How can newcomers be better welcomed to Northfield?

Patrick Enders, Felicity Enders, Adam AilabouniLast Friday, Patrick and Felicity Enders paid a visit to the GBM and introduced me to Adam Ailabouni (right in photo). Patrick and Adam are both new family docs at Northfield Hospital’s new Lakeville medical clinic. Adam and his family will be moving to Northfield in the next month.

I saw another newcomer, Liz Reppe, at Art on Water‘s ChARTonnay Thursday last week. Liz recently married local attorney Jonathan Reppe and she just moved to town. We chatted about this issue, as Liz emailed us recently:

Hi, I’m in the beginning stages of forming a Northfield Newcomers group (open to all). The plan is to get together once a month to experience what Northfield has to offer, and to meet new people. Is there a way I, or you, can post something about it on your page?

A few months back, Robbie and I received this packet from Welcome Wagon, as we recently moved from Linden St. to Heritage Drive:

Welcome WagonWelcome Wagon

The packet is pretty much just advertising offers, most of them not local.

While Locally Grown isn’t the place for organizing groups, this is a community issue. What can/should be done to make newcomers feel more welcome and help them get networked in ways they find helpful?  What was helpful/unhelpful when you moved to town? 


  1. Joey Robison said:

    Welcome Services is a company out of Goodhue that provides local coupons, information and offers to newcomers. They have local ambassadors that spend an hour or so with new community members. I believe they advertise in the Shopper and possibly the Northfield News.

    May 27, 2008
  2. Patrick Enders said:

    When we arrived in town last year, we received several calls from a welcome group – I guess it was Welcome Services. Having previously received useless advertising packages (as well as endless phone calls and junk mail dumps) upon our arrival in Rochester MN, we generally ignored their efforts to contact us.

    When we were talking with Bart deMalignon last week (at the Nfld bloggers gathering at Froggy Bottoms), he told us that since Welcome Services took over the process, there are now some more valuable/interesting coupons included for some of Northfield’s distinct, home-grown establishments.

    May 27, 2008
  3. Charlene Coulombe- Fiore said:

    Three cheers to LG for this effort!!!

    When I arrived in June of last year, I did not receive any “welcome packets” or much of anything in the form of a welcome.
    The majority of the staff at City Hall did not live in Northfield, so I was pretty much on my own. The ones who did, never bothered to even invite me to church or tell me where the local cleaners was. Once, a department head mentioned, perhaps we should have dinner sometime, you are here all alone, but we never did. Luckily, I do have family in Lakeville, so occasionally I would have a warm welcome. Also during my last few months, I did have a few welcoming invites. To those, you know who you are and thanks for that!

    The majority of my 11 months in Northfield, I pretty much just worked long hours and when the schedule or a holiday arrived, my family and I would get together.

    For the few who asked to have lunch or share a cup of coffee, thanks.

    For the group now who is offering a welcome opportunity, I say that is so great! Bravo to you! Be sure to hit the newer subdivisions. Hearing… it is a tough place to make friends or belong, or good luck, or what bad timing, or you poor thing, made it a very long winter in Minnesota.

    For those who visited my office to say go home Char….. I thank you.

    Northfield can be a wonderful place to raise a family, start a business and live a great life! I especially loved doing the welcome wagon and visiting the older folks who enjoyed a happy face.

    Hopefully the EDA Board, the community and City Hall will make the next EDA manager feel like a part of the community.


    May 27, 2008
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Charlene.

    Joey, it looks like the name is actually “Welcome Services For You” run by Chuck and Kathy Bristol in Goodhue/Red Wing. 

    They’re listed as a resource on the Northfield Chamber site and as members of the Red Wing Chamber, but evidently they don’t have a web site.

    I think I might have gotten a phone call from them and maybe even a packet… but I can’t retrieve it from the living database. 😉

    May 27, 2008
  5. Mary Rossing said:

    Though these welcome groups provide a service of sorts like coupons, etc the best way to get plugged in is to ask around and then show up at something and volunteer to help. The people I know that have become almost instant Northfielders have gotten involved in one of the MANY service or community organizations. Volunteer for the DJJD committee, the Taste of Northfield, an auction for your kid’s school, planting flowers at Central Park , the Northfield Tennis Assn, etc.–what ever your interest might be. You will immediately find a group of people who are delighted to have you as part of the community! Wondering about who to contact? The Chamber keeps a list of service organizations, or stop in and say hi to me at Present Perfect. If I don’t know who the contact is, I usually know someone who does. But it takes a little initiative.

