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Join the club

Last modified: 9/10/2010 12:00:00 AM
People tell me I'm not a typical woman's club member. Okay. Well, I'm a woman, which, as far as I know is the only prerequisite for membership. Still, I know what they mean. Woman's clubs tend to conjure up images of well-mannered ladies sitting around in pretty Victorian dresses sipping tea, their white-gloved pinkies posed just so. Not exactly my, er, cup of tea.

Luckily, today's members are smashing those stereotypes like so many dainty pieces of china. And I'm glad to count myself among them.

Shortly after I moved to New Hampshire, I started Googling things to do and ways to meet people. Writers are known for being geeks and recluses and although I consider myself quite social, I was falling into that stereotype, especially during the long New Hampshire winters. I work from home, staring at my laptop and arranging words on the screen day after day in my pajamas, so other than my cat, I have little interaction until my husband comes home in the evening. I needed something - anything - to get me out of the house.

My Googling habit led me to the Concord Woman's Club, an organization I knew virtually nothing about. I definitely had some reservations about attending my first program last fall, but its topic, 'It's All About the People You Meet,' seemed custom-made for me.

I was greeted by membership chairwoman Sally Helms, who was setting up chairs when I arrived - way too early - at the Chamberlin House on Pleasant Street. I offered to help, and she put me to work setting up wine glasses. By the end of the program, I'd met numerous women with common interests and, just like that, felt like I'd become part of a community.

Different intentions

When the Concord Woman's Club started in the 1890s, I'm sure it had very different intentions than it has today. By the turn of the millennium, it was still in the grip of those old stereotypes, and membership had dwindled to around 25 women. In 2007, the Monitor ran an article about the club's shrinking membership and the possibility of disbanding and selling the lovely Chamberlin House, which was donated to the club by Nellie Chamberlin in 1919.

After Barbara Ruedig read the article, she thought about all the women she knew in Concord but hardly saw. She thought a thriving woman's club might have the potential to put them back in touch, so she e-mailed 40 of her friends, who then e-mailed dozens of their closest friends, and thus the rebirth began. Over the next several months, membership grew by 100 new women. Ruedig is now the club's president, and she's still amazed by the growth and change.

Community service is a mainstay of the club's mission, and one of the things that drew me to join. In January, the monthly program focused on volunteerism in the state. Tim Dupre, executive director of Volunteer NH, came to speak to members about the dynamics of volunteering, all the way from the agency level to the volunteers themselves. After his talk, members browsed tables set up by 12 agencies and programs seeking volunteers in the Concord area.

I used to do a considerable amount of charity work, but before joining the Woman's Club I'd grown lax about seeking out the opportunities myself. That program, and the club's emphasis on volunteer work, gave me the push I needed.

The club regained its tax-exempt status this year, 30 years after losing it, and can now accept tax-deductible donations to go toward its service projects and annual scholarship, as well as toward house maintenance and preservation.

Fascinating programs

I'd be lying if I said I joined the Concord Woman's Club purely out of charity, though. The monthly programs feature all sorts of themes, from the arts to education, home life and international affairs. Last year, I learned about the refugee community in Concord, the plight of animals kept by hoarders across the state, the basics of organic gardening, and tips and techniques for de-cluttering my home (sure wish I could find those notes).

This year, I am looking forward to getting a makeover, trying some stretching techniques, learning how to combat food cravings and getting the hang of social media - hardly the stuff of well-coiffed women sipping Earl Grey.

Not that there's anything wrong with a little tea and conversation. The Concord Woman's Club sets aside the first Friday of every month for good old-fashioned socializing - no lacy gloves required.

(Interested in learning more about the Concord Woman's Club? Visit concordwomansclub.com.)


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