When Catherine Hillis first moved to St. Simons Island last year, she was going it alone. Sure, she had her art — she is an accomplished painter — and her husband was going to follow her soon, even so, for a few months she was by herself in a new place. That prompted Hillis to look for local groups to help her feel a little more at home.
“I moved to (St. Simons Island) six months before my husband retired, so I was alone. I needed to make friends and make contacts, I needed to learn about the Golden Isles area and I needed to find out information pertinent to living here, such as the names of doctors and dentists, places to shop, eat and worship,” she said.
Turns out, that information could be found in one place — the Island Newcomers Club. The group, which has operated for many years locally, offers a variety of opportunities to meet new friends and better understand the community.
Hillis heard about the group when she was visiting the area to find a home.
“I heard about the newcomers club just looking at real estate. Several people told me about it while I kept coming back and forth to the island to look at houses,” she said. “It sounded like a good way to meet people but little did I know what a really great organization it is.”
It is open to those who have been residents of St. Simons and Sea island for less than two years. They are allowed to stay active in the group for three years after joining. Then they are encouraged to move on to different groups. Currently, the group has 109 new members with 242 total in the club.
In addition to monthly meetings and dinners, the group also hosts excursions and volunteer efforts. A sampling of activities include nine and 18 hole golf, kayak trips, bowling, bocce ball, as well as trips to Little St. Simons Island, Fernandina Beach and Charleston.
There are even groups within the club that offer chances to play bridge or the book club which shares the love of reading. They are also able to point members to volunteer opportunities as well.
For Hillis, the club was a convenient way to learn the ins and outs of the area. The trips, she notes, have been a particular point of interest.
“It has helped me discover those things and more. I’ve participated in a few of the trips that introduce the wonders of the Golden Isles and the surroundings areas: kayaking, St. Simons Island, Cumberland Island, Little St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island and the Okefenokee Swamp ... which I absolutely love,” she said. “I’ve been introduced to Canasta and Mah Jong. I’ve participated in parties and concerts. Most importantly, I’ve met some wonderful people who are interesting and fun to be with.”
The group was equally helpful for Gerry Gardner. Relocating from Atlanta after her husband’s death, she was slightly familiar with the area but finding a supportive organization was incredibly important.
“We’ve had a townhouse here for years and spent our long weekends and vacation time here,” Gardner said. “I love the peacefulness and beauty of this island and decided three years after my husband’s death that I wanted to be here permanently.”
Since joining, she like Hillis has gained an appreciation for the diverse group of people who have decided to call the Golden Isles home.
“I recommend someone join the club because there is truly something for everyone. Whether you’re married, single, widowed, there is an opportunity to go places that aren’t open to the general public, i.e. barrier islands, ports,” Gardner, who serves as the group’s publicity director, said.
“There is an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. I am literally busy nearly everyday attending activities and events. You can be as busy as you want to be. I’ve made some wonderful friends and had so much fun since I joined this club. Everyone is extremely welcoming.”