‘You find connections’: La Jolla Newcomers Club celebrates 25 years of activities and acclimation

La Jolla Newcomers Club incoming president Nancy O'Neal (left) with outgoing president Fran Phillips.
La Jolla Newcomers Club incoming president Nancy O’Neal (left) with outgoing president Fran Phillips at the club’s annual reception and 25th anniversary celebration on June 1.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Having helped hundreds of people connect to their new community over the last quarter century, the La Jolla Newcomers Club celebrates 25 years this month, and commemorated the occasion at its annual president’s reception June 1 at the La Valencia hotel in La Jolla.

The luncheon also honored past presidents who are still involved and “keep pushing us forward,” said club historian Betty Merwin, and installed its new board for a one-year term.

Incoming President Nancy O’ Neal, who arrived in La Jolla in 2017, said she is excited about “the opportunity to give to this club that has given so much to me,” and that the club “is all about openness.”

Members of the La Jolla Newcomers Club gathered for a reception June 1 at La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The La Jolla Newcomers Club was established in 1998 with about 200 members, initially a breakaway group from Welcome Wagon.

“They really wanted to focus on the relationships with each other and with the community,” Merwin said, adding the club began as a “business social” group with members exchanging business cards. Now, however, the club has a bylaw preventing any political or business promotion.

“We wanted more of a social atmosphere. It’s worked out well for us,” outgoing president Fran Phillips said.

The La Jolla Newcomers Club currently has about 400 members and is open to people who have moved to La Jolla in the last three years. Membership is also open to those who have lived in La Jolla much longer, have never joined and are experiencing a life change like retirement, outgoing president Fran Phillips said.

There’s no limitation on membership, however, “We find that members join and they don’t want to leave,” Merwin said, and that the Club offers “a little of everything for men and women. Our activities are for everyone.”

There are monthly coffee shop meetups, hiking groups, a golf group, book and art groups, among others.

As a third of its members are single, Phillips said, the club arranges activities geared both toward singles and couples.

With activities recurring monthly or weekly, there are about 22 Newcomers Club events every month, on a calendar run by a club member who ensures there’s no overlap.

Over the years, club activities have changed as interests have evolved, like the adaptation of a supper club that has moved from people’s homes to restaurants, and the addition of bocce and bridge groups.

Each activity is run by a volunteer who wants to host according to their particular interests; there are also special events like local tours and a recent visit to watch an open rehearsal at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park in downtown San Diego.

Newcomers Club members have several options to meet each week according to varying interests.
(Paul Cohen)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the club remained an anchor for its members, Merwin said, with online get-togethers like virtual murder mystery parties, gatherings in backyards and breakfast deliveries.

Merwin, who moved permanently to La Jolla in 2016 after visiting for decades, considers the Newcomers Club “a great launching point” for people new to the area.

Phillips, who relocated to La Jolla in 2018, agrees.

“I came from Denver where I was well established over 30 years,” she said. “You come here, you don’t know anyone. You don’t have family; you don’t have friends. You find this club on the internet ... and you are immediately welcomed.”

Every year, the board selects a community organization to donate to, Merwin said, noting this year’s choice is the League House in La Jolla, which provides housing to low-income seniors.

“We feel it is important to provide to various community agencies and give our members opportunities for volunteerism as they become more acquainted,” she said.

The club’s endurance lies is its membership of “welcoming people that are very friendly,” Phillips said, people committed to helping others find a dentist or places to shop.

“It’s just such a wonderful connection and you learn so much about other people from other countries, from other parts of the U.S.,” she said. “You find connections.”

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