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VOL. 43 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 27, 2019

New2Knox? This group can help you find a friend

By Rhiannon Potkey

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“It’s really about having a safe space to bring together a bunch of new people who want friends and community,” Emilie Stooksbury explains.

-- Photograph Provided

Midway through a training run for a half-marathon, Emilie Stooksbury made an emotional disclosure.

Stooksbury wanted to leave Knoxville and return home to Austin. She felt isolated and was struggling to find friends after moving to the city for work.

Her training partner, Emily Stevens, was startled by the admission.

“It was like a light bulb moment,” Stevens says. “If she was feeling this way, there had to be other people having the same challenge of finding friends.”

The conversation sparked the formation of New2Knox, an organization that helps connect people and promotes the city of Knoxville.

Stevens and Stooksbury began working on the project in 2016, and it has grown to include a staff of seven people helping organize events.

The New2Knox demographic skews toward young adults, but the organization welcomes people of all ages. It has accumulated 9,000 followers on Instagram and had 150 people at a launch party last month for its new website.

New2Knox hosts monthly socials, volunteer days, small group gatherings and weekly events. It collaborates with local establishments to help them drum up more business.

Events have been held at Bearden Beer Market, Honeybee Coffee and Pour Taproom, just to name a few. Throughout the summer and fall, New2Knox has gathered every Tuesday for Trivia Night at the SouthSide Garage food truck park.

“It’s really about having a safe space to bring together a bunch of new people who want friends and community,” Stooksbury explains.

“We want to provide that without all the stigma surrounding it, and have people be comfortable meeting others.”

Despite the name, New2Knox is not just for new residents. It’s for anyone wanting to find new friends or explore areas of Knoxville they may not know much about.

The New2Knox website provides information on different neighborhoods in the city. Browsers can learn about where to eat, where to shop and what outdoor activities are offered.

“We are kind of like the chamber, but we are not a business. We are for personal life,” adds Stevens, 34, a Kingsport native.

“At our first meeting, we discussed giving back to our local community. That is really important to us. We want people getting connected and giving back to our city and keeping up to date about new things happening here.”

Erin Albright, 34, spotted a New2Knox Instagram post in February and was intrigued. The stay-at-home mom has lived in Knoxville nearly her entire life, but wanted to find a way to socialize more.

“I had reservations at first, but they were quickly squashed because everyone was so welcoming and sweet,” Albright says. “Transitioning in that mom life can be difficult, so I joined the group and have come out with some everlasting friendships.”

Albright has used New2Knox to get reacquainted with parts of Knoxville she hasn’t visited in a long time. She’s discovered a lot of elements to the city she never knew existed or never had a reason to check out on her own.

“The wonderful thing is it’s all about community. This group holds the community on a high pedestal and that is nice,” Albright adds. “It transcends so many different things. I was a little bit of a recluse, and it brought me out a little bit and snowballed once I started having that sense of community.”

SouthSide Garage didn’t hesitate to partner with New2Knox once the organization reached out about holding a weekly Trivia Night at the South Knoxville location.

“They bring a good following and they are really easy to work with,” says SouthSide Garage co-owner David Yousif. “Every time they come, we can tell that people are making new friends and new connections.

“It’s pretty cool to see friendships being made right in front of us. It makes for a really great vibe.”

Stooksbury, 27, never imagined her admission of being lonely would lead to such a positive outcome that has reached so many people.

“It has been so encouraging because I don’t feel crazy for feeling very vulnerable to be like, ‘yeah, I don’t have friends,’” she says. “To see the response from people who were having the same issue was reaffirming in a way. They have been willing to come out and open up and really want to take part in this. It’s kind of a breath of fresh air to know you are not alone in this.”

Stevens wants to eventually spread the idea to cities outside of Knoxville, and create a similar dynamic across the country.

“Our vision is that no one ever feels lonely, that everyone has real friendships and is connected,” Stevens continues. “That is kind of a big vision, but we hope this can be a testing ground to see what can be accomplished.”

Having come so close to leaving three years ago, Stooksbury is happy she stayed in Knoxville. She now has more friends than she ever imagined, and a greater appreciation for her surroundings.

“I learned that a lot of people love this city and are excited about it,” she says. “It’s been fun to show people all the cool things that are happening in Knoxville and get them excited about what they can do and places they can go.”

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