    “New comers” groups have the problem of by the time the newcomers have gotten together a few times they become old comers, and the NEW new comers need to start another group!

    May 27, 2008
  6. Griff and all, I am one of the representatives of Welcome Services for You in Northfield. See ad, p. 5A, in May 24-25 Northfield News. It is for true newcomers to the area, not those who have moved from one place in Northfield to another, so Griff is out of luck (as is my nephew, who recently moved within the town.) Patrick, as a newcomer, you should have responded to the call! If you had, you would have received: $25 gift coupon to the Tavern, $10 off purchase at Three Pines Gift Shop and Econofoods, $5 off purchases at the Used a Bit Shoppe, Northfield Pharmacy and the Arts Guild shop, buy one meal get one free offers from Reub ‘n’ Stein and Froggy Bottoms, 4 pieces of chicken from Quarterback Club free, a one-hour complimentary massage, various 10-25 per cent off coupons from local merchants, 50% off income tax preparation, free furnace/boiler inspection from Streitz, coupons for free gifts from banks, insurance co’s, stores, totes from Equine Outfitters and Just Food, various coupons from area beauty shops, 20% off first visit vaccination from Countryside Animal Hospital, enough free oil changes and inspections for your car for a year or more (e.g., from Tires Plus: Free oil change, free balance, free tire rotation, free alignment, free maintenance check).

    And a phone book, Northfield and Dundas maps, biking and walking routes and other Chamber of Commerce materials, welcome materials from the library, senior center, Northfield and Rice County Historical societies, Northfield Arts Guild, schools, Defeat Days info, a couple churches, Faribault Mills, each month’s Northfield Entertainment Guide, Just Food newsletter, Scriver Scribbler, visitors’ guides..and more!

    Kathy and Chuck Bristol took over Welcome Services in 2004 (it started in Red Wing in 1946) and besides Northfield-Dundas there are representatives in Lake City, Zumbrota, Wabasha-Kellogg, Owatonna, Faribault and now Mankato.

    In exchange, we do ask that people visit five of the establishments to provide some feedback (quality of merchandise, if coupon was used, etc.), and also authorize Welcome Services to release information about themselves to the sponsors. But, having been called on myself when I moved here in 2004, I can affirm that I received no phone calls, maybe an extra coupon or two in the mail, as a result.

    Mary is right about volunteering as a way of getting involved in the community and in my Welcome Services calls, I provide information to the newcomers about some of these opportunities or direct them to someone who can help. Most everyone has been grateful to have all this information and coupons to encourage them to visit these local establishments and those that use this service are glad to have this way to contact newcomers.

    I should mention that Welcome Services has sponsored Newcomers Clubs in other locations and, although many we have called on here have indicated an interest in one for Northfield, only a few have come to the first initiatives in this direction.

    Since the first of the year, I have called on newcomers from the Twin Cities area, St. Cloud, Prior Lake, Benson, New Jersey, Baltimore, Md., Arkansas, Indiana, Texas and North Carolina and have visits coming up soon with newcomers from Ohio and Massachusetts. Almost all of the newcomers speak very highly of their first impressions of Northfield.

    As the ad says, if you are a newcomer or know a true newcomer to town, call Kathy or Chuck Bristol at 651-923-4916 or 888-923-4916.

    Obviously, there are other things that can and should be done to welcome newcomers, but Welcome Services does provide a pretty good introduction to what this area has to offer.

    May 27, 2008
  7. Skip Zimmerman said:

    When we arrived in Northfield, we were welcomed with open arms by a community that seemed excited to have us here. Much of the fanfare had to do with the publicity around the organization I was connected with as much as it was around welcoming newcomers. We were also invited to join with several groups for their worship, but it soon became apparent that my work-related connections would become important social context for our family as well. The two were not easily separated.

    One topic of conversation at the time was around how difficult it was to “break into” Northfield. We kept hearing warnings referencing terms like “Minnesota Nice” contrasted with “Minnesota Ice”. The former was often mentioned with a roll of the eyes.

    I was disappointed to hear of such undercurrents and for a long time refused to believe that Northfield could be emotionally anything less than what is represented by its exterior look and feel – Cows, Colleges and Contentment, appealing architecture, good pubs, friendly shopping, a rich spiritual life, a peaceful and open politic, some decent recreational opportunities, and the wonderful smells of baking breakfast cereals carried on the pleasant breezes. After all, how could a town that lets its kids and families parade down the main street behind a dude dressed as Saint Patrick (and bear witness to a crack squad of folding chair twirlers at the same time) be anything but a humor-ful and caring place to live? I still believe it to be true, or at least that it can be so.

