Fox Valley Newcomers and Neighbors learn to navigate the pandemic

  • Celina Watts, left, is the new president of the Fox Valley Newcomers and Neighbors club, and John Glenn is the new membership chairman. Both are pictured along the Fox River in Bennett Park in Geneva. The club will hold an informational meeting for potential new members at 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, at the Arcedium Coffeehouse in St. Charles.

      Celina Watts, left, is the new president of the Fox Valley Newcomers and Neighbors club, and John Glenn is the new membership chairman. Both are pictured along the Fox River in Bennett Park in Geneva. The club will hold an informational meeting for potential new members at 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, at the Arcedium Coffeehouse in St. Charles. Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer

Posted7/29/2022 6:00 AM

After scheduling and rescheduling events for its members the past two years while navigating the COVID virus minefield, the Fox Valley Newcomers and Neighbors organization is hoping to again to dodge the virus and draw interest in its annual new members' coffee event.

The club and its focus on friendly get-togethers have good momentum, ending a two-year drought by welcoming 30 new members in the past membership year that ended May 30.


And what the virus happens to be up to currently is an important barometer for the club, which has set the New Member Informational Meeting for 10 to 11 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, at the Arcedium Coffeehouse, 60 Indiana St., in St. Charles.

It is hoping the current uptick in cases eases, but club leaders are ready to alert interested member prospects of the need for masks if necessary. Mostly, they'd like to see things keep moving in a positive direction.

"It was a great resurgence this past year as people were ready for social options with COVID easing," said club president Celina Watts of Geneva.

With COVID initially striking in March 2020, new memberships immediately fell to zero and rose to only three new members for the entire 2020-21 membership year.

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"As COVID eased and vaccines became widespread in 2021, our membership blossomed again, and we hope to welcome a new crop of members this year," Watts added.

The club typically has about 150 to 175 adult members who choose from various day trips, local events or organized activities. Most events, but not all, are within 15 to 20 miles of the Tri-Cities.

"The club follows state guidelines for COVID," Watts noted. "Like everyone, we had to pivot quickly, with our board establishing sound protocols and responding and communicating out to members as things evolved.

"What started out as a major problem turned out to be a boon, as our members were able to maintain camaraderie during a stressful couple of years," she added.


People wanted interaction and a place of support, even if virtually, and many of the club's special interest groups held Zoom calls when it was a good fit, said John Glenn of St. Charles, the new club membership director.

In that regard, club members had to use their imagination -- and available technology -- to continue creating interesting events.

"Examples are the Explorers group being newly formed for virtual travelogues, to satisfy members' love of travel," Glenn said. "And also, some of the card groups had a cocktail hour online so, even if we couldn't play, we could chat and see each other's faces."

As members became more confident and comfortable with vaccines and masks in late 2021, events were again being scheduled at restaurants or in people's homes.

"During the early days of COVID, some luncheons took place outdoors at forest preserve pavilions, while others were on Zoom," Glenn noted. "With picnic lunches, we could distance easier and just have a lunchbox to grab, but still have a meeting."

Club members remained respectful of masking protocols and self-isolating if positive COVID tests were revealed. "They (those with COVID) were also alerting people who may have been in contact, so they could self-isolate," Glenn said.

The club also has continued its volunteer groups for the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva, providing $7,050 worth of labor and fundraisers that generated $3,560 toward food-bank needs.

In addition, the club's board chooses a different local charity each year that it will earmark for donations.

Mostly, this is an organization that continues to focus on making new friends and having fun. Sure, it's a great organization for newcomers to the area. Still, the club emphasizes it also addresses the needs of longtime residents who may face a "new life" through retirement, becoming empty nesters, the death of a partner or other circumstances.

Those interested in attending the meeting can register through email at When joining the club, the primary household member pays an annual membership fee of $25, with additional members paying $15 each.

Most club outings are "pay-if-you-go," or free or bring-your-own snacks and drinks events.

