Members of Carolina Women’s Club’s home and garden group gather at a private home for a container gardening workshop.

You’ve Got a Friend in Ballantyne

Social clubs and social media help women connect

By Dawn Liles | Photos by Ray Sepesy

In January 2017, Charlotte newcomer Jamie Messmer posted to the Ballantyne Connection group on Facebook that she “would love to meet up with some ladies sometime for dinner/drinks,” and that it “hasn’t been easy making ‘real’ girlfriends.”

The response to her post was remarkable: 150 likes and 591 comments, mostly from women who were also seeking friendship. They ranged in age from 20 to 70 and were all looking for like-minded women to share a meal, a movie, even a girls’ night out.

Jamie Messmer (right) and Shannon’s friendship started online, and now they enjoy traveling together and catching up at The Gibson in Ballantyne Corners.

“I did feel a little self-conscious and vulnerable,” Messmer recalls about the post. “But finding a good girlfriend is hard to come by, especially as you get older, so ultimately I thought the reward would be more than worth the risk.”

She was right. As a result of her message, not only did she meet up with several acquaintances, she met a woman who would become her best friend, Shannon.

“We have traveled with each other and even shared Thanksgiving together when I didn’t go back home,” Messmer says. “Had I not created the post, I would never have met Shannon or brought other women together who have hopefully made lasting friendships as well.”

With 102 people (net) per day moving to Charlotte, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it’s no surprise that people are looking for friendships.

And it’s not just newcomers looking to connect. Life transitions — such as starting a family, becoming an empty nester, getting a divorce, changing jobs or retiring — can also lead to feelings of loneliness and disconnection.

Apart from finding friends through social media, such as Facebook’s Ballantyne Connection group, another option has drawn hundreds of women who are seeking camaraderie — the local social club. Specifically in the Ballantyne area, there’s New Friends of Carolina and Carolina Women’s Club.

New Friends of Carolina’s gardening club participate in a flower arranging workshop at Sweet T Flowers in downtown Waxhaw.

New Friends of Carolina

New Friends was established in 1989 to offer a broad range of activities and functions for members and their spouses. The group currently has about 300 members. In addition to a monthly members’ lunch at a local country club, members can take part in smaller groups, depending on their interests: book clubs, movie and dinner clubs, lunch groups, bunco, bridge, theater/play groups, gardening and couples’ dinners.

Monthly membership meetings provide opportunities for guest speakers (a recent speaker came from the TV show “Antiques Roadshow”), and every year the group picks a local charity and raises funds.

Members cite a variety of reasons for joining. President Kathy Consler was new to Charlotte and knew no one in the club when a woman working at HomeGoods mentioned New Friends to her. “Few of us are native Charlotteans, and everyone needs someone you can talk to,” Consler says. “We call ourselves the sisterhood.”

Membership Vice President Karen Bearss, a 13-year club member, concurs. “This club saved my life. I knew no one when we moved to Charlotte. I had immediate friends and a calendar full of activities to choose from.”

Originally from the U.K., Jean Griffiths lived in Los Angeles for 14 years before moving to Charlotte after her divorce, to be closer to her daughter. “I thought I might not fancy being in a group of all women, but I went to a newcomers’ coffee and everyone was so welcoming,” she says.

Since joining in 1999, Griffiths has been active in the Lunch Bunch group, mah-jongg, Matinee Madams and bowling — “I was the worst bowler of all,” she says, noting that it was still a lot of fun. “It’s a great way to become involved in the community, whether you are new to Charlotte or have lived here for years,” Griffiths adds.

Carol McPhee and her husband retired early and moved to Charlotte from Syracuse, N.Y., in 2002. She joined New Friends in 2004, and she and her husband have both made friends in several of the couples’ groups.

“I also really enjoy the Sip and Stitch group, which has some very talented women who crochet, quilt and do needlepoint,” says McPhee. The group donates many of its finished pieces to Levine Children’s Hospital, Turning Point Women’s Shelter and the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte. “New Friends is such a welcoming, easy group to join,” she says.

Tina Enyart, owner of Sweet T Flowers, shares tips with the women about using asymmetry and locally grown blossoms in their arrangements.

Carolina Women’s Club

A second women’s club in the area opened in 2011 and counts as members 270 women, ages 40 to 70. According to Past President Kacie Arandas, the club’s overall mission is to conduct educational, charitable and social activities for women. Interest groups focus on books, food, bridge, bunco, home and garden, travel and other topics.

Carolina Women’s Club (CWC) also has couples’ wine and dine events, as well as luncheon meetings and a few evening meetings.

The club’s philanthropic activities include sorting food at a food bank, holding fundraisers and participating in charity walks. A year ago, CWC began sending volunteers weekly through a United Way program to Renaissance West STEAM Academy in Charlotte to read to kindergartners. Each volunteer is assigned to the same child for a year.

CWC member Connie Thomas coordinates the effort. “I wanted to make friends and have fun but also was looking for a philanthropy,” she says of CWC.

Each week after Thomas and fellow members volunteer at Renaissance West, they often go to lunch and share stories of their time with the kids. “I’ve enjoyed the social time with the other women as much as the time reading to my student,” Thomas says.

Philanthropic endeavors are some of Arandas’ favorite activities in CWC as well. Once she quit a hectic, full-time sales job, she had more free time and was looking to connect with other women. Knowing no one, she went to a meeting with a friend and ended up signing up to lead one of the CWC groups.

She’s so glad she did. “That was the boost I needed to put myself out there and just go for it,” she says. “I get back in spades what I put out there.”

Members of the Carolina Women’s Club socialize before starting the container gardening workshop.

Proper Flower’s Melissa Martin (center) led the workshop for CWC’s home and garden group with help from Ashley Schewyzk and Brooke Burch.

For More Information

New Friends of Carolina and Carolina Women’s Club welcome women of all ages. For more information on membership or to sign up for an informational coffee or lunch, visit newfriendsofcarolina.com and carolinawomensclub.com.

The Ballantyne Connection group on Facebook has more than 33,000 members. You may send a request to join at http://bit.ly/2IHm5BA.

Carolina Women’s Club members enjoy their time together at the container gardening workshop.