Merrimack Friends & Families – not just a service club
Friday, August 30, 2013
Jill Mitchell, co-president of Merrimack Friends & Families, freely admits it was the community she formed through the organization that helped her get through her divorce.
She didn’t have family nearby and it was the friends she had met over the years through the organization that provided the support so needed during such a stressful time.
“I originally joined when I found myself a stay-at-home mom and my previous work friends didn’t have small children. Friends & Families brought me new friends and a social outlet,” Mitchell said of her involvement.
Originally established in 1973 as a “newcomers to the town” club, the organization has changed over the years. Not only has it changed its name from Newcomer’s Club to Welcome Wagon Club, to the current Merrimack Friends & Families, but the group has changed its focus. Now, as members celebrate their 40th year, their charge is to do more for the community while being a part of the community.
And that’s exactly what Mitchell and Dawn LaGay, another co-president, want people to know about the Merrimack Friends & Families. Not only is it a service club, but it’s also a social club where you can meet members in your community and create friendships.
“I joined,” LaGay said, “because I didn’t know anyone. I met people and they’re very welcoming.”
An important part of the organization is to give back to the community and the club prides itself on its community service projects. Each year, they sponsor events like the Merrimack Easter egg hunt, where they stuff the thousands of eggs and create Easter baskets for local children. In fact, this year, the new and improved Easter bunny – replacing the dark and broken-eared one of the past – is due to a donation from Friends & Families.
Specifically looking for projects around town, the group has adopted Lawrence Road, on the way to the dump, and will take on the task of maintaining that for the town. Members run bi-annual yard sales with proceeds going to town programs and this past year, they donated money to the Merrimack Public Library, helped out with Meals on Wheels, sponsored events at Home Health & Hospice, and sponsored five children to attend YMCA summer camp.
The group is also currently in the midst of its back to school backpack campaign where the club will provide 26 backpacks filled with school supplies to Merrimack children in need. For the most part, if there is a need in Merrimack that the organization can meet, members are willing to take it on.
But, as Mitchell, pointed out, they are equally a social club.
“There’s no pressure to do service events if you don’t want to,” she said.
There is a mailing list for members on which people can post events. It’s not unusual to find emails saying “I’m going to the movies on Tuesday night, anyone want to come?”
“That’s what we call the ‘one-night stands,’” said Julie Akers, past president and current Ways and Means officer. Akers joined the club when her children were small and took them on group “tot” trips.
Besides spontaneous events, the group also organizes a rich selection of social events such as recipe swaps, book club, trips for children, out-to-lunches, ladies night out, women and business, and a health and fitness group, to name just a few.
Some of the more popular events include the yearly cookie swap which has gotten so large, they can only hold it in a few members’ large houses. There’s the secret sister group where you sign up for a “secret sister member” and once a month, you leave a small surprise package for that person. At the end of the year is the unveiling where you discover who has been surprising you.
And of course, as in any community group, there is a “friends indeed” program, where if one needs assistance, (meals sent over, child care, rides, etc.) a sign-up sheet is circulated and people help out. Akers was the recipient of this service when she found herself in a cast and couldn’t get out of the house. Club members brought over dinners and organized visits until she became more mobile.
Typically composed of women, (there is one member who is male) the club plans to start involving men in the community and bringing back the “men’s night out” program.
To celebrate its 40th year, the group is planning an old-fashioned community picnic where the community can gather, bring a picnic and play games like three-legged races and egg tossing, while watching entertainment. Information on that event will become public as soon as details are ironed out.
A sense of community is of absolute importantance to the club.
“Whatever point you are in your life, there’s always room for new friendships,” said LaGay, to which Mitchell and Ackers simply nodded in agreement.
Yard sale nears
The community yard sale and bake sale, one of the biggest fundraiser sof the year, is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 7 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Anyone wishing to donate items to the sale can drop them off in the Town Hall parking lot between 7-8 a.m. that morning.
Friends & Families has had anywhere from 30 to 200 members over the years. Its’ open to anyone in southern New Hampshire there will be an informational meeting at the Merrimack Public Library on Sept. 25 at 10:30 a.m. There is another informational meeting planned at the Common Man on Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. for those who would like to have a glass of wine while finding out about the group.
There is a membership fee of $25 which goes into a charitable fund and although the group runs from September to June, people can join at any time. In the past, the organization has typically taken the summers off but with increased interest from members, summer events are starting to be planned.
For more information on the Merrimack Friends & Families, what they can offer, and what events they have planned, visit MerrimackFriends
Families.org or send email to email@example.com.