Women are new to Denver or the Lake Norman area – as well as longtime residents who simply feel new because of distressing events such as divorce, retirement or the death of a spouse – needn’t be alone in dealing with the challenges those events pose.
Warm and welcoming friends are available to help through the “Moving On After Moving In” program, said Candy Perry. She and four other women spearhead that program twice a year as part of Holy Spirit Catholic Church’s outreach program.
Though the program has spiritual elements and meets in the Denver church’s parish center , it’s nondenominational, Perry said, and is dedicated to helping participants cope with the stresses of disturbing life changes.
“If you’re looking for a Bible study class, that’s not what we are,” Perry said. “We’re more like a variety show, we do a lot of different things.”
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“Moving On After Moving In” is based on Susan Miller’s book “After the Boxes are Unpacked,” which deals with the spiritual, emotional and practical needs for dealing with traumatic transitions. Participants attend one of two 10-class sessions held each spring and fall that introduce them to each other, to members of the former class and to things they need to know about the community.
Classes average 15 to 20 members, though some have had as few at 12 and others as many as 30, Perry said. Though participants are asked to register and attend at least seven, walk-ins are welcomed.
The idea is to acquaint newcomers with what their new community has to offer – and that it takes virtually anyone dealing with a transition to a drastic life change, Perry said.
Participants learn about seasonal celebrations such as Lincolnton’s annual Apple Festival and the annual light show that transforms McAdenville into Christmas Town USA.
Through a roster similar to Angie’s List, participants can learn the names and contact information for dentists, physicians, lawyers and other area professionals; dependable carpenters, plumbers, electricians and landscapers who have performed well for other members; area churches and civic clubs; and cultural events such as concerts and art exhibits they might want to attend.
Best of all, members interviewed last week said, are the friendships they make with women who, like themselves, are simply trying to adjust to the stress of finding their way in a new place or new set of circumstances.
Since the program was launched give years ago, participants forged such friendships with past and present classmates that they didn’t want to leave the program, Perry said.
As a result, 166 have joined an alumni association so classmates can keep in touch and participate in 12 break-out groups based on special interests. Groups gather for trips to historic towns and sites in the vicinity, crochet and knit, read and discuss books, exercise, play canasta and other card games or have coffee or lunch together.
Perry is lead facilitator and administrator of the program. She and Lyndall Nicholson, Nancy O’Brien, Maureen Malmstrom and Patti Coyle join forces to lead the 10-11:30 a.m. classes that meet Thursdays during each session.
Natalie Patterson, 57, joined a session after she and her husband, who had secured a Duke Energy job, moved from a small Ohio town near Cincinnati to the area four years ago. They first lived in a north Charlotte neighborhood but moved to Lincoln County’s Iron Station community, where her elderly mother joined them.
Attending the classes helped her adjust to the moves and the recent death of her mother, Patterson said. “It gave me a sense of community and brought me some true friends that are more difficult to find later in life. I see some of those friends at least once every two weeks. I have friends I can talk to, shop with, go to movies and have lunch with. They make me feel at home.” And, when her mother died in January 2012, their cards and support helped her cope with her grief, she added.
Maryann Jackson, 60, and her husband moved to the Westport neighborhood on Lake Norman in 2011 to be near twin daughters who live in Cornelius. After about eight months, however, she and her husband separated after 40 years of marriage. She was reeling from depression, she said, when she met one of the program facilitators.
“In our conversation we began talking about when we lost our husbands and she asked when I lost mine. I said, ‘Yesterday,’ ” she recalled.
Following the facilitator’s invitation she joined a session of classes that had just begun. “If it hadn’t been for the friends I made there, I don’t know what I would have done,” Jackson said. “I believe it saved my life.”
Jennifer Wrenn, 42, and husband Chris were living in Monroe, Conn., when he secured a job with a Charlotte manufacturing firm. He commuted for eight months before the family relocating to the Stonewater development on Mountain Island Lake on Sept. 1.
A feeling of isolation quickly set in, she said. After getting her three children, age 5 to 12, off to school, and her husband off to work, she remained alone in a house surrounded by neighbors she didn’t know, she said.
After learning about the “Moving On After Moving In” program, she joined the fall class and met a classmate who lived just down the street from her home in Stonewater. “We’ve become good friends, and I probably would never have met her if not for being a member of this group,” she said.
Lyndall Nicholson, 62, and her husband Tom had spent most of their married life in Miami and Jacksonville, Fla., before buying land in the mountains of Western North Carolina some years ago where they planned to build a retirement home.
But as retirement neared, they decided Denver would be a better location since their son Brian, wife Staci, and sons Blake, age 8, and Rylan, 5, had moved to Huntersville four years ago.
So they moved to a Denver condo in 2005, then to their newly finished single-family home in 2007. During that time, Lyndall commuted to Charlotte to her job as a nurse at Aldersgate Continuing Care Retirement Community. She retired two years ago and immediately began wondering how she’d fill those new-found leisure hours.
On the first Monday after retiring, she found herself reclining in a chair at her orthodontist’s clinic. As the orthodontist worked, he asked how she was doing and Nicholson said she didn’t know because she’d just retired and wasn’t sure how she’d spend all the time she now had.
Candy Perry was in an adjacent chair and overheard Nicholson’s lament. She didn’t mean to be eavesdropping, and issued an invitation to come to the Moving On class that would begin the following Thursday.
“I attended the class and liked it so much that I volunteered to help when a facilitator was leaving the program and have been involved ever since,” Nicholson said. “This was the best thing that happened to me. I got to meet some great women, make some good friends, and even my husband has become good friends with husbands of other members. I love Denver, love this group, love my friends, and love the church, which she has joined. And just think, I had to wait for this until retirement.”
Fran Zaremba and her late husband had lived hood on Long Island, N.Y., but frequently visited their son and his family who had settled in the Stonewater neighborhood.
She joined a Moving On class after her husband’s death left her isolated and wondering how to fill each day.
“Now my son says I have more of a life than him because I always have something that’s fun and rewarding to occupy my time,” she said.
Sharon Goins, 72, and her husband in lived in Floridafor 40 years. After their son relocated to the Lake Norman area, the Goins’ daughter decided to relocate and be near him in 2007, she said. While her father was driving the daughter to her new home, she was killed in an automobile wreck that also severely injured her father.
“My husband never recovered and also passed away,” said Goins, who also moved to the area. “This group has been a real blessing. I’ve made a lot of really good friends. I don’t know what I would have done without them.”
Perry, 65, like most of the alumni group is a transplant. She her husband Glenn lived in Plymouth, Mass.
“I loved being up there because there was always something to do. We loved living near the ocean in Plymouth, but it was cold in winter,” she said. As retirement approached, she and Glenn decided to move south.
She became involved with the Moving On program at the urging of Father Carmen, the parish priest, and activities committee chairman Jim Klein.
“We started out just with people who had recently moved here and were trying to adjust to a new place,” she said. But they found that people coping with retirement, divorce, and loss of a loved one also needed help. “So we included all those things and it has worked. We’ve been more successful than we ever imagined.”