If you can’t find an event that looks inviting when you see the offerings of the Johnson County chapter of the New Neighbors League, you lack spirit.
That’s the message Jacquie VanMeter sends to both those who are new to the area and those who have lived here for years.
“We tailor the activities,” says VanMeter, who joined the Kansas City-area group when she moved from Washington, D.C., and now serves as area manager. “We always say to our new members, ‘Anyone interested in genealogy or exercise? Anyone know of a great new pub?’ We want to attract people to this group.”
When the nonprofit group started in 1939 in Ohio, the idea was to welcome those who were new to a neighborhood. The Kansas branch is at least 25 years old, VanMeter says, and the meaning has broadened over the years.
“We redefined what is ‘new,’” she says, noting that another New Neighbors League chapter draws people in the Northland. “You could be new to the community or new to a different phase of your life.”
That might mean you’re an empty nester, or you have a loved one to care for and need some social time.
“If for any reason you’re looking for friends, we’re here,” says VanMeter, adding that monthly luncheons draw crowds to area restaurants.
It will have to be forgiven, say club members, that the New Neighbors League was founded by a man, Theodore R. Briggs, because the club focuses on women.
But men are welcome to many events, says VanMeter, noting that everything from wine tastings to dinners out include men.
No men are around at a recent gathering at a Martin City restaurant. Ten women in a canasta group focus on their cards.
One asks, “What are we playing for?” The response is, “A dollar.”
After much laughter a voice in the crowd yells, “We’re playing for blood, then.”
This is one of many “breakout” groups in the hundred-strong Kansas chapter.
When brows are no longer furrowed over cards and the gang breaks for lunch, it becomes clear that this is a close-knit group. For many, it is a family. Two members talk about how friends they had met through New Neighbors helped them through difficult divorces. Others are married but welcome time out with friends, with or without their spouses.
Elyse Schmidt has seen many float in and out of the club. But she has stuck with it for good reason: “I’ve made great friends. It’s a wonderful support system.”
Deborah McIntire was drawn to the group a year ago, when she moved from Minnesota.
“Most people I met when I first moved here were involved in their grandchildren or whatnot, so they don’t have time for R & R,” she says, referring to those in her neighborhood.
“What I like about this group is that people all try to be kind and welcoming,” she says between bites at RC’s in Martin City. “If I ever see anyone veer off that path, I see others try to make up for it.”
That path, says VanMeter, needs to stray toward a younger population. She’s in her 60s, she says, and many members are older than she and her husband.
Like many, they moved to the area to be near their children and grandchildren. The network of support from the group has helped them find friends.
But her hope, she says, is that a younger audience takes note of the group. People like her children, and ultimately her grandchildren, will ensure the group thrives. It’s a nominal fee to join, she says.
“Ideally, to attract that younger crowd, I’d say show up with a few of your friends and say, ‘I want to start a group that sips wine’ or whatever,” she says. “We want people who want baby-sitting or play-date breakout groups.
“We’d love to have anyone who supports our philosophy: fun and friendship.”
Is your block or neighborhood unusually close-knit like this one? If so, we may be interested in featuring it as part of the “Our Neighbors” series. Please explain in no more than 100 words what makes your neighborhood special and email Cindy Gregorian at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also send mail to her at 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.