By B.C. Manion
The ladies stream into the restaurant, exchanging hugs and good-natured banter — in what appears to be a gathering of old friends.
As it turns out, however, some members of the club joined just a few months ago, while others have belonged for years.
But the same friendly greeting was extended to all – and the warmth of the reception is in keeping with the spirit of Tampa Bay Newcomers, Inc., an organization for women, founded in 1952.
The women at the Daytime Bunko gathering at Amici Pizza in Wesley Chapel moved to Tampa Bay from places like Plainview, N.Y.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Grosse Ile, Mich.; Houston, Texas; and Wauwatosa, Wis., to mention just a few.
The women who join Tampa Bay Newcomers Inc., do so for different reasons.
Many are new to the area and are seeking not only potential friends, but also practical help. They want advice on finding a doctor, a dentist, a vet, a hairdresser, a handyman or a mechanic. They also want to know more about the area’s offerings, such as where to have fun or to find a good meal.
Some may join because they enjoy playing bridge, canasta or Bunco, they like to bowl or golf or they want to partake in any number of other activities the club offers.
Some are attracted because of a life change — leaving them with newfound time on their hands: They’re recent widows, newly retired or have become empty-nesters.
Club president Charlotte Sandery moved to Wesley Chapel after living in Australia for 24 years.
She moved to the area after her husband died. And, although she had visited numerous times because her daughter lives in the community, she had not formed any friendships.
“I knew I needed to get involved with some like-minded people,’’ Sandery said. So, she decided to give Tampa Bay Newcomers a try.
“All of these women just greet you with open arms. They want to know who you are and where you’re from and what you’re doing here and what you like to do,” Sandery said.
“They’re very friendly girls,” agreed 77-year-old Rose Bleich, who is originally from Long Island. Even though she considers herself to be shy by nature, the Wesley Chapel woman said she feels right at home with the group.
It’s a lot of fun, said 62-year-old Beverly Ackerman.
“I went kayaking. I never thought I would go kayaking,” said the retired revenue officer for the Internal Revenue Service. “I think next month they’re gong to be doing zip-lining.”
Like many other members of the group, Ackerman learned about it while she was exercising at Shapes. She overheard a group of women talking about a monthly gathering called TGIS, which is essentially a giant potluck for couples held at a club member’s home.
“You meet people from all over. It’s so interesting. Everybody down here comes from somewhere else,” said Ackerman, who moved to the area three years ago from Plainview, N.Y.
Sixty-one-year-old Ruth Gibney, of Land O’ Lakes, most recently lived in Las Vegas. Before she lived there, she lived near Chicago and in New York, New Jersey, Houston and Toronto. She was a member of Newcomers in each of those places, except for New York, where she couldn’t find a club.
Even before she moved to Florida, she began researching online – looking for an active Newcomers club.
The former kindergarten teacher, former clown and former tour guide, said she enjoys the club’s activities and camaraderie.
It often gives member a chance to try something new, she said.
“When I moved to Las Vegas, I had never played Scrabble and I had never bowled, and I ended up being in both.
“If there is an activity that you really enjoy and they don’t have it, you can go to a board meeting and start it,” she added.
Sixty-three-year-old Mary Joaquin, who lives in Zephyrhills, recalls how difficult it was to learn her way around the community.
She found out about Newcomers at Shapes, when a woman overheard her expressing her frustration about not being able to find her way around. She recalls saying: “I just wish somebody could point me from Point A to Point B and I could get someplace.”
In response, a woman in the locker room began telling her about Newcomers, and brought her in a newsletter about the group the next day.
Joaquin is glad she joined.
“This has been great. I’ve learned how to play mahjong. I’m learning how to play bridge. I’m going bowling,” Joaquin said.
“They’re very organized – I like that,” said 60-year-old Marlene Renaud, of Wesley Chapel. “They have so many activities. There’s something for everyone. There’s something to do almost every day.”
Fifty-three-year-old Sabrina Scott grew up in Tampa but followed her husband’s military career for stints in Hawaii, Puerto Rico and at the Pentagon, as well as other locales.
When she returned to settle in Lutz, so much of the area had changed, Scott said.
The Newcomers club helped her to get acquainted with the area’s new offerings.
Members told her about good restaurants, good doctors and other things, Scott said. “It’s like having directories for the whole city, but for different things.”
Besides being fun, members also are a source of emotional support for each other.
Sixty-five-year-old Donna Gosset, of Land O’ Lakes, said she experienced that firsthand when she found out she had breast cancer last year.
“They all reached out, sent me cards, took me to my appointments. It was a real, as I would say, sisterhood. The good Lord carried me through it and they lifted my arms.”
Gosset said she had lived in Clearwater for decades before moving to her new home to downsize.
In one sense, moving to the new community was like moving to a new state, she said. “I knew nobody.”
Gosset isn’t the only recipient of the club members’ compassion.
When another woman’s husband died suddenly, others in the group sprang to action. One went to help do laundry and do some cleaning around the house; another helped with funeral arrangements. Lots of club members got busy in their kitchens preparing food to serve after the memorial.
“If you need something, somebody is there for you,” said club member Vonda Mays, 57, who lives in New Tampa.
“We support each other,” said Ackerman. “When you think about it, we’re all kind of in the same boat.”
For more information go to www.tampabaynewcomers.com or e-mail .
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