Google “newcomers clubs,” and you’ll be surprised at the number of organizations that come up. The Newcomers Club of Cobb County, of North East Suburban Atlanta, of St. Simons, of Gainesville – and of course, Dunwoody.
The Dunwoody Newcomers Club is a social organization for women, formed in 1972 with the intention of welcoming new residents to the area and fostering a sense of friendship among its members. The club has been going strong for years, and currently has 99 women in its ranks – even after more than two years of a global pandemic and virtual hangouts.
On a stormy Friday morning, four of the club’s current members – and former presidents – met up at Crema, a local cafe in Dunwoody. Diana Kafka and current Co-President Tina Coté had seen each other periodically over the past two years, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, neither had seen Elaine Schlissel or Karen Miller for quite some time. It was a long-time coming reunion, and one the small group would experience ten-fold at their 50th anniversary celebration on March 22.
“This will be the first big event since Omicron,” Coté said of the anniversary.
Over 60 members showed up for the anniversary event, where they enjoyed a catered buffet luncheon while Kafka’s husband played the best musical hits from 1972. Kafka said the head of the anniversary committee, Marsha Fish, created a special bingo game for members to play, where all the spaces were filled with fun facts from 1972, the year of the club’s founding. But most importantly, much like the mini reunion a few days prior, the women got to see familiar faces they hadn’t in quite some time.
“I think the anniversary event shows people are ready, willing and committed,” Coté said. “To have two-thirds of your membership coming out? Kudos to the committee for getting that organized and happening.”
All of the four women who gathered at Crema are transplants who moved to Dunwoody from relatively far away. When they found the Newcomers Club, they were all looking for somewhere to belong. Coté moved to Georgia from Connecticut, where she had also been involved with a local newcomers club. When she arrived in Dunwoody, she immediately hopped on the internet to see if Dunwoody had a similar offering.
Miller – the club’s oldest member in number of years involved, if not age – joined 25 years ago, and said in the club’s early days, it mostly served as a meeting ground for women who moved to the city for their spouse’s job and didn’t know anyone. Miller herself was in town from New York visiting a friend when she heard about the club. She had been considering moving and searching in the D.C. area, but the Newcomers Club became one of the deciding factors in her move to Dunwoody.
Twenty-five years later, Miller is still active with the newcomers. The age range and demographics of the group may have changed – they don’t get so many younger members anymore – but the mission has stayed the same: a way to welcome new residents and have fun.
“The club has done a really good job of meeting the needs of its members, but the membership has become older,” said Schlissel, who moved to Dunwoody from New York in 2004. “This provides a way [for older people], and it has continued to evolve to provide a way.”
Kafka joined the club in 1998 after moving to the area from Wisconsin with young children in elementary school. Because of her schedule and her children’s schedule, when she first joined she didn’t have time to be as active as she wanted to be, and there were some activities that she missed out on.
“It didn’t seem to matter,” Kafka said. “The friendship was so good.”
Kafka now lives in Gainesville, but she kept up her membership in the club even after her move. In the Newcomers Club, the term “newcomer” can be used a bit liberally – members have to have lived in the area for less than three years to join, but they can stay as long as they like.
Schlissel also came from up north, moving from New York in 2004 to be closer to her grandchildren. She found an advertisement for the Dunwoody Newcomers Club in the Dunwoody Crier and decided to attend a meeting.
“That was it,” Schlissel said. “I felt like I had all of these great friends.”
She volunteered to run the book club at the very first meeting she attended, and now writes her own column – called “A Good Read” – in the club’s monthly newsletter where she reviews books.
Schlissel said she had an interesting experience coming to the south from New York, especially in those early days when the ladies of the club did more entertaining than she was used to.
“It was fancier – people entertaining in their homes, it was a different level,” Schlissel said. She then pointed to Kafka and gently ribbed her friend about her apparently extensive collection of teacups. “She is the ultimate Fancy Nancy,” said Schlissel.
Teacups aside, the Dunwoody Newcomers Club has provided these women and their cohort with a built-in group of friends and a plethora of ways to get to know those friends. Besides book club, the Dunwoody Newcomers Club provides its members with the opportunity to join a variety of Special Interest Groups – or SIGs, as they call them. They have groups of women that go antiquing, go watch movies together, breakfast club, game nights, play readings, and so much more.
Coté said the club generally has a few luncheons a year, and on off-months will hold “meet and mingles” that are open to the rest of the community – a practice that changed a bit last year during COVID-19, when the club tried to have a few, safe and limited in-person meetings.
Coté said she worried about the club and its membership during COVID-19. They tried to have Zoom meet-ups, play games virtually, and other work-arounds, but she still worried that people might not think the club was worth it.
“We thought when we couldn’t do things, people might say, ‘I’m not paying dues, I’m not going to bother,’” Coté said. “But they didn’t.”
Another COVID-19 addition to the club was a new publication in addition to the club’s monthly newsletter. In an effort to make sure members could keep up with each other, even if they couldn’t see each other in person, the club created a “Keeping in Touch” newsletter, which is sent out mid-month.
Even through a global pandemic, the mission of the club has stayed the same. It’s not a political group, or a fundraising group – just a place people can find somewhere to belong.
“That’s the primary motive,” Coté said. “Friendship and fun.”