Julie Avellino-Crowley and her husband Gerry sold their condo in the Milford beach area to move to Monroe seven years ago. Their Realtor told them about the Newcomers and Neighbors Club, but they didn't give it much thought.
"We were a young couple with no kids, who worked all the time," said Julie, who was a software engineer. "It didn't occur to us that we should get to know people in Monroe."
"My preconceived notion of a neighbors club was women with pies," she added. "It was a horrible stereotype."
When the Crowleys' daughter, Laura, was born five years ago, Julie's attitude changed.
"I realized I had to socialize and meet moms and see how they're doing it," she recalled.
Avellino-Crowley joined the Newcomers and Neighbors Club of Monroe and soon found its membership had a good mix of women from different walks of life.
"There were incredibly smart, creative women, some with home businesses, a lot of them juggling husbands with intense travel schedules," she said. "Many of them who are home with their kids have really great resumes, so you find yourself talking about potty training and politics all at once."
The Crowleys have since had a second child, Adrienne, who is 16 months old.
Club members who need a a helping hand, whether they just had a baby or have a health issue, can sign up for assistance.
Kim Henderson, who joined a year ago, did just that after the birth of her second child, Cole.
"When I had my son, people brought meals to my home," Henderson said.
Kim and her husband Rick also have a daughter, Kylee, who is three years-and-five-months-old.
Kim had been a Monroe resident of five years, when her friend, Brook Melco talked her into joining the Newcomers and Neighbors Club.
"I enjoy meeting new women," Henderson said. "I'm just eager to get my children involved in the community."
The club is not just for women. It holds about five couples socials a year between September and June.
"Sometimes I think it's hard for the husbands to socialize on their own, because they're working," Avellino-Crowley said.
She said the men have hit it off at the socials and become friends. "Some go golfing and some go hunting together," Avellino-Crowley said.
The club has morning play groups, but members do not have to have children to get involved. There is a Bunco group which gets together to play the dice game and a book club.
The Newcomers and Neighbors Club of Monroe, which is a non-profit, has 45 members, who pay a $35 annual fee.
"There is a kick-off dinner," Avellino-Crowley said, adding, last year, the club donated its surplus funds to Edith Wheeler Memorial Library and Project Warmth, a town program providing home heating assistance to residents who cannot afford it on their own.
This year, the club is planning a children's art and music festival at Benedict's Home & Garden, 480 Purdy Hill Road, to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 9. Proceeds will benefit music and arts programs at Monroe Public Schools.
Avellino-Crowley said the programs had drastic funding cuts.
"Art and music helps children with math and science at a young age," she said. "That's really when they are discovering their talents."
Music and fun
Avellino-Crowley and Henderson both had their youngest child in tow at Benedict's Home & Garden Friday morning, where they discussed plans for the Children's Art & Musical Festival.
Admission will be $8 for each child age one and older on Oct. 9, and free for adults and infants.
The Creative Music Center, 701 Main St., is a sponsor, which will donate kazoos for all of the children and conduct Monroe's largest kazoo orchestra at noon. The business will also provide live music throughout the day.
Henderson's business, KFH Photography, and Milford Photo will take portraits of the first 40 families to arrive at the festival and send each a free 5-by-7 print to their home.
"The Dance Workshop will be instructing a zumbatonic class," Henderson said. "It's a fantastic use of Latin and dance beat music to get the children moving. And their performance dance team will provide music for the kids."
All About Art, 641 Main St., will bring art supplies for a craft center for kids; and Music Together of Monroe/Newtown will perform sing-alongs for children ages five and younger.
Public safety will be another aspect of the day. New York Life is sponsoring a child safety program with photo I.D. cards and fingerprinting.
"Police will have a table with safety tips for Halloween and the holiday season," Henderson said.
Bull's Head Printers, 200 Main St., is supplying the signage, and Country Pizza, 418 Main St., will be selling pizza with a percentage of the proceeds benefiting school music programs.
Other sponsors include, Taylor Rental, 517 Main St.; Route 25 Auto Collission, 256 Main St.; Route 25 Junk Haulers; Kim Levinson of Coldwell Banker; and Benedict's Home & Garden.
Benedict's will donate use of its facilities, a pumpkin to every child, visits to its animal farm, hay rides and the business is building a Hay Playscape.
"People can see what Monroe has to offer," Avellino-Crowley said of the mix of local businesses that will be on display.
For more information on the festival, visit Monroe Newcomers and Neighbors' Facebook page.
Friends for life
Waving to friends in the grocery store has become routine for Avellino-Crowley since joining the Newcomers and Neighbors Club of Monroe. She and her husband go on an annual trip to Newport with a couple they met through the social organization and a few members have become close, attending family events like their children's baptisms.
Indeed, the Crowleys have come a long way from the days of not knowing anyone in town.
"Now I have so many great friends, I can't even count," said a smiling Avellino-Crowley.
Henderson, who moved to Monroe six years ago, has had a similar experience.
"I moved from New York and I did not know a person here," she said, "and the people I've met, they've become like family."
For information about the Newcomers and Neighbors Club of Monroe, visit monroenewcomers.org.