Elizabeth Haynes jokes that with all the new arrivals from New York, Westport should be called “the 6th borough.”
She’s not one of them. A Michigan native, she came east after high school “3 or 4 lifetimes ago,” and moved here from New Jersey’s Bergen County with her 2 girls in 2018.
But — after living up and down the East Coast all her adult life — Elizabeth feels “very much at home” in Westport.
Now — as the new president of Neighbors & Newcomers — it’s her job to help recent residents bond with more established ones, so that all feel a sense of community.
Elizabeth joined N&N as soon as she moved in. She appreciated that it was not just a welcome wagon, for newcomers only. “It spoke to the character of Westport,” she says. “People here have strong roots, but they embrace new people. There’s an eagerness to grow.”
Informal events had an “organic feel,” she notes. “There are lots of ‘Events’ — with a capital ‘E’ — in Westport. I loved Neighbors & Newcomers’ coffees, wine get-togethers, cooking lessons at someone’s house. It was very neighborly.”
COVID-19 put a halt to gatherings like those. As she takes over from president Jenifer Gilbert — who moved to Texas — Elizabeth must lead a social group at a time when social distancing is crucial. Most in-person meetings have been suspended, or dramatically curtailed.
Yet, she notes, “if there was ever a time we needed community, it’s now. It’s poignant and painful to try to build community in a way we’re not used to, or want to. I feel a big responsibility to Westport.”
But, she says confidently, “We’re up to it.”
Elizabeth points to wine-and-cheese tastings. “Maybe we can partner with local businesses to have wine and cheese delivered to homes, or picked up. We might have a small gathering somewhere, with everyone else on Zoom.”
Two informal bring-your-own coffees are planned for this week, near the brick pavilion at Compo Beach. One is today (Tuesday, September 15, 9:30 a.m.). The other is Thursday (September 17, 1 p.m.). The morning and afternoon times follow the bifurcated school schedule. Social distancing and masks will be enforced (and a beach sticker is needed to park).
“We’ll take advantage of the nice weather as long as we can,” Elizabeth says. “When it gets colder, we’ll come up with creative ideas. We’re open to anything.”
The Book Club, Kayaking Club and Walking Club will all continue, with adjustments as needed. The end-of-the-year holiday party — a great event — “may look different,” Elizabeth acknowledges. “But we won’t cancel it. We’ll figure something out.”
As for all those “6th borough” newcomers: Elizabeth is excited to have them join neighbors who have been here longer: whether 2 years like her, or much longer.
“My impression is the families arriving from New York, with younger kids, are exceptionally friendly, outgoing, and eager to make connections and put down roots,” Elizabeth says.
“Right now, we’ve got an incredible opportunity for all of us to really enrich this great community.”
“Neighbors & Newcomers wants to support not only residents, but local merchants and restaurants as much as possible. If anyone has a great idea or wants to brainstorm, let us know!” Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or click on the website or Facebook page.