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Welcome, Newcomers 

Moving to a new community is always difficult, especially when you have left family and friends behind. Getting to know a new group of people can be daunting, but if you are at peace with yourself and embrace your interests, you may just develop your strongest friendships in your new life in Southwest Florida.

My perspective is unique to my "many lives" in Naples. I came to this quiet enclave 15 years ago from Memphis, Tenn., as a single person, transitioning my career and international documentary film company here. I got married soon afterward and had two sons, now 11 and 14. While they became Neapolitans at birth, mine was a slower transformation.

How do you become ensconced in the life you envisioned for yourself when you moved to Naples? I did it by expanding on the virtues that are the most important to me: family, friends, spirituality and the desire to help at-risk children.

I moved to Naples in the early ’90s with the encouragement of my future husband, who owned a second home here. We began spending a significant amount of time here and decided to make it our permanent home after we married. I was blessed to have instant friends through his affiliations and appreciated the city’s quiet charm given my fast-paced career. But after a few months, I recognized my need to get involved with activities other than the ones I inherited from my husband.

It can seem arduous to make new friends when you move to Southwest Florida, a paradise that attracts so many cultures of people. Just remember that it is important to be yourself. Find places that offer activities you enjoy, and you will meet people who share the same interests. Do not be intimidated. Take the initiative and get involved. That is what I did after joining The First Baptist Church of Naples. I found a niche of like-minded friends who, along with Dr. Hayes Wicker, enrich my life and give me security in exploring my spiritual growth.

I also took the initiative with charity work, although my introduction to it came unexpectedly when I called Luv’s Youth Haven to donate some furniture. The driver arrived with a teenager who was covered in bruises. He was in protective custody at the shelter after being abused by his father. After that experience, I became even more passionate about charities for at-risk children.

There are so many charitable organizations in this area that welcome your time, talent or treasure. If you have a passion or compassion, take the initiative and make that phone call. Fresh faces and ideas are always welcome on any committee. Be it civic, charitable, church or school, the same people are usually doing all the work, year after year, out of necessity.

When you live in Naples year-round, the opportunities for pursuing your personal interests can be overwhelming. Throughout Season, there are a myriad of internationally acclaimed concerts, art shows, dance performances, plays, street fairs, charitable festivals and galas.

This quaint community’s growth has included young families and changed the perception of Naples as a retirement haven for global CEOs. A new focus has risen on the need for more schools, both private and public, as well as cultural activities for our next generation. In 2010, I look forward to the opening of the state-of-the-art, interactive Children’s Museum of Naples (C’mon). There are many opportunities for you to get involved now. Like many cultural attractions in Naples, C’mon will have charitable outreach programs and will attract the kid-at-heart of all ages.

As a mother, I had to rely on the recommendations of other parents to learn about local schools. Through this process, we expanded our group of friends, and we treasure the time we have spent with parents at The Community School of Naples. If you have children who were active in sports or extracurricular activities, get them involved in Naples as well.

If your children or grandchildren are not involved with extracurricular activities, encourage them. It is one of the easiest ways to become familiar with Naples, and many activities are offered short-term during holiday breaks. Calling all local and visiting kids! CSN swim coach Jason Baumgardner offers surfing, beach swim and safety classes every holiday break and during the summer. Call Coach B’s Aquatics at (239) 822-3225.

Many activities are offered year-round here, but do not limit your ideas to warm-weather sports. Naples is abundant with just about every imaginable sport, including ice-skating and hockey. And if your child cannot find a sport at school, it may be offered on a city or church league. For you adults, the area’s many gated golf communities have extracurricular club social events.

Those who prefer the stage over the ball field can tour the Naples Museum of Art or The von Liebig Art Center, get lost in the Naples Botanical Garden or enjoy a night at the theater. See live plays and internationally acclaimed performances at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts, Naples Dinner Theatre or the Sugden Community Theatre, which encourages local talent participation of all ages.

At some point in our lives we find ourselves in an environment outside of our comfort zone. Regardless of whether it is a new school, a new church, a new community or a new workplace, we all can be anxious about fitting in and being accepted. In an attempt to meet group expectations, we sometimes neglect our own needs. It is essential to build a strong nucleus around which we can attract compatible people. Accept yourself for who you are, and allow people to be themselves without the pressure to conform to your expectations. Welcome to Naples, and have fun! We are thrilled you want to be a part of our community!

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