When we moved to Ashland five years ago, I was seven months pregnant and only knew one other family in town. Yet, our new neighbors were warm and helpful, and young kids are great ice-breakers, so it didn't take too many visits to the park and library before we had developed a social circle of families with similar interests. In fairly short order, we felt like we had really become part of the community.

Many newcomers to Ashland are retirees who can't rely on their kids or a workplace to help them meet people, so how do they break into the social scene? One answer is the Ashland Newcomer's Club, a new twist on the old-fashioned welcome wagon. If you've recently moved here and have unpacked enough to be ready to jump into Ashland life, the Newcomers club is a fine place to start.

The organization is an ideal place for people to learn about Ashland and expand their circle of friends, said Liz Murphy, the club's facilitator.

"People who come to Ashland want to be a part of the community," she said. "They are usually active and they want to be involved. Our main purpose is to help people get information and meet others with similar interests."

At the monthly meetings, which often take place in individual homes, newcomers can learn about upcoming classes, outdoor activities, volunteer opportunities and the various subgroups of the club, which usually gets two or three new members a month. Subgroups include a singles book group, a bridge club, a hiking club and more.

While based in Ashland, the club is open to newcomers from all over the valley, Murphy said. The majority of people relocating to Ashland are retired or nearing retirement, so activities are aimed at that age group. "Occasionally, we have young families come to the meetings, but they quickly realize there isn't much there for them," Murphy. said

Though geared toward seniors, Newcomers is definitely for the young at heart.

"It's very active," Murphy emphasized. "Most members are in their 50s or 60s, but we have some people in their 80s and they are going strong, participating in activities."

Judy and John Kloetzel have been with the club for nearly two years.

"It's a wonderful thing," Judy Kloetzel said. "At the first meeting we made great friends with a couple who was also there for the first time." "These are lasting friendships," she added. "My husband still meets with a group of men for breakfast once a month."

The couple first attended about six months after moving to Ashland.

"We were unpacked and ready to meet people," she said. "Now I don't go regularly, but I go to volunteer and help other new people. We're more old-comers at this point, but it is wonderful."

The club is especially good for service-minded people, both Murphy and Kloetzel said.

"We get speakers from a lot of nonprofits to talk about volunteering at hospitals, the library, OSF, Peace House, the Oregon Conservancy — so many great places and opportunities," Murphy said. "It's a dynamic group of people who come to Newcomers, who come to Ashland. They are looking for a chance to give back."

Ashland is known for being a great place to live, a reputation owed partly to its vibrant, close-knit community. If you have recently retired to Ashland, and are eager to be a part of it all, the Newcomers club is happy to welcome you.

For more information about the Ashland Newcomers Club, contact Murphy at 488-5407.

Tidings staff writer Vickie Aldous and Tidings correspondent Angela Howe-Decker alternate as author of the weekly column Quills & Queues.

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