Village Art Studio and taken in a baseball game in St. Louis and a play at the Lyceum Theatre in Arrow Rock. They’ve also raised money for the Community Breast Care Project and The Healing House and New Beginnings, the first program for women recovering from substance abuse in Jefferson City.
“We introduce members to area businesses, volunteer opportunities and we also have educational events, too,” said Linda Phelps, who moved here five years ago from St. Louis when her husband, Bruce, took a job at Hawthorn Bank. “We do so much all rolled into this one group.”
Phelps had volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House in St. Louis, and wanted to be involved in Jefferson City, so she headed to Capital Region Medical Center.
“I met other volunteers like Roni Flood who moved here from San Diego, and she led me to the Newcomer’s group,” Phelps said. “It can be scary to come to a new town and your husband goes off to work and you don’t know anyone. This has been a good support group for myself and our members. We’re very active.”
As the current president, Phelps is joined by Barbara Brennamen, vice president, Deb Mealy, treasurer, and Debbie Boyce, secretary, who writes the email newsletter and keeps the other members informed of activities. Judy Krueger is in charge of the book club and Boyce and Brennamen organize many of the outings for the group. The member dues are $20 annually.
They meet almost every Tuesday for coffee and planning meetings where they determine upcoming activities and fundraising events. They raised $1,400 during last year’s Christmas auction, where members brought items such as yard art and baked goods. The money went to The Healing House and New Beginnings.
“Debbie asked me to speak to their group and they decided to partner with us and they have been so supportive and done a magnificent job,” said Heather Gieck, founder and executive director of The Healing House. “If we have a need I get ahold of Debbie and they always try to help.”
“They bought new cushions for our lawn furniture, an umbrella for our table and money donations too,” she said.
The members also bring meals two Mondays a month to the women living in the house, which Boyce, who works part time at Jo-Ann’s Fabrics and Crafts, coordinates.
“I love to be involved and this group has been a godsend,” said Boyce, who moved here from Southern California in October of 2013 with her husband, Dave, who retired as a lineman for Verizon Telephone.
“I was up to five feet in boxes and a neighbor told me about the group,” she said.
Since she became a member, the Newcomers and Neighbors Group has evolved and the women have taken on more activities, some that are held at night so the members who work outside the home can attend.
“We used to do a Christmas dinner and then something in the spring but we keep adding activities, like a Valentine’s Day dinner and Cinco De Mayo party,” Boyce said.“That’s become my thing and I’ve hosted it three times.”
The women often meet for salad dinners where everyone brings a topping for the lettuce and they play Mexican train, a game played with dominoes.
The first Friday of every month is the Munch & Mingle event in the evening, where more than a couple dozen members, their husbands and significant others meet for cocktails and conversation. Tonight the Phelps are hosting and their kitchen is packed with finger foods, tasty dips and sandwiches. The men have gotten to know each other and go fishing, golf or play poker.
Flood, a former nurse, moved here from San Diego and her husband, Dave is an orthopedic surgeon. Angie and Scott Fenwick, who is on the Bio Diesel Board, came two and a half years ago from New Orleans.
The members who have lived in Jefferson City longer expose the newcomers to different places in the area, including and the Boone Olive Oil Company in Columbia or Dunn Brothers Coffee. The group recently met at the new Jefferson Deli that opened on Truman Boulevard.
“Some of the women have never been to the places we go, so they learn all kinds of new things, places to go, organizations that need volunteers” Phelps said.
They’ve invited Officer Kevin Kempker to speak on self defense, learned about planting herbs at Busch’s Florist, toured the Missouri Supreme Court Building and in October they’ve planned an outing at Ha Ha Tonka.
“This is a busy and great group of women who all have something to offer,” said Brennamen, who moved to Jefferson City from Syracuse, New York when her husband got a job at Central Trust Bank.
“We’ve moved several times and I always ask my realtor about opportunities, she said. “I have learned to put myself out there.”
Several years ago, they changed their bylaws and added Neighbors to the name to encompass their changing membership.
“Several ladies retired from state jobs or were school teachers and even though they have lived here for most of their lives, now their life opened up and they had more time,” Phelps said.
Right now, they’re fundraising for The Pregnancy Help Center, which offers free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, counseling and other services to women. The group toured the facility with Director Leslie Kerns and this month will hold a baby shower to donate items to the women served there. In the past, they’ve made colorful, whimsical pillow cases for the children in the area served by the ConKerr Cancer Project. They recently met at Rosell’s house to make 210 pairs of shoes for Sole Hope, a non profit founded to provide shoes for African children.
“You always hear that it’s important to make a difference in one person’s life that that’s all it takes and it’s true. We don’t know what’s going to happen to the young people in African that will wear these shoes,” she said.
The club also handles projects for some of the women’s children and grandchildren, like Christa Roehl’s daughter, Catherine, who needed help for a project to help the Special Learning Center.
Many of the members also volunteer for the garden club and Habitat for Humanity and other organizations and many are active in their church.
“The Newcomer’s group has come a long way baby, and has shaped itself into a catch all for all that’s good about clubs, friends and neighbors.”
“We all get along really well and our circle of friends have resulted from this group,” said Boyce. “It has really been a lifesaver for me, everyone needs a place where they feel they belong,” she said.