    In response to these opposing signals, we started to form some thoughts about a way we could be more intentional about welcoming newcomers, as it appeared that the only universal way folks were really “gathered in” was through the auspices of a business operating under the guise of a welcoming agent of the community. More about that below.

    What began to emerge, but for which we never found the time or energy, was a great idea for a self-sustaining program to help folks find their way into social connection as they entered life in Northfield. The idea was inspired a bit by a presentation near the Twin Cities around helping “foreigners”, “immigrants” and “folks from other countries” to feel more at home by first referring to and thinking of them as “newcomers” instead of by some of those other monikers, many of which come attached to various stigma. Gee, couldn’t we think this way about anyone? How about especially in a place that might be suffering a bit from “newcomer avoidance”?

    The idea is simple and centers on folks who have been here about 12 months becoming the initial leaders of a group, Call them “experts”, “ambassadors” or simply “oldies”. These folks would invite those living here less than a month (when the need is greatest) to join and learn about the “real” ways of getting around in town. Notions such as the best food shopping options, where to find a pediatrician, child care and school entry, worship opportunities, organizations, recreation, and the various celebrations and events that shouldn’t be missed would be unveiled. You know, the stuff that really matters to people who don’t yet know their surroundings.

    While the groups of newcomers met monthly to share some donated or potluck food and share their individual findings in the area, they would in fact be developing friendships and connections with others who found themselves in similar situations – as newbies in an unfamiliar land. Instant social network! Oh yeah, and child care would be provided by other volunteers during the meetings to make things even easier.

    The self-sustainability comes in the form of an obligation of sorts to become a “group leader” once you hit the 12-month mark in your residency. You then become the “inviter”, with lists of new folks being supplied through a variety of resources such as realtors, landlords, tax roles, etc. You get shepherded, then you shepherd. You’re still new enough to remember what it was like, but you know your way around enough to help others feel some comfort.

    A school system, civic club or any family organization could easily put it together with very little in the way of capital. It depends on committed volunteers and can therefore be offered for nothing as long as there is no charge for the meeting space. That should be easy.

    As for our experience with the “official” welcome, I was unfortunately disappointed when my family was approached by what was obviously a business. We wanted so much to become connected and to be truly embraced by the community. Instead, we were mildly insulted (or perhaps deeply so) when asked for a meeting in our home. During the request, my partner was immediately pigeon-holed as the non-decision-maker-with-a-traditional-female-household-role. That got my hackles up from the beginning. Besides, we weren’t even approached until something like four months after we’d moved in and already learned the basics of Northfield. The timing and the approach were just off.

    I knew what was coming and held off repeated attempts to be welcomed in the manner prescribed – with coupons for savings at local businesses. When I finally relented to meet with a representative in my office (trying desperately to ensure that my wife, who wanted to avoid the entire encounter, was not subjected to an unwanted sales job in our 2-year-old-infested, cracker-crumbed and crayon-stained rental), I was startled when the first thing requested was my signature. I was asked to sign a release that allowed the business to “give” my name and address to all of the merchants whose businesses were represented by a collection of coupons and advertising flyers. Who were they kidding?

    When I declined, I was told that this was the only way I could get my greedy hands on the elusive and awesomely revered thing known as “The Welcome Packet”, which value was enhanced by the dollar amount of savings it represented.

    I’m still waiting to feel welcomed at this point in the interaction. Since I did not want to be the object of a flood of junk mail, I stood my ground and found that I was, in fact, not welcomed.

    The representative and I parted on less than comfortable terms created wholly by my resistance. I was gratified however that later when we met again several times under different circumstances, any wounds seem to have healed and the relationship was genuine and cordial – a testament to her winning personality and sense of humor! She’s a regular contributor to LG, and I always enjoy her entries.

    Anyway, I was offended to be hounded for a meeting and then doubly so to be told that my sense of welcome was dependent on my willingness to become the object of a transparent marketing scheme. I don’t doubt that this company provides a valuable service both to new residents and to local businesses alike. We all know that the local economy can always use the boost, and the cry of “shop downtown” however it is defined, is a righteous one.

    On the other hand I think Northfield can do a lot better in the way it embraces new residents. I applaud this conversation, the various ideas being offered, and those who are making an attempt to provide an alternative that is genuine, helpful, friendly, heartfelt, and indeed…welcoming!

    Oh, and one more thing. It will be important to ensure that whatever emerges is accessible and comfortable for any newcomer, no matter what language is spoken at home or what culture is claimed. We have many here that exist beneath the notice of many more; all with a similarly desperate need to be welcomed as lovingly as anyone else. That’s how we create a true sense of community.

