With people moving to Ashland from all over the nation and world, the Newcomers group tries to make recent transplants feel at home.




"It started as the 'welcome wagon,' with a basket of gift certificates and samples of products for new people," explained group facilitator Liz Murphy, an 11-year resident. "People were saying, 'This basket is great, but I really want to meet people.' Therefore Newcomers evolved. There are such dynamic people in Ashland. They usually want to get involved."




The Newcomers group has been in existence for more than a decade. These days, people who are new to Ashland are invited to come to group meetings at 10 a.m. on the third Thursday of the month. Participants offer use of their homes on a rotating basis for the meetings. There newcomers meet people who have been in town for only a few weeks or even several years.




Murphy said residents are invited to attend as many meetings as they want.




"I hear people say that Newcomers makes them feel a part of the community," she said. "Without this group, they will find their way, especially the more assertive people. But this gives them that extra boost."




New people have usually heard about the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Lithia Park, but Newcomers meetings are a place to learn about Ashland's lesser-known activities and traditions, such as free summer concerts and ballet performances in the park, the Fourth of July and Halloween parades and First Friday art walks.




"Part of it is mentoring people. When I first got here, I knew nothing," said Susan Elsom, who has lived in Ashland for a few years and hosted September's meeting at her house. "What we're here for is to facilitate networking."




Elsom's adjustment to life in Ashland was made easier by the fact that she had two children in school at the time, and so had an avenue to meet people. But she said many new residents, especially retirees, don't have that advantage.




Elsom began attending Newcomers meetings, and like many people who participate, she formed her own interest group &

this one focused on theater &

as an offshoot. A writing group, a singles' book club, a men's breakfast group, a tennis group and other groups connect new residents with others who share their hobbies and interests. People who want dining partners can attend monthly luncheons and try out restaurants around the Rogue Valley.




"I wanted to meet new people I thought would be experiencing the same issues I was experiencing," Elsom recalled. "The local people tend, in my opinion, not to include newcomers until you've lived here maybe for a really long time."




The Newcomers group does not meet in August or December, but usually organizes an outing to the Dickens Feast at the Winchester Inn for the winter holidays.




At the regular meetings, representatives of organizations come to tell new residents about local activities and volunteer opportunities.




This month, David Hill invited new residents to attend Ashland Community Theater and Ashland Playwrights events, while former Ashland School District Board of Directors member Amy Amrhein advocated for renewal of the Youth Activities Levy.




Groups looking for volunteers make frequent appearances at Newcomers meetings. The Newcomers newsletter also includes a list of more than 30 local groups that are looking for members and volunteers.




Newcomers group organizers recently revived a custom of asking new residents to fill out a short biography form. The newsletter now includes a short "New Member Spotlight" that tells about one person, his or her background and interests and contact information for the person. That allows people with shared interests &

from hiking and biking to knitting and theater &

to contact each other.




In town for just one month, Ken Wright said he came to the Newcomers meeting this month because he is hoping to become very active in the community.




"I think this is a wonderful thing. It just personifies what is wonderful about Ashland," he said.




Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.