"We emphasize fun and friendships at FVNN," Glenn noted. "We consciously avoid political discussions and instead focus on providing many activity options with a common interest.

"We are a pretty friendly bunch, and each activity group might have some quirks, but generally, we all just want to enjoy and make new friendships," he said. "We believe life is for living."

More for Little Red

To say Sylvia Torres of St. Charles has been busy the past five years in making the Little Red Barn Door brand noticeable in the Tri-Cities would be borderline inaccurate.

It seems as if Torres has been operating more at what one might term lightning speed. So much so that even she says, "It seems like it's been longer than five years" since she first opened her Geneva shop in The Berry House.

Now, she's been preparing for the past several months to celebrate her five years in Geneva with a grand opening celebration on Friday, July 29, at her new location at 21 S. Third St.

The Little Red Barn Door is taking over the location that Veiled in Elegance previously occupied, tucked between the Jade and Mia's Wish stores.

In the past five years, Torres kept operating a warehouse in St. Charles where she conducts home décor classes and shows items while expanding into two locations in The Berry House.

She kept her original location on the upstairs level and opened another on the main floor. At the same time, she opened a Little Barn Baby store in Geneva near Chianti's Ristorante and another in downtown Naperville at 123 S. Washington St.

But the two spots in The Berry House now come under one roof at the new Third Street location.

"I loved being in The Berry House, but we had this opportunity to have one shop instead of two and to be right off the street," Torres said.

"We have a big following, but in terms of getting new customers, we are hoping for more people to see us now," Torres added. "I had a couple extra months to go on the spots in The Berry House, but multiple people wanted to lease those spots. It's a great place to start a business."

The two Berry House locations added up to about 1,200 square feet, but Torres will have 1,800 square feet under one roof in her new spot.

In addition, she can trim back on how many employees she needs working each day. "I had to have at least five people working every day, no matter what, for the stores and warehouse," she noted. "Now, it will be a little easier to manage."

Torres acknowledges that "this year has been a little different and off to a slower start" because of inflation. "But we feel we are doing pretty good," she added. "And Mike Simon (the landlord) has been very helpful and thoughtful about his stores in that area."

A big win for museums

I've written about my fondness for our local history museums several times over the years, promoting events and the people who manage these places to build awareness in the community.

Thus, the recent news that the Geneva History Museum became the first in Kane County to earn accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums was great but no real surprise.

It's the highest recognition any museum across the nation can attain, making the Geneva History Museum one of only 34 in Illinois to reach that status.

This news gives me a chance to note that museum director Terry Emma does an excellent job in Geneva. It's one of those instances in which a person falls into an important community position, and someone would say that person "was born to do this job."

But it also gives me the chance to say the history museums in Geneva, Batavia and St. Charles are fun and interesting places for all ages to visit.

It likely helps to be a history "nerd" to make this your life's work, but you must mostly care about the community your museum serves. You recognize this passion when you see it, and so does the American Alliance of Museums.

Water Bar expands

The Water Bar cafe is adding a second location in the Tri-Cities, moving into the 315 W. State St. location that housed the Sugar Path.

This café-pastry shop operation has been in business for the past two months at 201 S. Third St. in St. Charles.

The business touts itself as a "celiac friendly, vegan, peanut- and gluten-free experience for everybody."

"People can order items and pick them up, and we do delivery," said Matt Dolan, manager at The Water Bar in St. Charles.

"There are places to sit inside for coffee or lemonade, mostly for drinks," Dolan added. "There are some pastries, but not a lot of food available inside."

A Sweet Jubilee Bakery operates inside each Water Bar location, offering vegan and gluten-free cakes, cupcakes, doughnuts and cookies.

Owner Ron Anderson is targeting an Oct. 1 opening at the Geneva cafe. In early 2020, Anderson laid the foundation for this type of business when preparing to open Rejoice, a healthy dining restaurant on Third Street in Geneva.

COVID and other factors derailed that plan, but The Water Bar carries on that concept.

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