BY MARK WEBER
Any newcomer to a community can always use a hand in learning about the various services and organizations that are offered, and that’s exactly where Welcome Wagon comes in.
Lacombe’s Welcome Wagon has been in operation for many years, and offers not just a friendly visit but an opportunity for folks to have all kinds of materials to help familiarize them with their new surroundings.
“It needs to get out there again, because some people say, ‘What’s Welcome Wagon? I’ve never heard of it,’” explained Donna Korpess, the Welcome Wagon representative for Lacombe. Others mention that they weren’t aware the program – which is free – was is still in full swing. Sometimes younger people also may not be aware that such a gem of a program is available to them as well.
But it is, and as has always been the case, it remains an ideal means of welcoming folks into the community and helping them through the provision of lots of useful information as well. Not to mention some great gifts that are included, too.
“It is a welcoming way of developing your community,” Korpess added of the program, which involves local businesses acting as sponsors by contributing gifts in a collection for newcomers. “It’s advertising for the sponsors but it’s also a good way to lay out where a particular business is in Lacombe. In addition to that, they get civic information which includes maps, such as maps of local trails, where the farmers’ market is and community events.”
There is plenty of useful contact information, too, said Korpess, adding that it’s a real help for her to spread the word about Welcome Wagon when residents approach her with news of new folks arriving in their neighbourhoods. “At the front desk at City Hall, the receptionist has a form that says if you are new to the community and would like a Welcome Wagon visit, please write your information down here and sign it.”
Word of mouth is, as mentioned, essential in making sure newcomers know about the service.
“People can say to their new neighbours, ‘You should phone Welcome Wagon’.”
According to a Welcome Wagon history, it was back in 1928 that Welcome Wagon was founded in Memphis, Tennessee by Thomas Winston Briggs. Just two years later, it was launched in Vancouver. The organization marked its 85th year in Canada just last year.
“Sensing the growing mobility of North American people, Mr. Briggs was concerned with the social and economic trauma families would experience each time they moved.
“With the vision of how much Welcome Wagon could contribute to society and to the happiness of countless families, Mr. Briggs knew it would succeed. And Welcome Wagon has been synonymous with success ever since.”
The concept was sparked back in the late 1800s and early 1900s when families would be seeking new places to live out west for example, and the women of a given community would greet them with baskets containing greetings from civic leaders and gifts from local merchants.
Today, there are more than 400 Welcome Wagon representatives visiting more than 250,000 households across Canada every year.
Korpess said she loves meeting the newcomers to the City and learning about where they came from, and how they came to settle in Lacombe. These days, she’s doing about eight visits per month.
She said the program is also open to those who may want to access some of the benefits of the welcome package, but may opt out of an actual visit. This is known as the Coupon Mailer program. There is also the ‘Baby Basket’ program.
“If they have a new baby, I will visit, too,” she said.
Anyone interested in Welcome Wagon can contact Korpess by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 403-782-0475.
“They can contact me or they can go to the Welcome Wagon web site and they can just ask for the coupon by mail. It’s just another way of welcoming them to the community.”
Meanwhile, she’s always on the lookout for new folks to welcome to Lacombe, and for new sponsors to sign up and be a part of the program. “We are always looking for new sponsors and businesses,” she said, adding that anyone who connects with Welcome Wagon reports a positive experience. “I’m getting wonderful feedback,” she said, adding that everyone typically finds something uniquely helpful to them in the material that they receive. “They’ll say things like, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting all of these little gifts’, or ‘That information is great – I’m going to put it right here in this drawer.’
“There is always something that is definitely very important for that person,” she said.
Ultimately, Welcome Wagon is described as a ‘win-win’ for everyone involved, whether you are trying to find out about your new community or you are a business person looking to connect with potential new customers and clients as well.
For Korpess, it’s that connecting that keeps her excited about the program.
“You’ve got people coming here from all over.”
For more general information about Welcome Wagon, check out www.welcomewagon.ca.