One of the endearing things about growing up in rural Ohio was the excitement that came with someone new moving to town. I saw my mom bake more cakes, cookies and casseroles to be taken to newcomers than I can remember.
This is one of the things I missed most about small town life after moving to Silicon Valley and eventually to suburban Central Ohio. While living in California, my husband and I shared walls, terraces and laundry rooms with strangers. For the most part, these people remained strangers because we never saw them or had meaningful interactions. We were never welcomed to new apartments with homemade cookies or a potato casserole – nor did we ever greet newcomers that way.
I was excited to be part of a neighborhood when we bought our first (and current) home in Dublin, Ohio. We spent countless afternoons driving and riding our bikes around neighborhoods in order to get a feel for the surroundings. Once we found our home, it was time to make this our community. We kept the “SOLD” sign in the front yard for a couple of weeks. We had moving vans and delivery trucks in and out of the house on any given day of any week for nearly one month. We had friends over. One thing never happened. Our neighbors never came over to introduce themselves.
From my experience growing up in Republic, Ohio, my mom would have baked a dozen cookies and told the new family everything they needed to know about the town within 2 days. We moved in on a cold January day, so I used winter as the reason we hadn’t met our neighbors.
In March, we had a record-breaking snowfall in Ohio. It was enough to close all of the schools and keep everyone home from work. Around 10am, our neighbors started emerging from their homes to shovel their driveways. This was our chance! I told my husband – let’s bundle up, get the dog and head outside. In a matter of a few minutes, we made our way around the cul-de-sac to introduce ourselves to our neighbors.
I decided that I didn’t want any new residents of our neighborhood to wait two months before they met their neighbors. I quickly joined the board of trustees for the homeowners association and kept an eye on For Sale signs and the weekly real estate transactions in the newspaper. Over the course of two years as the Welcome Wagon leader, I made gift baskets, baked banana bread and printed off neighborhood directories for the newcomers.
I’m not sure if there is still a formal Welcome Wagon in my neighborhood, but I keep the spirit of the Welcome Wagon alive by doing the following:
- When email announcements are sent introducing a new member of the team, I immediately reply to welcome them
- When I hire team members, they are greeted with welcome signs and treats
- When I notice new families at the park, I take a moment to introduce myself
- If new people join small social media groups I am part of, I reach out with a private message to welcome them
A meaningful gesture of welcome goes a long way in making our big world feel like a smaller place.
What does rolling out the Welcome Wagon in your work and life look like?
How can you work toward meaningful connections from your initial interaction with someone?
How you you experienced a Welcome Wagon moment in your life? Do you have a great example? I’d love to hear your experience or ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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