By Marie Bradby

Gina Stipo (L) is in Louisville largely due to friendship and support from Barb and Bill Juckett.
Photos by Melissa Donald 

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Change your friends, change your life.”
We all need to make new friends at certain times in our lives, whether it’s because we’ve moved, gotten a new job, or the kids have spread their wings and flown out of the nest.

The one constant that we can rely on in life is change. Just when we think a good day will last forever, everything can flip in an instant: new responsibilities, new surroundings, new family dynamics, new health challenges. Friends are there to pick us up, because as Maya Angelou said, “Nobody, but nobody can make it out here alone.” Here are three women’s tips on making new friends.

When You’re a Newcomer
You might think you are going to Chef Gina Stipo’s At the Italian Table restaurant on Frankfort Avenue just for the down-home Italian food. But chances are that by the end of the meal — served community-style at two tables of 10 with just one reservations-only nightly seating — you will have made new friends.

“I let everybody know ahead of time what is going to happen, and I give them an aperitivo to relax them,” says Gina, 59, an Italian-American who has lived and worked in Italy and is a newcomer to Louisville. “Often it’s a couple here, a couple there, and I put them together at a table. They have a wonderful time having dinner together. We are in the kitchen, listening to people talk who didn’t even know each other two hours ago. They are saying, ‘When can we get together again?’ They are making friends at the table.

“I have a knack for making people feel like we have been friends for a long time.”
After living in Siena for 13 years, where she had a cooking school and led culinary tours for international clientele, Gina moved back to America four years ago. Three years ago, she settled in Louisville, which she first visited in 2009 to do a fundraising dinner for the Italian Cultural Institute of Louisville and fell in love with the city. She found herself having to make new friends but didn’t realize it would happen the instant she entered Bluegrass country.

“Bill and Barb Juckett brought me to Louisville in 2009,” Gina says. “They were heading up a fundraising dinner for the Italian Cultural Institute. I flew from Italy to Cincinnati, rented a car and met them at the Pewee Valley Starbucks off I-71. We were just talking like we had known each other forever. We sat on their back deck until 2am drinking wine.”

A native of metropolitan Washington, D.C., Gina still does her culinary tours of Italy. In mid June, she flew to Italy to meet a group for a one-week tour in Piedmont and another group for a week in Siena.

Once an assistant asked how she handled meeting up with strangers for tours. “I overcome that by pretending I am their friend,” she says. “I assume they have the same level of discomfort that I have. I present it like we have been friends for a long time. That makes them more comfortable.”
For one night, she will invite all her Italian friends along for dinner with the tour group. “I have very good friends in Italy,” Gina says. “They are all Skyping me and sending me messages: ‘How can we get together?’ So, the second night we are in the villa, I’m cooking dinner and have invited my good friends. It’s a way to see my friends because otherwise, I won’t have time for them.”

The secret to making new friends in a new place? “Don’t be afraid to go out and meet people. It’s a matter of putting yourself out there. Sometimes that’s hard. Just remember a lot of people have a hard time putting themselves out there.

“Friends are just people you can trust. They are there for you. If you are in a bad mood, they will cut you some slack.”

LaPrecious Brewer (center) found new friendships with co-workers after starting a new job. 

When Starting a New Career

Even before LaPrecious Brewer started her new job as a communications and marketing coordinator with the Masonic Homes of Kentucky, she knew she needed to make new friends.

Life was hectic. She was finishing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Louisville and working as a communications intern. “My friendships died off around my junior year,” says LaPrecious, 25, a former Miss Black Kentucky. “They were not bad people, but I was just going in a different direction in life. Some people only see where they are in life. I was never that person. I worked myself a lot and didn’t have time to hang out. There are things that you have to mature on.”

With the Masonic Homes celebrating its 150th anniversary, LaPrecious has been working steadily. “We are having events like crazy, so there’s no time for me to get out and do much, even with friendships I was able to hold onto.”

A lot of her new friendships have been with co-workers. “I have such a great family where I work, and I have learned to adjust with friends as coworkers. It’s helped me grow as a person.

“I was scared at first being the youngest in the corporate office and the first African-American. But everyone embraced me. As you have projects, you become closer to your team.” Several marketing team members helped her celebrate her birthday.

Before you build new friendships, you have to know yourself, La Precious says. “That way you are presenting the real person to them.” But be selective. “You don’t want random people eating up your energy.” Then you have to work hard to maintain friendships. “Be open to new experiences, new people.”

She consciously makes time for her non-work friends. “I can hang out and do fun things, but it has to be planned a week or so in advance. We all have busy schedules with events or family responsibilities; our time is not as open as it used to be. It’s not as frequent. It’s not about the quantity, but about the quality of time you spend. It’s fun catching up, cheering them on from afar, seeing how everyone’s grown, the accomplishments they have made.”

(L-R) Quintessa Starks, Tracey Brundage Williams, Kara Atkins, Marian Cheatman, and Livinia Dukes always
make time for a night out together. 

When Your Circumstances Change

Livinia Dukes, 48, has sent her child off into the world. She’s at a point in her life when a lot of women are looking for new friends to hang out with now that they aren’t as tied down with childrearing.

A nurse and program manager for the Christian Care Communities Adult Day Center, Livinia is one of the lucky ones. She followed her son’s interests and sports throughout his growing years, and made friends with the parents of her son’s friends and teammates and has maintained those people as her best friends.

“My friendships blossomed through my son,” Livinia says. “He did it all. He played football, basketball, ran track, and so it was kind of like we all started out when they were 7 and 8 years old. I have known most of the parents since our children were elementary kids. We traveled when they had to go to AAU basketball — all over the country — Las Vegas and Florida. That’s how we all became friends. When he was in high school and college, everyone came to our house.

“Actually, our friendships have bonded closer as the kids left. We go out and have girls’ night. We go to concerts.” Childhood and other friends are still important to her. “I have a lot of other friends from childhood. The place where I’ve met a lot of my newer friends is through my church, because I work with the youth. I’ve met some really good women through our women’s ministry and working with the kids. We’ve bonded pretty well. They still have kids in the house, but we go out for lunch and dinner. “My advice to others would be to get involved in an organization or volunteer somewhere. You can develop a lot of friendships through that by having the same interests.

“Friendships are very special. You have to nurture them like you do anything else. We get so busy, we don’t check on people. Sometimes people are going through something that you don’t know about. When someone comes across my mind, I call them. A lot of times when that happens something is going on with that person that you didn’t know about.”

Livinia offers advice on how to keep a friend: Don’t judge. “A true friend is nonjudgmental, regardless of what’s going with that person. We’ve all made mistakes and done things we shouldn’t have done. Your job is to encourage that person.”

Don’t get caught up in gossip. “When someone brings you mess or trash, you can stop it right there. Tell them, ‘That was your experience with that person, that’s not my experience.’ I tell them I won’t get involved. I’ve been in situations where people have said things that aren’t even true. People make up stuff sometimes. My real friends will say, ‘Don’t bring me that stuff.’”

Don’t get involved with naysayers. “We shouldn’t get distracted by negative people. It can flip you into someone else. You cannot worry about what people say, or what they did. Naysayers can stop you from what you need to do. People can dislike you, but it’s not going to harm you. That’s what’s going on in the world. People are getting caught up in what people are saying. That’s why we have all this violence.”