It’s 1994, and Barbara Burrows, a military wife new to Gig Harbor, has placed an ad in the newspaper inviting residents to have coffee at her home. She wants to make friends and find out what there is to do in this small town on the western banks of Puget Sound. On the day of the gathering, dozens show up for the coffee. It’s such a success she had another event later that month.
Now, 25 years later, Barbara’s neighborly spirit has grown into an established membership-based social organization with more than 750 Gig Harbor residents as members. New Neighbors of Gig Harbor is a nonprofit organization that aims to connect residents with other like-minded people in their community. From hiking and pickleball to game nights and dinner parties, there are more than 60 activity groups that meet regularly with the goal to help members build friendships. Membership—which comes at a $30 annual fee—is open to all adults who live in the Gig Harbor area and allows access to the organization’s offerings, as well as opportunities to join the board and help create new activity groups.
Shelley Wilbert, the organization’s president, first heard about New Neighbors when she moved to Gig Harbor with her husband three-and-a-half years ago. “I became involved the first week we were in town,” she says. “I saw a rack card with the month’s schedule and went on a walk, to a happy hour and a board meeting all in the first week. I was sold.”
Like many of the other organization’s members, Shelley was not from the area and didn’t have family or friends nearby. She and her husband moved to Gig Harbor from California after falling in love with the area while on vacation. “We were trying to see all of the baseball stadiums in the U.S. and, while up here for a Mariners game, came across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in our rental car,” she recalls. “We saw this quaint, beautiful town of Gig Harbor.” That was in May of 2015. In December, the couple visited again and saw six homes. Seven weeks later, in early 2016, they moved into their home on Peacock Hill.
“We moved up here for the sheer beauty of it,” Shelley says. “We didn’t know anyone; I was trying to figure out what to do in this town.”
Like Barbara, she found a community in New Neighbors. Drawn to the friendship and ever-expanding, diverse nature of the organization, she began attending board meetings and became president. Now she works with the organization’s three vice presidents to organize events such as twice-monthly happy hours, monthly business luncheons, and monthly coffees for prospective members; recruit new members; and create new activity groups.
“It is mostly made up of 55- to 75-year-old newly retired empty nesters,” she says of the demographics of the New Neighbors membership, “but about one-quarter of our members still work, so we have evening and weekend events. We keep on evolving.”
New activity groups are created when 10 or more people are interested in something and take their interest to the board. She said one of the newest groups is specifically for widowers to get together with others who have similar experiences. It’s not a therapy group, Shelley says, but a place for all of these people who have this shared experience to get together and have a community.
The group joins New Neighbors’ existing groups which include 13 book clubs, a wine group, men’s group and Explore Washington group, just to name a few. Group offerings fluctuate depending on the time of year with hiking, biking, pickleball and walking groups more active in the summertime. In the cooler, wetter months of fall and winter, the organization’s dinner party, board game and card groups rule the schedule.
Barbara Henderson, the organization’s vice president of communications, got her start in New Neighbors with the Explore Washington group. She recently told the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s Profile magazine that, as a new resident, she most enjoyed going on local outings to learn about the area. Trips she went on included Seattle’s Pike Place Market and International District, the Port of Tacoma from the land and sea, and numerous local museums.
“We’re an extremely welcoming group, and I have both seen and experienced friendships formed to last a lifetime,” Barbara told Profile.
New Neighbors of Gig Harbor is always looking for new members to join its ranks of nearly 800. Membership is open to adults living in the 98335, 98332, 98333 or 98329 zip codes, and members do not need to be new to the area to join. Those interested in learning more and attending an informational coffee—a tradition kept from the founder’s original gathering—can email firstname.lastname@example.org or join New Neighbors by visiting GigHarborNewNeighbors.com.