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Jennifer Cruet knew Women Recreating Retirement was taking off at Women & Family Life Center (WFLC) when so many women showed up for a meeting, it had to be held outside. Jennifer will be honored on Sunday, Oct. 20 at WFLC’s Men Who Cook fundraising gala with WFLC’s 2019 Cut Above Award. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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When did Jennifer Cruet know Women Recreating Retirement (WRR) was taking off? The day she couldn’t find parking for a WRR meeting that was so packed, it had to take place in the backyard at Women & Family Life Center (WFLC).
“One day, I saw no parking spaces on the street. I thought, ‘What happened? Maybe they’re having an event they weren’t telling me about,’” says Jenn, standing at WFLC’s garden gate. “So I parked way down there, and when I arrived, there were all these women outside, because there was no space to meet! So we met out here—and luckily, it was a nice day!”
Suffice it to say, word had gotten around about WRR, which Jenn, a retired public school educator, founded at WFLC. Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the group, which Jenn still leads as a WFLC volunteer. Currently, WRR has 270 members, and counting, Jenn notes.
“Every meeting, two new people join. I’m not exaggerating! It’s amazing,” says Jenn. “We started out with 8 to 10 women in a room at the center, and we ended up moving to the next-door room, because we grew to about 12. And then, we started meeting in the Carriage House at back, because we had 25 to 30. And we just kept growing and growing.”
Soon after that impressive outdoor meeting, with help from WFLC, Jenn scrambled to find a new gathering space that could be reliably scheduled on the monthly WFLC program calendar. Thanks to an assist from WFLC supporter and then part-time staffer Mary Beeman, Jenn found an opportunity to meet at Guilford First Church of Christ, Scientist, on Park Street. To this day, a big crowd of WWR members fills the church at 10:30 a.m. on the third Wednesday of every month. Guest talks and programs are curated by Jenn, with help from a volunteer committee of members.
“The guests range from people in the community, or groups that are looking for help, or even fashion shows put on by local shops. The police department will come and give us safety tips. We have speakers who come from the domestic violence center,” says Jenn.
In many cases, WRR will work to respond to a need that members learn of during these talks, Jenn adds.
“You cannot imagine how generous the women in this group are. They are extremely generous,” says Jenn. “One time, we had two FBI agents come who needed help for child trafficking victims. They needed stuff for them—backpacks filled with toiletries, clothing—because these girls had nothing. You would be shocked how much these women donated. One of the FBI agents—a tough, seasoned FBI agent—was in tears, she was so moved by what they did.”
An annual WRR membership fee ($20) not only pays the rent for the meeting room, but also contributes to WRR’s Giving Fund. Through the fund, the membership gives annual holiday contributions to families in need, WFLC, and Connecticut Food Bank, to which the group gives additional support.
“Because we come from all over—we have people coming from Hebron, Hamden, Milford, and Wallingford—we help the Connecticut Food Bank, which helps so many people throughout the state,” says Jenn. “So we have a volunteers who go to the [Connecticut] Food bank in Wallingford twice a month, and they help there. They just carpool, and they go.”
WRR members also volunteer to assist at WFLC, from helping out at the front desk if needed to pitching in to give a hand to special events and programs.
For all she’s done to advocate for issues affecting women and girls, and as a role model to the WFLC staff, board, and volunteers, on Sunday, Oct. 20, Jenn will be officially honored at WFLC’s Men Who Cook fundraising gala with WFLC’s 2019 Cut Above Award. The gala, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, has received great support from the community and sponsors, and an amazing response through ticket purchases, says WFLC Development Director Dawn Jackson.
Jenn says she’s incredibly honored to have the opportunity to give back to her community thanks to the mission of non-profit WFLC and work of its remarkable leadership team.
“It’s such a great partnership. Without this center, [WRR] couldn’t exist,” says Jenn.
For her part, WFLC Executive Director Meghan Scanlon says she’s learned a lot from Jenn.
“Jenn has shown me how powerful women can be simply through her work on behalf of others,” Meghan says. “She reminds me how amazing women are through their selflessness and ability to get things done. There is no one I can think of more deserving of this honor.”
Back in 2005, Jenn was newly retired from her career as a public school teacher and special education teacher and administrator with Wallingford public schools. She was looking forward to really enjoying spending more time in the hometown she and her husband, John, had been drawn to for years before moving here in the 1980s. John also brought his practice, John Cruet Jr., AIA Architect, to town.
About four years into retirement, Jenn realized, “I was very happy, but I missed the camaraderie of work. I missed the mental challenge, and helping. I was a teacher for seven years, a special ed teacher for 14 years, and a special ed supervisor for 14 years, so I always had this feeling of wanting to help other people, and being involved in the community, too.”
In talking with a group of other friends in retirement, Jenn found, “We all felt the same way. We all were of the same age, we all felt not ready to ‘retire.’ So the seed was there.”
That seed started taking root soon after Jenn came across a newspaper article about a Milford group founded by psychotherapist Barbara Weinberg in 2007.
“It was called Women Redefining Retirement, and they had 250 members,” says Jenn, who attended some meetings and contacted Weinberg.
“Barbara was fantastic. She talked to me about everything I should do, about the glitches I might encounter. So we based our model on them,” says Jenn.
Next, Jenn needed to find a place in this area for this new group to meet. Luckily for WFLC, Jenn remembered something she’d told herself earlier.
“I used to take five-mile runs, and I always used to run by here,” says Jenn of WFLC’s home at 96 Fair Street. “And one day, I saw the [WFLC] sign and I thought, someday, I’m going to do something there.’ So when I was looking for a place, I thought, ‘Hey, let’s contact them and see if they want to host us.’”
Jenn reached out to then-WFLC executive director Liza Petra and then-program coordinator Leslie Krumholz. The rest, as they say, is history.
“They jumped right on it,” says Jenn, who has continued to receive the same support from successive WFLC staff through the years, right up to today’s leadership.
“I really do admire all these women who work here. It takes a lot of commitment, and they’re all so energetic,” says Jenn.
Speaking of energy, powered by the sheer number of members involved with WRR, spin-off groups have developed. These “sub-groups” meet at the WFLC Carriage House on their own, says Jenn. The sub-groups provide extra options catering to specific member interests such as travel and leisure, movie-lovers, book groups, bridge players, Mahjong enthusiasts, and many others.
“What I’ve really found is that Women Recreating Retirement serves the same need I was looking for. We’re retiring at a not-that-old age, we’re active, and we’re looking for camaraderie,” says Jenn. “I have women my group who are in their 80s who are leading sub-groups and traveling everywhere! And what’s also really rewarding is that a lot of women, who may not have ever known each other, are now best friends. So we really are recreating retirement. We’re forming bonds, we’re helping each other, we’re helping in the community; and we’re really happy doing it.”
For more information on Women Recreating Retirement or all of the programs available through Women & Family Life Center, visit womenandfamilylife.org.
Get ready to celebrate the holidays with our helpful guide
The 2020 Member Directory and Town Guide for Branford, Guilford, North Branford, and Northford has arrived!