Hear Us Roar
September 2020 Issue
Photography by Mike Force Photography
The St. Simons Island Newcomers Club
Meet Gary Nickoukary–President, activity organizer Dondra Whigham,
and “numbers guy” Mark Semmelmayer—a trio of key leaders in the non-profit organization The St. Simons Island Newcomers Club. For over 15 years their mission in promoting community friendliness has seen their numbers grow to over 340 members this year. Their successful program incorporates learning and
socialization while gaining an appreciation for the Golden Isles.
How do people moving to St. Simons Island find your organization? Why do they join?
Gary: The majority find us through word of mouth, new neighbors, friends, and those who experienced the club and recommend it. Then they find our website: www.islandnewcomers.org.
Dondra: People join mainly to meet new neighbors, make new friends and to discover St. Simons Island.
Mark: We received 180 responses from a recent survey. Some said: ‘Our social circle here is larger than it ever was in Atlanta’. The ‘satisfied’ and ‘very satisfied’ boxes were checked at over 90 percent!
What is Island Newcomers Club is best known for? What’s next?
Gary: Our (pre-pandemic) monthly meet and greet socials have been the most popular with total membership get-togethers at places like King & Prince, Village Creek Landing, and Sea Island Stables. We recently added casual bike riding groups, gardening at various homes and some want to start a rummy card playing group and investment club.
Dondra: We schedule island adventures and outdoor activities all over the Golden Isles—Darien, Jekyll Island, and Brunswick. We go to FLETC, the hospital, the Port of Brunswick and more. Members also love our Dining In & Dining Out. Eight to ten members dine out or visit other’s homes—they love it. Island adventures group meets for kayaking, book clubs, bowling, and there’s bi-weekly golf and croquet. We have tons of adventures to choose from.
Mark: One interesting survey thing were comments for more activities for singles incorporating them more into our groups such as Dining In & Dining Out—for singles.
How are members creatively remaining socially safe during the pandemic?
Gary: Many groups within our organization are still safely getting together. A big focus of my presidency has been to the best degree possible, keep active. A good sign for us is new members are joining at a normal rate, even during the pandemic.
Dondra: Dining In and Out groups become Dining Outside. They bring their lawn chairs and dine outdoors. We also offer outdoor adventure bike rides, garden club, and adopt a highway. Our cooking class groups are spread-out indoors with seven members at a time.
How do Island Newcomer members Give Back?
Gary: Through Keep Golden Isles Beautiful, we adopted a highway where we pick up trash monthly. We all like to give back. Yearly, we invite local non-profits such as the Humane Society, SSI Land Trust, and KGIB to host information tables at a club meet and greet.
Do working people join?
How does your three-year term work?
Mark/Dondra: Most definitely! Our age ranges have dropped as younger working people join Island Newcomers. We’ve met more couples where at least one spouse is still working or working from home. We’ve increased weekend adventure events so those working during the week can join us.
Gary: Living on St. Simons for two years or less qualifies you to join. You get 3 full years of membership and then after that, you graduate out as an official islander. You can continue to meet on your own outside the Island Newcomers; many members keep in touch that way.
As current Island Newcomers leaders, what really makes you three ROAR?
Dondra: The Island Newcomers Club is very dynamic! You will meet amazing people and have a lot of fun! Its kind of an everlasting friendship circle. We offer so many things, you get to pick and choose what you want to do.
Mark: Regardless of your personal interest, there’s something here in the club for every taste and every passion.
Gary: It is a fun active organization I was resistant in joining originally. I thought it was for older people and have found it the exact opposite! My wife joined first—I joined later. I told her ‘go ahead and do it’—and now here I am—the President!
Group photo: Left to Right, Top Row: Dondra, Tim, Rich, Debbie, Sandy
Middle Row: Neil, Jodie, Donna, Lynn, Bonny, Gary
First Row: Steve (bike) Debbie, Barbara, Gary, Darlyn, Carol
Duo: Dondra and Gary