    May 27, 2008
  8. One correction: up to $20 off, not 20% off first visit vaccination at Countryside Animal Hosp.
    I did not list all of the coupons available—your eyes have already probably glazed over with the list I gave!

    May 27, 2008
  9. Charlene Coulombe- Fiore said:

    Thanks Griff for addressing this topic.

    In my line of work, changing locations can occur several times in your life. The reference to Minnesota ice was just a tad to cold for me, but I saw and felt it often.

    Best of luck to the wonderful people in Northfield who welcome those who come!

    The handful of folks I did get to meet and get to know were worth their weight in gold!
    Thanks for your kindness and support.

    May 27, 2008
  10. john george said:

    This whole idea that welcoming new people to Northfield is a business and not just a practice of the citizens just seems strange to me. When we moved here 12 years ago, we were already actively involved in a local chaurch, so we had an establiehed set of friends and activities already in our schedule. This did not detract in any way from our new neighbors just dropping in with a plate of goodies and to just greet us. That felt welcoming. My wife, being in a professional position in town, has had many opportunities for contacts and relationships to develop through her work. My employment in the cities has not afforded me that level of local contact. As we became established in the neighborhood, we had opportunities to return the favors and do our own part in welcoming new people moving in. My memories of growing up on a small farm near a small community are full of these types of examples of what we called “neighboring”. Hopefully, with our mobile society and seeming short term commitments to communities, this is not becoming a lost art.

    May 27, 2008
  11. John, I don’t think anyone is suggesting welcoming should just be a business. For some of the newcomers I call on who have just moved here and are away at work during the day (often outside of town), I sometimes am one of the first persons who reaches out to them and answers questions (from my own knowledge or with info from the welcome packets). Eventually they make connections on their own, interacting with neighbors, etc. (especially when winter is over!) For those of limited means, the money-saving coupons are particularly helpful as they adjust to life here. The business people of our town are also our neighbors. And, of course, ideally everyone should be neighborly. I too hope it is not a “lost art.” Some have welcoming experiences overall and some do not. It is hard to generalize. Mary has good advice for newcomers above. She is a good person and a good businesswoman, one of many caring individuals in this community.

    May 27, 2008
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    Skip, that “newbies social network” idea is interesting. I hope Liz Reppe joins us here to discuss whether she’d pursue something like that.

    Susan, it’s obvious to me that Skip’s criticism was directed at you and the “Welcome Services For You” company you represent, but since he posted it 3 minutes after you posted yesterday, he most likely hadn’t read your post and therefore didn’t address you directly.

    Can you respond to him?

    May 28, 2008
  13. John George said:

    Susan- No, I don’t think anyone posting here is advocating that welcoming should just be a business and not an individual initiative. This is just an observation on my part on our society in general. I think an attitude of “it’s someone else’s job” has permeated our culture. I think being overlooked is especially possible for those who move here, work outside the community and possibly do not have children in the school system. That is a real natural connection.

    As far as being introduced to the businesses in town, I know our friends showed us the first day where the best routes in town were to get to our destinations. This is an important function for someone to do for newcomers who do not have the natural connections we did. I think Skip’s observastion was one that he felt pressured to “sign on” to get this information. That is just the impression I got from his post. Hopefully, he will elaborate on this.

    May 28, 2008
  14. Griff and Skip, I receive the names of newcomers from Welcome Services and do not make the first contact with them so cannot comment on the timing or approach. I already mentioned that after I was called on after my arrival as a newcomer, I did not receive a flood of mail and zero phone calls after the visit. The bottom line is that most do sign to acknowledge they have received the packet (which shows the merchants their coupons have been accepted) and agree to release their names to the merchants. If they choose not to, that is fine, it is their decision, no hard feelings. Good wishes to former fellow New Yorkers!

    May 28, 2008
  15. Volunteer. That’s probably the best way to work into the fabric of the community. I’m always looking for help with some play or production or similarly immoral undertaking. I have met a huge number of great, humorous, engaged people, and even Steve Lawler, through various organizations in town with whom I have volunteered, most notably for me, the Northfield Arts Guild – and you don’t even have to be an “official artist”, whatever that may mean.

