New to the Neighborhood? Meet Friends Fast!


                                            
                                                 
                                                                 Photo credit: Flickr user Costa Constantinedes
by Dawn Smith

It’s often beneficial to begin establishing connections at your next duty station even before arriving. Knowing someone locally will take some of the uneasiness away and the comfort of a familiar face will give you something to look forward to which will also make the transition a little easier. If there isn’t anyone you know firsthand in your new town, reaching out to friends of friends is the simplest way to get the processes going. Military families have an instinct for taking care of their own, and a PCS will cast a wide net for friends offering support.
 
The good news is that if you are willing, able, and looking for a local connection, social media, especially local Facebook groups or even LinkedIn, can help establish an initial introduction with minimal effort. Researching sites such as Military Town Advisor will also give clues as to what types of people will be waiting for you in your new neighborhood. Little tidbits left in reviews of daycares, military installations, and other pertinent services will leave trails of contact information. There are hundreds of mil-spouse bloggers out there and if they reveal their locations, than there you have it, an easy-peasy, instant acquaintance to point you in the right direction. 
 
Opportunities to Connect at Your Children’s School

Families with children have an instant cache for potential new friends. The chances to meet other families are endless. After registering with school, your contact information should be spread out to PTA groups, military family committees, or welcome clubs. The chance to jump in and participate in playgroups or back to school nights will easily produce a few new phone numbers to text later. As the school year progresses, volunteer opportunities will become apparent which may also lead to future friendships. This will be particularly helpful in your child’s classroom because you will begin to know their classmates and parents which will help foster play dates and other get-togethers.
 
Connections Outside of School

If the school angle isn’t one you want to invest in, there are many more ways to get out and meet people.
 
  • Mind and Body Health: Everyone needs to be healthy, right? Find the gym you want to belong to or look for a running or walking group or a stroller class that is child friendly.  Many local churches offer yoga or other exercise classes for nominal fees or without charge. While you are practicing your down dogs, look into which types of groups the church offers. Choir, Bible study, and women’s and men’s groups are usually present. 
  • Work Life: Working outside the home (or inside the home, for that matter) affords many chances to meet new people that are likely geographically close. Office or work mates are an instantaneous group of new faces to get to know. Industry related conferences and networking events cultivate new relationships. In fact, the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) offers free military spouse symposia dedicated to the advancing of military spouse careers. Chatting with like-minded working military spouses will set the stage for friendships. 
  • Military Life: Military installations are filled with activities for kids and adults. Everything from baseball and soccer leagues to a newcomers’ brief and tour can be found. Finding your base’s homepage will direct you to anything you need to know about recently arriving. The Youth Sponsorship Program aligns new families with current families to navigate the transition, especially for the school-aged children in the family.
  • Libraries and parks and recreation services: Offer classes, reading groups, and activities for families. Simply wearing a smile and chatting at public playgrounds will certainly garner a fun conversation at the very least. Parents always have something in common to commiserate about.
  • Youth Entrepreneurship: The kids are always begging to man a lemonade stand, right?  Pick a charity to earn cash for and watch the neighbors come by to support the cause.  Quick introductions make understanding the who’s who of the block a little easier.
  • Neighborhood Social Scene: For those who like an instant personal connection, don’t be afraid to drive the welcome wagon in reverse. If your neighbors don’t immediately drop by, make a couple dozen of cookies and take some to neighbors and introduce yourself. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to say hello and let them know a little about your family. Or, plan a simple open house one afternoon, asking neighbors to drop in for tea or coffee. Meeting new people in small groups is sometimes easier than one-on-one conversation.
Volunteer, Volunteer and Volunteer

Giving to others is a no fail way to meet new people who already have something significant in common with you. This common cause puts like-minded people together to make great things happen. Animals, the environment, elders, homeless, the abused: the lists of volunteer run groups are endless. Two worthy volunteer directories to consider searching are:
 
  1. Volunteer.gov is a portal prepared by the Federal Interagency Team on Volunteerism and has three program coordinators directly from Cabinet level departments. Local, state, and federal agencies are all represented and have spaces for volunteers eager to help the country. This portal is free and some of the agencies connected with the program include those with ties to veterans’ health and natural resources. 
  2. VolunteerMatch is a simple way to match your zip code with causes you care about. There are more than 90,000 non-profit organizations to choose from worldwide. They even assemble virtual volunteer options to perform at home, and offer webinars such as Social Media and Volunteer Engagement.
No doubt it is tough to move to a new neighborhood without knowing anyone personally, but that won’t last long. After making the house livable and the majority of the boxes are put away, begin reaching out in a number of ways to start connecting to the local lifestyle. So many military families claim one of the best parts of our way of life is the chance to meet so many cool people. Don’t waste the opportunity!