When Judy Johnson and her family moved to Rancho Palos Verdes from England 1 1/2 years ago, none of their new neighbors welcomed them or even introduced themselves.
So, Johnson, 34, knocked on her neighbors’ doors and introduced herself. Later, she and her family held an open house and were surprised to learn that many of their neighbors didn’t know each other--even though some had lived in the Via Valmonte neighborhood for years.
‘In the Same Boat’
Soon after, she saw an advertisement in a weekly newspaper and learned of an organization that has become a “godsend” to her and other peninsula newcomers--the Palos Verdes Peninsula Welcome Wagon Club.
“It’s been great because everybody’s in the same boat,” Johnson said. “They’re all new to the area; everybody wants to make friends. ... It works for the whole family.”
The Welcome Wagon Club is primarily a social organization for women new to the peninsula. Like Johnson, many of the members moved to the area because of their husbands’ careers.
There are about 650 Welcome Wagon Clubs in the United States, but no others in the South Bay, said a spokeswoman of Welcome Wagon International Inc. in Memphis, Tenn. Corporate officials said the international corporation, which lends its name to local clubs, is basically in the advertising business, informing new residents about businesses, attractions and services in their community.
The Palos Verdes club was formed 20 years ago. About one-fourth of its 150 members work outside the home, said Judy Forsyth, outgoing president. Many of the others find themselves in a new city without friends.
The group holds a coffee the first Wednesday of each month to tell new residents about the club and the community.
“I’d say if you don’t have this group, it would be hard,” Carol Meyer, 56, said, “because people in my neighborhood are not friendly at all.”
The women get together for a variety of social activities but “more and more, the group has evolved into kind of a service organization,” Forsyth said. This year, it raised $3,000, which was donated to local charities. Many of the members do volunteer work. “I think you need some place to put your energy,” she said, “and you can only play so much tennis, right?”
The isolation newcomers feel is not because people on the peninsula are not friendly, Forsyth and other Welcome Wagon members said. Rather, they say people who have lived in an area for awhile generally have an established social network and are not looking to make new friends.
“When I moved here, I went for a whole year without people really caring,” Forsyth said. “This is a group where people notice if you’re new, and they take the time to sit down with you and tell you a little bit about themselves and ask you who you are and where you’re from. It’s great.”
Deirdre Brownlow, 51, has moved nearly a dozen times in the last 27 years with her husband, Jim, a construction engineer with Mobil Oil Corp.
Originally from Ireland, the couple has lived in Tokyo, London, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Portugal, New Jersey, Alabama and now in Rolling Hills Estates. After 18 months on the peninsula, they’re preparing to move to Singapore.
“The longest we’ve ever been anywhere is three years and two months,” she said.
Brownlow said she is glad that an acquaintance introduced her to the peninsula Welcome Wagon Club. “I found California very difficult to settle into of all the places I’ve ever lived,” she said. “I knew it had everything I liked--art and music and theater.”
She speculates that because the Los Angeles area is so scattered, it was harder for her to find a focus. She said the club gives its members “a sense of belonging.”
The Palos Verdes Club is open only to women who live on the peninsula. Members, who number about 150, can join for three years. “Then they graduate to an alumni group--the Wagoneers,” Forsyth said. The Wagoneers, also a social and service organization, has about 150 members.
The average age of the Welcome Wagon Club is early- to mid-40s, Forsyth said, although the club is open to all age groups.
“There are people who come here and immediately know there’s a Welcome Wagon Club. They head straight for the phone book because they came from areas with active chapters,” Forsyth said. One of those was Mary Andrea, who had belonged to a similar organization in Connecticut. Andrea, 28, moved to Rolling Hills Estates seven months ago.
“I just go for the contact. I need the day out,” said Andrea, the mother of a 2-month-old son. "(The baby) comes, too.”
Katherine Reynolds, 59, who recently “graduated” from Welcome Wagon, said she called a Welcome Wagon representative shortly after moving to the peninsula from Los Alamos, N.M., because “I was desperate to find out how to shop in this area. Who does my hair? What do I do? It’s a very confusing peninsula when you first get here.”