    May 28, 2008
  16. Anne Bretts said:

    Having spent 20 years in Minnesota, in several communities, I can tell you that it is very, very hard to meet people and all but impossible to become part of established social groups.
    I have always marveled that gallery openings tend to be private parties, where all the artist’s friends come to visit with each other, leaving new visitors feeling like they have intruded. Having greeters who can spot newcomers and welcome them would go a long way toward getting them involved (they wouldn’t come if they weren’t interested). Same with other events. Organizers should have volunteers whose sole job is mingling with the crowd, introducing themselves and trying to find out why the people are there and gathering e-mails and contact information to contact them later.
    (Newcomers usually are easy to spot.)
    It would behoove the NDDC and chamber to do some events in the parking lot of the soccer complex, where a captive audience of 500 or so hungry, thirsty people would be easy targets for food, drinks and treats. Coupons for downtown specials after the games would be popular — and draw more traffic downtown. The soccer field also is fertile ground for doing surveys, promotions and recruiting for organizations.
    I can attest that some people aren’t waiting for others to do the inviting. Sue Hvistendahl has been amazing in her efforts to welcome people to F2F, an informal social event designed to draw blog readers together ‘face to face’
    but is open to anyone. would be a perfect venue to do a bulletin board similar to those at colleges, where people looking for company on a trip to a Twins game or concert, or people just interested in rounding up group for Scrabble or a picnic could post the idea and meet folks. Blue Monday could get the same thing going in a low-tech way in its front entry/message center.
    As for me, I was frustrated for a while about how hard it is to meet people. I have volunteered, gotten involved and still it’s tough. So I just have parties a few times a year. No group, no agenda, no coupons for local businesses, just a way for lots of people to have fun and meet people outside their own circles. We tape invitations on the neighbors’ doors. We send e-mails to lots of people we have met, even if we don’t know them well. You’d be amazed at how many people want to meet others if just given the chance. You never know who’s going to show up, but it’s always a blast.
    So all you newcomers, and old-timers, why don’t you head on over for the summer solstice, June 21.
    There’s a big field behind our house for volleyball or pick-up baseball, and a pond that’s now big enough for skipping stones or even kayaking. The muskrats or beavers have built an amazing dam along the creek nearby and there are paths for skating and biking and riding scooters.
    We can start early so folks can head downtown if there’s good music going on. (I really don’t hate downtown.)
    Remember, if you want something to happen, make it happen!

    May 28, 2008
  17. Brendon, you are so right. That’s how I met you and your bride Ann, when I dared to try out for “Guys and Dolls” my first year in town (despite the fact my last play was “Test for a Witch” in 4th grade) and became a Salvation Army lady for a wonderful few weeks on stage. And I loved meeting all the other cast members, including –yes–Steve Lawler, whose ears must be ringing. I am heartbroken he considers himself too old to be Conrad Birdie in “Bye Bye Birdie” since he really can channel Elvis, but I know he will snag other role and be marvelous. The “Guys and Dolls” director Rachel Haider was new to town too and what an asset she has become to the community.
    I know from my work (both volunteer and paid) with the Northfield Historical Society that NHS welcomes volunteers. The executive director Hayes Scriven was on the radio today, encouraging volunteers to help, at the store, with special projects like oral histories and so on.
    The Used a Bit Shoppe, with profits to the Senior Center, thrives with volunteer help and has many treasures to be discovered.
    There are many more opportunities, with the library, schools and so on. As Mary says, it just takes a little initiative.
    And, Anne, thanks for your generous invitation!

    May 28, 2008
  18. Skip Zimmerman said:

    Griff and Sue,

    Griff, thanks for noticing the timing. I was trying to avoid naming names in an attempt to protect the innocent, but since you outed me, you’re right – Sue was the visitor. To her credit, my pump had already been primed during my early telephone experiences with the company she represents by the time she and I met. I’m sure my reaction was a surprise to her at the time, and I probably seemed like a jerk – in fact, I probably was one.

    Sue, I hope I conveyed the respect and admiration I have developed for you through our several meetings since that first, especially because of your apparent willingness to give me a second chance. Thanks for that. It held then and still holds now a solid meaning for me.

    May 28, 2008
  19. Thanks, Skip, for your response. My daughter’s high school track team from Clifton Park ran in your former NY town of residence, so we have that geographical bond that can never be broken. And now, as they say at St. Olaf, fram fram!

    May 28, 2008
  20. Liz Reppe said:

    Thanks for the great suggestions. I will look into some of the volunteering opportunities listed. That being said, I’d still like to form some sort of social group (longtimers welcome too). When I lived in the cities I had a couple of groups that met once a month. The members changed, and I couldn’t always make it each month, but it was something fun on the calendar. Jonathan and I will be meeting a few newbies at the Cow on Thursday around 5. Anyone feel free to stop by!

    May 31, 2008

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