Over the past two years the world has shifted seismically. As we all find our societies changed, perhaps irrevocably, by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is my hope that together, in recognition of how interconnected we all are, we will build an International Neighbors community that represents us all here in Ann Arbor.
International Neighbors has had to adapt and evolve in ways we never imagined when the organization was founded more than 60 years ago. We know we need to create a simpler way to maneuver on our website, sign up for groups and find out more about IN in general. To that end, we are creating a new website and our communications team is building a simplified and user-friendly environment for the next IN Board, President, and group leaders to navigate.
I am immensely proud of the IN team of volunteers, their positivity, resilience, and compassion. This past year brought many challenges, but also opportunities – it has been remarkable. These unprecedented times have caused us to rethink the way we work, with more flexibility, technological changes, and a focus on inclusivity.
Of course, adapting completely to our new website and communications endeavors is not without its obstacles, and I wish to thank every member of our team and all our members for their constant dedication and support of each other. The work of our members and group leaders in adapting has solidified International Neighbors as an innovative, adaptable, and determined team, and has shown that, indeed, we are stronger together.
Thank you for your continued support of International Neighbors.
Andra Bostian Ferguson – President,
The following are the Annual Reports for each area of International Neighbors.
Compiled by Shirley M.
Five Conversation Groups met weekly during year 2 of the Covid Pandemic. It was a comforting connection for all the women involved. There were fewer women coming from other countries, but several of the women who returned to their home countries were able to continue to be part of their Conversation Groups by participating over Zoom.
The group of mothers and young children was willing to meet in-person outdoors, and they met at parks with a baby-sitter throughout both summers, as long as the weather was mild. And in the Fall of 2021, they started meeting in-person at the rental room at Church of the Good Shepherd, at Dale’s house and in restaurants.
Thanks to all Conversation Group leaders who met together on ZOOM, as well as in-person, for leading our groups: Marcy T. and Sara G. (Monday a.m.), Lonnie V., Rachel B. and Dale M. (Tuesday a.m.), Carole W. and Martha F. (Tuesday p.m.), Kari M. and Barbara Z. (Wednesday a.m.) and Vesna O. and Pat M. (Thursday a.m.).
Cultural Encounters Group
This was the 5th year of the Cultural Encounters group and it was such a pleasure. This year some of the members were happy to meet in-person which was a wonderful breath of fresh air, giving us an opportunity to catch up. We organized and held the first International Neighbors Art fair event in October, where members donated items from around the world and all the proceeds of over $600 were donated directly to IN. The group now meets monthly on Thursday afternoons from 1-3pm, and we continue to discuss our cultural differences and similarities in a relaxed setting. The group has about 20 members from 12 different countries. We held a few Zoom meetings as well, discussing “Business and Trade Around the World” and “Book Treasures of Different Countries” where each member presented their favorite authors and books.
Since we have begun meeting in-person we have also had an international potluck by the fire pit during the colder months, took a stroll in downtown Plymouth during the Christmas Holiday market, and an introduction to Japanese cuisine at a Japanese restaurant. We plan to have different cuisines presented during fun gatherings and look forward to more cultural encounters in the future.
It’s been another year requiring Discussion Group Leaders to adapt, and they have done a wonderful job! Groups have been meeting outside when they can, on Zoom when necessary, and when cases have been particularly low, groups have occasionally been able to meet at member’s homes again.
There are currently 8 active discussion groups – 2 Film groups, 3 Language groups, and 3 Topic groups. Unfortunately, we’ve lost 4 groups since the start of the pandemic, but there is hope for a new group in the autumn.
New requests to join Discussion groups are still quite low compared to pre-2020 levels, but have picked up slightly from last year. New members come from countries including Belgium, Japan, Denmark, Turkey, South Korea, China, the Netherlands, Poland, the US, Brazil, and Germany.
We had five Reading Groups this year. They were: Karen and Virginia’s Advanced group, Shirley and Vesna’s High-Intermediate Mystery Books group, Marian and Carole’s High-Intermediate group, Adrienne and Veronica’s Advanced group and Melissa and Carole’s Low-Intermediate group.
Shirley and Vesna’s group met every week, while the other groups met twice a month. Unfortunately, both Karen and Virginia’s lives made it challenging for them to continue to lead their group, so at the end of February they discontinued their meetings, hopefully temporarily, until they can find leaders to continue the group next fall.
All meetings were on Zoom for most of the year, except for Adrienne and Veronica’s group, which met outside in person when the weather was comfortable. Meeting on Zoom was often a benefit, since quite a few of the members lived out of town or outside of the U.S. This was definitely an advantage to reconnect with previous members who had moved away from the Ann Arbor/Michigan area!
It is hoped that three of the groups will continue to meet during the summer and Adrienne and Veronica’s group will meet monthly on a social basis, not to read any books.
Many thanks to all of the dedicated leaders who continued to meet this year under the continually challenging circumstances of the pandemic! Our reading groups and International Neighbors wouldn’t be able to continue without you! You’re all treasured friends!
