Neal Albright would never admit it, but she could probably write a book for newcomers titled “How to Win Friends and Influence People in Union County.”
One of the chapters could be “Shake the Shyness: Get Involved,” which would recount lessons she's learned.
People who've met her through The Union Chorale, The Monroe Garden Club, The Union Symphony, the Ellen Fitzgerald Senior Center or other organizations she's involved in might be surprised to learn she's lived in the area only since March 2005. The depth of her involvement – she's president of The Monroe Garden Club and on the boards of The Union Chorale and The Union Symphony, for example – suggests she's quickly made herself at home here.
She moved to Monroe from Penfield, N.Y., to be closer to her children and grandchildren, and wasted no time making friends. Over her first weekend here, she went to First Presbyterian in Monroe and met someone from The Monroe Garden Club and the church choir, and promptly got involved.
“When I first moved down here, one of the things I decided was that I had a choice: I could either sit in the house and read a book, or go out and meet new people and have fun,” she said.
She chose the latter. But there was a time in her life she might have chosen the former. She said she “used to be extremely shy,” but reinvented herself.
Now, she uses her memories of those shy days to help put others at ease. She gets a lot of practice in a Union County newcomer's group, which she serves as coordinator. The group has about “40 or 45 singles and couples, and about 25 to 30 are moderately active,” she said. “Ten of those are very active.”
Not every member could be considered a bona fide newcomer, she pointed out, but everyone's welcome.
“I've been told that until you've been here 30 years, you're still considered a newcomer!” she joked.
It was through another member of the newcomer's group that she learned about The Union Chorale. She had been in a 100-voice chorus in New York, she said, and thought the Chorale sounded like a great way to have fun and make new friends.
The Chorale has “30-plus people,” she said. It's open to anyone who likes to sing, no audition required.
The Union Chorale is kicking off its new season with a “Meet, Greet and Eat” at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 8, at Stallings United Methodist Church. At 8 p.m., prospective new members can “test it out,” she said, by sticking around for a rehearsal.
“We need singers for all parts,” she said. “Especially men.”
The Monroe Garden Club also welcomes newcomers, she said. For Neal, joining the club was a natural fit. She owned a florist shop in New York for 25 years. The club meets the third Tuesday of each month, “usually at 9:45 a.m. at the Monroe library,” she said. The focus is “promoting gardening education, friendship, beauty and fun.”
The first meeting after summer break will be Sept. 16, and will focus mainly on organizational issues, she said. October will begin its monthly offering of educational programs. Past topics have included backyard habitats, vegetable gardening, English cottage gardens and bees. At one meeting, Neal and a local florist taught flower arranging.
“If you're interested in flowers or in growing things, come,” she said. “We want new members.”
She's looking forward to starting a master gardener's course sponsored by the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.
“The course syllabus is botany, plant propagation, soils and fertilization, insects and diseases, pesticides, lawns, landscape design, a couple of field trips and a final exam,” she said. “Then I will be qualified to help the extension agent, Jeff Rieves, help the many gardeners in Union County with all their gardening questions.”
Another place she encourages newcomers to try is the Ellen Fitzgerald Senior Center. “It's a fantastic resource, and new people are joining all the time.”
“All these things are fun,” she concluded. “That's why I do them.”
If you'd like to get in touch with Neal to learn more about the groups she enjoys, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message at 704-358-6035 and I'll pass your information along. You also can visit www.unionchorale.org.
International Literacy Day
Volunteering as a tutor for the Literacy Council of Union County is another way to help your community and meet potential new friends. If you'd like to combine fun with getting more information about the Literacy Council, you might be interested in its International Literacy Day celebration on Monday, Sept. 8, from noon to 2 p.m. Festivities include live music, folk dancing and international food, and will be held at 105-A East Jefferson Street in Monroe. If you plan to attend, please call 704-226-1425 to RSVP. Admission is free.