When Barb Chen moved to Great Falls from Hong Kong several years ago, she knew no one in the area. Finding the Newcomers of Great Falls, said Chen, "was a godsend for me. I don't know where I'd be if it weren't for them." Today Chen is the president of the organization and is actively looking to involve new members.
"There's been so much growth lately. There are lots of people new to Great Falls," said Chen. Finding the newest members of the community and getting them involved in the activities developed by the group have proved challenging in the last few years.
Karen Daboll, membership coordinator for the Newcomers, said the group accepts people within two years of moving to Great Falls or those who have had a change in their life that suddenly makes them available to participate. "A change could be staying home with the children or having the kids go off to college, something like that. A lot of these women have done things professionally and want to find a way to use their skills," said Daboll.
There are several motivations for joining the group; including making new friends, enjoying the activities and doing charity work. All are missions of the Newcomers of Great Falls.
The group has developed into a women's organization, though that isn't written into their by-laws. "This is ladies only, but we do have events that men come to," said Daboll. Chen adds that several activities involve couples and are well attended by men and women alike.
THERE ARE CURRENTLY around 200 members in the Newcomers of Great Falls, which started in 1982 as a way to help new residents transition into the community.
Members have the chance to participate in any of the 26 club-sponsored activities. The activities range from a book club and a cultural tours group to a supper club and a moms-and-tots group.
Daboll said, "People can join any activity at any time of the year. If there's one great thing about this club, it"s that you can go to any event at any time. You can go as much or as little as you want. There's no required commitment."
Nene Spivy, group activities chair, said, "We are so lucky to have a group like this that offers so many avenues for activity and [opportunities] to get involved."
Denise Dubow is the group leader for the cookbook/cooking group. "It's one of the funnest groups if you like to eat, make new friends and drink a little bit," she said of the group. Stressing the no-pressure atmosphere of the group, Dubow said, "We meet in members' homes, collectively decide what we're going to eat. People bring copies of the recipe they made, and if it's a flop, it's the recipe's fault."
A popular group for new members and tried-and-true members is the dice game Bunco. "It's a great game if you want to meet people," said Daboll. "It's really easy to learn, too. You get it in just a few minutes."
Meeting people in the community has always been the focus of the Newcomers. "It allows you to spend quality time with people and forge deeper relationships than you would just from casually knowing people through your kids," said Daboll. "By joining Newcomers, you know the people there want to meet you and are open to building friendships. They don't necessarily already have a circle of friends and feel like they don't need to meet anyone else."
Newcomers also assists several community charities with activities throughout the year. This year the club is collecting jars of change, hosting a Valentine's dinner, holding the annual duck race in the spring, and selling White House ornaments to raise money.
The White House promises to be the seat of many Newcomers activities this year. Due to one well-connected member, a talk by a senior White House official is being arranged, and plans are afoot to have a rare insiders' tour of the White House during Christmas.
At the Newcomers of Great Falls kickoff luncheon on Sept. 14, the group announced all the new activities and potential events for the upcoming year. New members are encouraged throughout the year and can walk into an activity group at any time. The groupÕs Web site is www.greatfallsnewcomers.com.