New Friendships

New Annapolitans. The name suggests that these folks are necessarily new to Annapolis. Well, that's certainly true, but the organization is so successful in its mission that many of those same "newcomers" have become "oldtimers"---they simply don't want to miss out on all New Annapolitans has to offer.

Mary Ellen Dial, who is serving this year as the club's 19th president says, "There were 18 presidents before me and two-thirds of them are still active [members]."

Why, then, would the "old newcomers" to the community still be involved with New Annapolitans so many years down the road? "The current and continuing focus of the club," says Dial, "is to assimilate new members into the community." But she thinks members stay members for two reasons: "First, they really enjoy the friends they make and the activities. Second, there's a large number of them who want to help new people get assimilated, so it's kind of like passing on the friendship and fellowship that they found so that no one else feels unhappy or isolated."

Dial believes that "the longevity of the organization is a function of the enthusiasm of its members and their willingness to grow and change and adapt to the needs of newcomers while, at the same time, meeting the needs of the existing membership." She explains that her own experience was one in which "I've gotten to go places and try things that either I didn't know existed or didn't know how to access."

New Annapolitans was founded nearly 20 years ago by Tecla Murphy who moved to Annapolis from Boston. She had sold a bookstore and thought it might be fun to start a book group as a good way to get to know people. The book club was slow to take off, so she approached a couple of local organizations to see if there was a newcomers club. She was discouraged by their response, frustrated by her lack of friends and was having no success meeting people in the usual places (through kids' school, neighbors, volunteering).

"Tecla is a make-it-happen kind of person," says Dial, "so she put a notice in the local newspaper." Says Tecla Murphy, "I let the world know that the first meeting of the New Annapolitans would take place at the library on West Street." And, true to form, the first meeting of the club was held on the first Wednesday in Februrary 1985. Twelve women attended, including a woman named Pat Branch, whom Murphy had met the week before and who would join her to become one of the founders of the club.

Says Murphy, "All of the women had left behind active lives and were trying to assimilate into our new community. We all very much wanted to make friends. It was difficultas many women worked and were not home during the day, but the New Annapolitans grew from this core of a dozen ladies."

Murphy continues to praise the women who compose the organization. "Over the years, we've had so many wonderful women join---a unique group. All the women have come from something---rom interesting careers, interesting places where they've lived or traveled." Dial has witnessed these qualities herself during meetings, with audience responses such as, "That was what I did before I moved here," or "I've always wanted to live there," or "I'd like to hear more about that." Murphy adds, "They all seemed to be able to make friends quickly. I found that one could be best friends with just about any of them-they're busy, they're involved, they have opinions, and they'll do or try almost anything."

The profile of the average woman in the group, says Dial, is "married or widowed, most with grown children or grandchildren, most from formerly professional positions, and most retired." Dial explains that because the group leans towards the older woman, most younger women with small children have not been attracted to New Annapolitans.

Murphy's daughter, after she had her first child, started a group called Professional Moms at Home. Says Dial, "This seems to very nicely answer the needs of younger women moving into the area. It's a dynamic group fashioned much like New Annapolitans, only centered around moms and kids."

The organization has grown steadily over the years. "The first year there were 12 [members of New Annapolitans]," says Dial. "At the end of this year, there will be 600. Tecla was the first president, 1985-1986; I am the current president, 2003-2004. We've had a new president every year...because this is a busy little job!" Dial goes on to explain that "We lose more than 90 members a year, people who move away or become active in other aspects of the community and don't feel they're newcomers anymore. But we always have 90-plus members join."

For the 600 members of the club, there is certainly something for everyone. The nearly 30 interest groups cover three major areas: arts/literature/film/antiques/crafts/needlework; outdoor activities (kayaking, tennis, golf, hiking, boating, walking); and groups with a social focus ("after hours" group, couples activities, bridge, mahjong). The programs at the monthly meeting are selected and designed to introduce new members to local cultural activities, political structure---things that will enhance the experience of living in Annapolis. "The club runs things that are either free, or very affordable, or on the other end of the scale---special events," Dial says.

Over the years, Tecla Murphy has remained an active member of New Annapolitans. She is lauded frequently for having the foresight to address being a newcomer in a community with frequent compliments from members who say they were almost totally alone with no support groups until they found New Annapolitans. Says Murphy, "I've been told more than once that it was a lifesaver, and I don't think the term was being used lightly."

New Annapolitans still meets the first Wednesday of every month, except for February, July and August, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, 333 Dubois Road. New members are invited at 9 a.m. to meet people; the general membership starts their social time at 9:30 a.m., and the meeting itself starts at 10 a.m. For further information, call 410-216-6000.

When not wearing one of her hats for Inside Annapolis Magazine, Carolyn Lee can be found paddling her kayak or working in her garden.


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