Extending a warm welcome to all

Nearly three decades old, Newcomers Club attracts new Howard countians and longtime residents, too

November 08, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Nancy McCord lived in Columbia for 27 years before she joined the Howard County Newcomers Club.

She had moved to Columbia from upstate New York in 1978 but didn't meet many residents because her job was in Washington. "When you work long, crazy hours, you just can't get connected to the community," she said.

She discovered the club about a year ago, after she retired. "I came, and I just loved it," she said. "The people are warm and friendly."

Now she is president, and a good example of what makes this particular newcomers club unusual. Unlike many newcomer clubs across the nation, Howard County Newcomers doesn't stipulate that members must be new to the area and doesn't kick them out of the club once they have lived someplace a few years.

In fact, there are few rules at all. Members pay $20 a year and can attend as many or as few activities as they like. If they start a club, they need to join the board, but that's about it.

The Howard County Newcomers Club, started in 1964 by a group of about a dozen women who just wanted to meet new people, has grown into an organization of about 100. Activities include a book club, domino and bridge games, day trips, tennis games, movie nights and more.

"You can be a newcomer or an oldcomer," said Shantha Chandra, who moved to Columbia from Durham, N.C., in 1997 and joined the club the next year. "All are welcome. Some members have been here 25 years."

Roberta Sanders, for example, joined in 1979, she said. Back then, she loved bowling and going on day trips but scaled back her involvement when her children were young. Now she participates more. "It's always had wonderful activities," she said.

Of course, newcomers are welcome. The newest member is Sarah Williams, who moved to Columbia from Akron, Ohio, a scant two weeks ago. "We've moved quite a bit, and I know when I get to a new area I need to find a group of new friends," said Williams, an artist who works from home.

The membership, all women, skews toward people who have retired or no longer have children at home. Over the years, efforts have been made to include more mothers of young children, but it's been a challenge, McCord said.

Sharon Friedman joined after moving from Long Island to Ellicott City in 2001 and is still a member. Friedman, 61, sold her house and business and moved closer to her daughter, she said.

But she needed activities and friends. "I'm a little bit older, so my pace has slowed a little, but not much," she said. With the Newcomers Club, she finds plenty to do. She plays canasta and dominoes and takes part in an adopt-a-road program that picks up litter.

"It's a perfect social environment to meet new people," she said of the Newcomers Club. "You can't be bored. There's a different activity every day."

On a recent weekday morning, McCord presided over the club's monthly coffee gathering as about 30 women talked, sipped coffee and munched bagels and muffins at a Panera Bread in Columbia.

"Sociologically, people have become more isolated," McCord said. "This has become a cure for that."

The club has evolved as new members have started activities that suited their interests.

Chandra joined because "I was looking for a stitching group," she said. Now she's in charge of the tennis club.

Jenny Burtzlaff, who joined four years ago after moving to River Hill from Arkansas, runs the book club. It meets once a month and has about 15 members, she said. The most recent book was Fall on Your Knees, an Oprah-endorsed novel by Ann-Marie MacDonald.

Nira O'Connor, who joined after moving from Erie, Pa., two years ago, said she attends two or three activities a month.

"I met a lot of people, and I introduced them to a lot of people," said O'Connor, who moved to the area to be close to her children and grandchildren.

Elinor Proffen, 78, was one of the founders. She had moved to Ellicott City from Harrisburg, Pa., in 1961 with five children between the ages of 7 months and 10 years. She was desperate to socialize with adults.

Proffen said she no longer attends club activities, but she is proud of the way the club has grown and evolved over time.

"Anybody that's new should contact them," she said. "It's a great, great group."

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