Special Interest Groups
The 2021 – 2022 season has been another challenging year for the Special Interest Groups. Attendance was down for all of the groups and meeting in person was difficult. When possible, the hiking groups were able to meet and other groups tried Zoom meetings with limited success.
We have fewer choices of groups with the loss of three food groups, the crocheting and quilting groups and three excursion groups. Hopefully next year will offer more opportunities for in-person gatherings.
The Tea Groups have done their best under trying circumstances this past year. Good weather allowed a number of outdoor events, including backyard birthday parties, trips to Matthaei Botanical Gardens, and campfires at the Racquet Club. The Wildwood Tea Group (known as the Tea Group on its feet) included sculpture viewing at the University of Michigan among its interesting outings. One group is successfully connecting via Zoom, but the other groups prefer to wait until we can safely meet in-person, taking a sabbatical for now. Children under five are important to the Tea Groups, so we look forward to the time they can be vaccinated.
Friendships remain strong in the Tea Groups with the Ann Arbor Woods group coming together for the first time in two years in April to celebrate Shirley W’s 90th birthday. Impressively, three ladies present were even older than her!
Sadly, we lost two retired long-time Tea Group leaders this year, Marilyn Maaseidvaag of Sassafras in July and Phyllis Husted of the Go Go Tea Group in April. They will be sorely missed.
As the weather improves, some Tea Groups will meet during the summer, perhaps enjoying the centennial of the peony garden. Hopefully, by the fall we can return to a regular, monthly Tea Group schedule meeting in different hostess’s houses.
Neighbors Follow-Up Coordinator
We had 17 new ladies join since the April board meeting. They are from:
Israel – 2; U.S. – 5; Poland – 1; Japan – 3; Brazil – 1; India – 1; Mexico – 1; China – 1; Peru – 1; and Canada – 1. Our Membership list is being updated to reflect membership changes throughout the year.
II. Group Lists
Information from 22 group lists has been received, edited, and noted on the two membership lists. 278 ladies joined these 22 groups and 74 ladies joined the two International Days (fall and March). We have Neighbors from 82 countries (+ 2 unknown) and Newcomers from 40 countries (+39 unknown).
Thank you so very much, coordinators and leaders, for sending me this information!
A note was published in the April Newsletter asking for updated information of our members. Hopefully they will respond so there aren’t so many blanks in the address and country columns. Incomplete information will make processes especially complicated when Newcomers are “graduated” in May and their addresses are needed for our fall mailing.
The year 2021/22 for International Neighbors recorded more new members compared to 2020/21, but significantly less than the pre Covid pandemic period. We lost Mamiko I., our long-term Japanese ambassador, who moved to France. Gretchen F. was extremely helpful as she recruited some of her students to become ambassadors. We also lost our Brazilian ambassador Monica L. due to resettlement in Texas, but we are lucky to have Shirley M. who is helping as an interim Brazilian ambassador until we find a more permanent one. We have a new Korean ambassador, Rose Y. and a permanent Spanish ambassador Eva M.
I (Vesna) am taking this opportunity to let you know that I am stepping down officially from the role of Ambassadors Coordinator and to thank you all on the Board of International Neighbors for your support and guidance during my years at this position. I am glad that Ammu S. will replace me. She is extremely competent and friendly and it’s going to be a delight to have her on the Board.
The 2021/2022 season will end on May 31st. At that time, three Board positions will be open, and there are nominations for two of those positions. Voting will take place at the Annual Meeting in May.
Stephanie B. has been nominated to become Treasurer. Her nomination was accepted by the Board.
Ammu S. has been nominated for the Ambassador Coordinator position. Her nomination has also been accepted by the Board.
President Andra has requested a Co-President, but as of yet, no one has been found for this position. The search will be posted on our Facebook group. Recruiting new board members will probably become easier as the pandemic slows down and we resume meeting in person.
IN would like to thank those members stepping down from their positions for all the work they put in fulfilling their jobs. Thank you, Vesna O. for all her years as Ambassador Coordinator and thank you Karina for your work as Treasurer.
The Volunteer Coordinator sent welcome emails to new members of IN who weren’t contacted by an existing Ambassador. English is the first language of most, but not all of the new members. The first part of the year saw few new members but as the pandemic eased and spring arrived, our numbers increased dramatically. New member get-togethers will be resumed in late May or early June. The casual meet and greet get-togethers will be held two-three times a year.
A few new members seek volunteer opportunities this year; their requests were forwarded to the appropriate member of IN.
The secretary attended all Board meetings except February where Robyn kindly recorded the Minutes. Board meetings returned to in-person with the option to join via Zoom. Copies of the corrected Minutes of the monthly Board meetings, including Board members’ monthly reports, were emailed to the Board and Emeritus before the next monthly meeting. The secretary is transitioning to using the new International Neighbors Google Drive to store and share Minutes.
The secretary attended the fall outdoor gathering and the International Days when they recommenced in March 2022.
The secretary maintained a file of International Neighbors materials to be deposited in the Bentley Library. A thumb drive of Board Minutes from 2021-22 and Minutes of the Annual Meeting will also be deposited in the Bentley Library. In addition, the secretary ensured that the website had been electronically captured by the Bentley Library, which they have offered to do on an annual basis.