from Pamme Boutselis
Twenty-three years ago, a neighbor invited me to come to a meeting at her house, which would be led by another neighbor from the street behind us. The guests consisted of other young moms like myself, some with babies in carriers (like me) and others with toddlers who played in the next room. The young woman leading the meeting was pregnant, due to give birth in the coming months, and her name was Cheryl Lewis.
The topic of discussion was the formation of a new women’s club. Cheryl had been quite active in a women’s club in her town prior to moving to Litchfield. Being a proactive sort of gal, she quickly looked into what was available here in this new small town and found that the former women’s club, the Litchfield Jaycees Women, had gone dormant several years before. Cheryl was all in favor of starting this club up again and got in touch with some of the women that had been part of the organization.
Now, just 27 at the time, I couldn’t picture myself involved in anything called a women’s club. Heck, I was barely out of girlhood (or so I thought) and weren’t women’s clubs for like. . .I don’t know, older women? Didn’t they involve fundraising and chairwomen and all that stuff that seemed much too formal and frankly, OLD, for my thinking at that time.
But here’s the thing. Cheryl contacted each of us after the meeting and then she went along and had her baby and got organized and contacted us all again. And again. She contacted the former members and anyone that expressed any interest at all in regrouping or joining a women’s club. Still, I knew this wasn’t for me. But she called me the week before the meeting, and the day before, and because I’m a fairly considerate person (and I liked this woman Cheryl, too), I said I’d go and I did.
At first, I wasn’t too sure I wanted to be a part of this new organization, but there were a lot of women about my age, and they had kids about the same age as some of mine, and they wanted to do something to become more active in the community. So did I and I thought it was a great way for me to learn more about what was happening in my town, too.
So, I went to a 2nd meeting, and as usual, Cheryl called each person prior to the meeting to extend a personal invitation. Women came. She continued to do this before every meeting and for quite a long time, too. There was a personal connection there and you couldn’t help but want to come because you had been personally invited.
Before long, the club started planning events. Yes, they were fundraisers at times but they were to benefit the community in a variety of ways. Funds raised could be used for library and school donations, to help families in need, and to make a difference in our town. We started a playgroup for youngsters, planned family events for club members, organized dances for adults, and in general, just started making our presence known.
In the first year, Cheryl encouraged me to plan a family Easter event for club members, which in reality made me the event chairwoman. I had a blast with it, and quickly went on to chair any number of events. Cheryl had a knack for recognizing talents and encouraging members to make use of those talents in a number of ways, from leading craft nights to chairing events and hosting parties or club dinners.
The club truly took off in those early years, and soon built to nearly 100 active members. We were very fortunate to have many members from the former club involved in the new Litchfield Women’s Club and had their experience (and former events!) to build on. I chuckle now remembering that the younger members (me included) had a tendency to refer to the women that had once been Litchfield Jaycees as the ‘old women’s club’ members, which didn’t always go over well. Now, of course, I can see why.
Over the years, the Litchfield Women’s Club started a scholarship fund, which at present has awarded over $15,000 to deserving Litchfield graduates. While a focus has always been on academic achievement, the importance of community service also became a major part of what this scholarship is about.
As expected, many of the women that were a part of the club in its early days moved on to new locations, new jobs and new activities as time went on. Children got older and involved in sports, scouting and other activities and many LWC members took up the helm in related organizations. Some went on to hold town office or get involved in other ways in the community. LWC, if nothing else, proved to be a breeding ground for leadership skills.
Here was the great thing about LWC back then and even today. If you have an interest in something, there’s opportunity to explore it and do something constructive for the community with that interest. You want to plan a road race? Sure, make a plan, get some sponsors, and get to it. You want to create a town wide summer festival? Why not? Would you like to bring programming from an art museum to town for an educational community event? Of course you can. You’d like your Girl Scout troop to get involved in community service? Do we have an opportunity for you!
I can’t even begin to list all of the events and activities I have chaired or been involved with these past 23 years, and what a privilege it has been to learn so much about my town, the people in it and work and laugh alongside such a diverse group of talented women. Some of my very best friends today are women I met initially in the Litchfield Women’s Club.
We’ve had annual Santa’s Workshop and Easter Bunny Breakfasts (to benefit the community and our scholarship fund), Candidates Night, community awards, essay contests for GMS students (remember those?), road races, play group, family bowling events, educational events, Halloween parties, dances, roadside clean up, craft nights, blood drives, summer festivals, scholarship awards, assisted with the annual fire department open house, provided sophomore and senior project opportunities, presented guest speakers, sponsored DC trips for LMS students, contributed to the Cutler library and all three schools, sold t-shirts at Darrah Pond summer camp, and just so much more. If something is happening in Litchfield, it is a given that you can contact the Litchfield Women’s Club and ask if they would like to participate, want to help in some way or could make a donation to the cause.
Although I haven’t been co-president in many years, nor have I held a board position other than helping with PR in quite a long time as well, I often get the calls or emails about these things. After all these years, I am the ‘old women’s club’ member, and I believe, the longest running member since its start. It’s a distinction to be proud of.
Amazingly, so many activities and events have been done over the past five years with a much, much smaller membership. With the increase of community organizations to join now in Litchfield and the general busyness of life these days, more and more, volunteer organizations are not seeing as many new members as they once did. What happens then? The same people end up doing the same things and after a while, it becomes harder to fill board positions.
The Litchfield Women’s Club is now in that spot. The current members, much like me, are spread too thin and can’t do much more in their own lives. So we need new blood. We need new board members and quite frankly, the club will cease to exist without them. After all these years, I think it would be a real shame for this to happen and a tremendous loss to the community of Litchfield.
There’s a dinner on June 14th at Super Wok in Londonderry. It’s the annual year end celebration of all that LWC has accomplished in the past year. This year, it’s also going to feature a tough conversation about the future of the club. Want to get involved with the Litchfield Women’s Club? Join us on June 14th and see what we’re all about.