By Marcy

What a delight it has been to get better acquainted with our dynamic president, Julie Cassano! This article continues our series of interviews with officers and members of the IN board to help you, our members, get to know some of the many volunteers who make our organization the wonderful success that it is. I have let Julie speak to us in her own voice from the great write-up that she provided to me for this interview.

Julie writes: I am originally from Belgium and we moved to Canton in 2011 because of my husband’s job. Initially we were supposed to stay for three years but his job has been extended, and it looks like we will be staying for a while now :-). I have one daughter, Maia, who is three and who was born in Ann Arbor, a next IN generation member :-).

I became a member of IN in April 2012 and started pretty much immediately volunteering as webmaster. I also joined the hiking group and the quilting group. After Maia was born, I set up several baby tea groups as I felt the need for some more groups for mothers with young children. As I live in Canton, Robyn was so good to offer her house in Ann Arbor as a meeting place. I also started a music, mommy, and me group with a friend of mine who is a professional teacher.

Last year I was asked to become president and gladly accepted. My friend, Anne, took over my baby tea groups and together we also set up a cooking group and an arts and crafts class where we have childcare.

I am a big fan of IN through which I have made pretty much all of my friends. I enjoy the activity groups but even more the volunteering work. I used to work in marketing and communication for a big European logistical company almost 24/7 so moving to the USA and not working was a big adjustment. However, volunteering for IN gave me the opportunity to stay active and learn new things and new insights about myself, and of course meet great people. I love hearing all the different stories from our members and watch friendships develop between people who otherwise would have never met. And I love being a part of such a lively organization. Our volunteers are an amazing group of women and a great mix of new and long time members which makes for a good blend of ideas. And the members of our board pour their heart and soul in this organization. Moving to a new country can be such a difficult and lonely experience and I am very proud that we can help make it easier for people. Making use of the internet, IN can help perhaps less in a practical way but even more in a social way than before (Facebook gets you only so far).

My goal as president is to adapt IN to the current profile of our members. Women’s interests have changed so much over the years and we need to respond to that. A typical example of possible new approaches: incorporate social media or start new groups’ like jewelry making and yoga groups. However, IN has been around for so long that I feel like I inherited an organization that I want to prepare for future generations without it losing its roots, so I want to make sure I keep its key values, like the personal touch.

One of our newest ideas is to set up a group for teenage girls who would meet once a month (escorted by our regular members) for fun activities. It would help teenage newcomers make friends and settle in and teenage neighbors learn about other cultures, volunteering, and more concrete things about IN. We are also juggling with the idea of setting up a kind of advisory group of former presidents to pass on their knowledge and experience to the board. As I said, going forward but staying rooted.

My big dream for IN: An IN house where people can walk in whenever they want to see each other, with rooms for the activity groups and childcare. My even bigger dream: an IN house on every continent but for now, we’ll go for another year of fun activities and amazing IN Days.

Besides IN and my daughter, I don’t have that much time left, although now she has started daycare which gives me two “free” days a week 🙂 So I recently started up swimming again which I already loved as a kid. And I love to cook. I am all about easy, tasty food with natural ingredients. I am a big fan of Jamie Oliver (English celebrity chef, restaurateur, and media personality) :-). Also I often enjoy a crossover to Mediterrean food, as my father is Italian. Recently my sister got me hooked on Ottolenghi, great vegetarian dishes with a middle eastern touch. And I love to go out, dance, experience new things, and meet new people. I am very much in love with Detroit. It is amazing how much it has changed since we got here. So much is going on there. People won’t be beaten down which gives the city a great vibe. And it is named one of the top 10 cities to visit in 2016, so make sure to visit it while you are here!

Thanks so much, Julie, for this wonderful description of your own experiences and dreams for International Neighbors, and for all you do for our great organization!