Summer Challenge: 10 Ways to Welcome Your Neighbors
by Jon Aguilar, Regional Communications Coordinator
I had the great privilege of attending the Welcome Home Summit on May 16 in Edgewood. Amidst the conversations and idea sharing, I found that my biggest take away from the whole event is that we all have an important role to play as good neighbors if we want to make our communities places that are welcoming to newcomers. Here are just a few ideas I got from the conference below. If you'd like to read more about the conference, I encourage you to read this reflection by my colleague Jason Neises.
Stop Saying How Much Your Town Sucks
Because it's really awesome. This seems like common-sense, but it's the driving force behind a lot the negative images placed on small towns. When engaging in open conversations, focus on the things you love about your community.
Host a Newcomer Lunch: Just for Newcomers
And don't invite them join XYZ organization's board, or to volunteer for yada yada. Create a space where newcomers can share a meal and make new friends with other newcomers.
Consider Hosting Classes for New Residents
This is borrowing a little from my own experience in Dubuque. Multiple times per year the city hosts Distinctively Dubuque classes. The group meets for several weeks at various hotspots in the city to learn about history, things to do and various resources. As a newcomer to the city, I found a class like this was inciteful and fun. I learned how to play Euker, experienced turkey dressing sandwiches for the first time and I met a ton of new friends.
Take Time to Say Hello to the People Next Door
This one's easy for me because I grew up in a neighborhood of "porch sitters" in small town Iowa. Considering where you live, have you introduced yourself to the people next door, down the block, or down the street. I'm not saying you need to bring a welcome basket, but sometimes a simple hello can make a world of difference.
Have the Young People in Your Community Interview Newcomers
Talk about changing perspectives. This is a really good thing to pair with a newcomer luncheon. Invite youth from local schools to come and talk to newcomers about why they chose to live in this town.
Accept People will Leave and That It's a Good Thing
But we have to keep people here no matter what! Well, you don't. You want your young people to go out and explore the world and learn new things. It's okay, because many come back home, and that knowledge and experience can be what drives progress in your community tomorrow.
Be an Ambassador
Dare to tell everyone how great your town is everywhere you go and encourage your friends to do the same. Positivity is contagious. Make sure that the frontline contacts are trained about the city and be a positive ambassador.
It's Not a Retention Problem, It's a Recruitment Problem
Small towns don't need to focus on keeping people from moving away. They need to work to make their town seem more appealing. How does that work? Welcome, all people as visitors. If you're a person on the front lines as a cashier at the local gas station or a bartender at the local pub, be prepared to tell people why you choose to live in your town.
Spread the News: Rural Iowa is Alive
Rural communities aren't dying, they're changing. People choose to live in rural communities for a number of reasons. I know when my wife and I moved to a small community, we didn't choose it because of a job, we chose it because it felt welcoming. People smiled at us as we walked down the street, introduced themselves at the supermarket, and even welcomed us with a plate of cookies on moving day.
Want to learn more? Check out these resources from the conference or contact Jason Neises at the Community Foundation at 563.588.2700.
Ben Winchester's PowerPoint (PDF)
A copy of the PowerPoint presentation shared during the summit.
Resource Listing (PDF)
We put together a summary of the resource folks who spoke on the second panel that describes their programs in more detail and lists their contact information.
Summit Outcomes - Word Cloud (PDF)
We compiled all the sticky note comments provided at the end of the session and created some “word clouds” that summarize the comments. The larger the word, the more often it came up in people's comments.
Summit Outcomes - Individual Responses (PDF)
A compilation of all of the sticky note comments provided at the end of the session.