A HAG and proud of it

Go ahead. Call Joanne Padgett a HAG.

She’ll thank you and, next thing you know, you’ll be hosting a party for 20-50 women who neither you nor she have ever met before. And you’ll enjoy it, because there will be wine and food and gossip and you’ll spend the next few weeks saying hello in the grocery store to a whole bunch of women who are no longer strangers.

HAGS is Padgett’s contribution to Grafton society. It stands for Hello And Goodbye Social (the title came from a scene in “Sleepless in Seattle”) and it started in 1999 as an informal rotating get-together for women new to town.

“When I moved here, I had a new baby and it’s hard to just sort of feel you belong somewhere,” said Padgett, whose voice carries a trace of her native Jamaica. Her husband, Brook Padgett, is now a selectman.

Padgett slowly started to meet other women in town and over time an idea formed: HAGS. A woman would volunteer to host a gathering at her home, or at a local restaurant, open to any woman who lived in town. The only rules: at every HAGS function, you must introduce yourself to at least two people and, the next time you come, you should bring a friend.

The idea snowballed. Padgett has a roster of 350 email addresses to which she sends occasional emails about the next HAGS party and various news items from around town. Walking for breast cancer? Opening a new store? Looking for volunteers? If it involves Grafton, generally asking for it to be added to a HAGS mail is one of the fastest ways to get an audience.

“There are so many women who are involved in so many different things,” Padgett said. “Business, charitable causes — we have so many entreprenurial women in Grafton, and there are so many people moving into Grafton. It’s really just a networking thing. People will say ‘do you know a good electrician, a good plumber’ and people will share their experiences. You might not leave with a best friend, but you will leave knowing a lot more people.”

HAGS has become a forum for candidates testing the waters; it’s led sessions at the Community Barn and held drives for the food pantry. HAGS has also funded a Grafton High School scholarship through such events as a “HAGS and Stags” dance at the Grafton Inn. The event didn’t happen this year — the Grafton Inn changed hands and went a bit more upscale; a second venue fell through.

Over the years, HAGS has seen a changing of the guard, Padgett said, with the first members’ attendance decreasing as their children get older and they develop close friendships. But few ask to be dropped from the emails — Padgett says several women have moved out of state but like the running update of happenings back in Grafton.

“I think if I rang the alarm bell, all the HAGS would come running,” she said with a laugh.

Want to get on the HAGS list? Drop a line to syd95(at)aol.com. The next HAGS will be held in September.

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