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In past years, neighborhood Welcome Wagons usually were associated with gray-haired women going to the new neighbor's house with a basket of homemade cookies.

The Amherst Welcome Wagon is not your mother's social club.

This Welcome Wagon is there not only for new residents, but for women changing jobs, getting through a divorce or becoming a new mom, among other things, said vice president Chris McCauley.

In fact, this Welcome Wagon is not even part of the national Welcome Wagon organization, having gone on its own in recent years as ties between the groups just seemed to trail off, McCauley said.

Now, she said, the local group gets it own lists of new residents, usually by going through real estate listings.

And with that list, the local group invites people to newcomer coffees.

Its other activities include book clubs, play groups, sports groups such as golf and tennis, wine tastings and such activities as morning coffee and couples socials.

"We try to target all age groups," president Dina Siragusa said. "Before, in the past, the vast majority of women in the organization were middle-age; we target everyone from 21 to 91."

What's more, she said, "even though this is a women's club, we do a lot of work with families."

The group is most proud of its charity work.

The Amherst Welcome Wagon has donated to charities that include the Ronald McDonald House, Friends of Night People, the Amherst Domestic Violence Task Force and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

"We raise about $4,000 each year," Siragusa said. "But every year, we try to top ourselves."

The original Amherst Welcome Wagon, with 200 members, is about 35 years old, but the group has been on its own for about three years, McCauley said.

It is the largest of the five Welcome Wagon organizations in Erie County. There are also chapters in Boston, Williamsville, Orchard Park and Clarence.

McCauley, who arrived from the United Kingdom in July 1995, credits the organization for a smooth adjustment to her new home.

"When I arrived from the U.K., I had two children, a 19-month-old and a 3-year-old," she said. "I was in a brand-new environment, and this club was my lifeline, really. Without it, I would have found it much harder to adjust."

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