Newcomers and Friends Club Still Going Strong After 60 Years
PROVIDING A WARM WELCOME: Newcomers and Friends Club members are shown here at a picnic this past June. The group, which celebrated 60 years this fall, supports programs at the Princeton YWCA and provides long-lasting friendships to Princeton residents who were new to the area at one time.
By Wendy Greenberg
On March 18, 1959, 50 women who had lived in the Princeton area for two years or less gathered at a dessert tea, seeking community. At that event, the Newcomers and Friends Club of the Princeton YWCA was born.
Sixty years later, the club still provides a warm welcome and a sense of belonging. An anniversary celebration of the Newcomers and Friends Club was held this past October. Earliest member Kay Yoder, who joined in 1961, was there, and so were more than 100 women of all ages, many of whom say they found friendships that lasted far beyond their time as true newcomers.
Past president Betty Dominick, who was 60th anniversary celebration committee chair, joined the club after moving from Charlotte, N.C., in 2012. “The club provided me instant friends outside of my husband’s work, and the depth and range of interest groups was very intriguing,” she said.
In addition to some 25 interest groups, Newcomers and Friends hosts a Friday with Friends, as well as social coffees. Members give back to several YWCA programs, such as the Young Wonders Child Development Center, pre- and after-school programs, the English as a Second Language program, the Breast Cancer Resource Center, and the YWCA Princeton ETS Run/Walk for the bilingual nursery school.
“It is so much more than a social club,” said YWCA CEO Judy Hutton of the Newcomers. “The mission is to eliminate racism and empower women, we believe in a world free from inequities and we consider NFC partners in that mission. Not only do they provide a welcoming place for women to connect, they advocate for social justice, they provide support to the YWCA programs . . . and they make this community a better place to live in.”
Current president Marla Burchell said she wondered what life would bring when she retired after 40 years as a public school speech language therapist. By chance, she met a club member in the spring of 2018, attended a luncheon, and immediately joined. Having lived in the area for 50 years, she was not a newcomer. “I have made 200 new friends from all walks of life and from all over the world,” she said. “They are the most welcoming, caring, supportive women.”
According to Ann Strootman, vice president of membership, members have come from or lived in 21 different countries, from every continent (except Antarctica). Currently there are 196 members. “Like most new members,” said Strootman, who joined the club in 2016, “I found the club by word of mouth, having met a new friend who was already a member. I had lived in the area for 10 years and had heard of the Club, but was unaware of all the great activities and thought it was only for people new to the area. I was going through a transition in my work life, and the club provided me the opportunity to meet new friends and form a social network outside of work.”
She attributes the club’s longevity to its willingness “to be flexible and to change with the times.” For example, when it started, members could only remain in the club for two years (two-and-a-half years for officers) and had to be new to the area by two years or less. Eventually, a post-Newcomers group was started. In 2012, the two groups merged and did away with member year limits.
Two women have been continuous members since 1987, and several women have moved away, moved back, and rejoined. Marsha Russo wrote that she moved to Princeton three times from overseas, and was glad the Newcomers and Friends Club was always there for her when she returned.
Linda Buccellato joined the group in 1987. As a new resident, she met two club members and they quickly hit it off. She has served as vice president, treasurer, crafters marketplace chair, membership chair, and other roles.
Sonia Lee, club marketing chair, moved to New Jersey in 2017 from Michigan to be near family, and found that joining the Newcomers and Friends Club “gave me a place to belong, feel understood, and connected with a sisterhood I never had.”
“As a Korean woman who has spent most of her life working in the professional world and raising a family in America, it has been difficult to find a community that aligns with my values, beliefs, perspectives, and can relate to my experiences,” she said. “The club provided me with just that — a community that has great, worldly perspectives because of their life experiences, their backgrounds, and a common understanding of how it feels to be ‘new’ in a town, city, state, and country.”
Lee added that members care for her, as well. A Sunshine Network sends birthday wishes to members, for example. “It’s simple things like this that makes you feel like part of a community and at home.”
For membership information, visit ywcaprinceton.org/newcomers to learn more.