SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - There’s a lot of anxiety leaving everything familiar and moving to a new area or location, but a group from Summerside hope the community will help make this transition a little easier by extending a warm embrace to new faces through a "Welcome Wagon" greeting service.
Andy Lou Sommers worked for eight years as a local representative for Welcome Wagon, in the mid 1980s to ‘90s.
“I would call on people that moved into Slemon Park with a huge basket filled with information on Summerside, schools, doctors, along with goods and advertisements or coupons for business, which new residents could obtain in stores,” she explained.
“Businesses put coupons in the baskets, such as a $20 gift card to a hair salon or coffee shop. This was a way to get people through the door, and how we got paid, by selling the business advertisement.”
Partnering with local business, Welcome Wagon helped families with lifestyle changes such as moving to a new area, getting married or having a baby.
“I visited new mothers at the Prince County Hospital with a basket full of goodies related to babies, like coupons for diapers and formula, and we had drug stores that gave us all this type of stuff,” said Sommers.
“The service made new residents, mothers, and brides feel special. It was a sense of pride for the city, and a way for them to show how they cared for their own.”
The Welcome Wagon ended shortly after the Canadian Forces Base closed in 1991, as a result of federal budget cuts, and many families left the area.
George Dalton, a Summerside historian, hopes the city will revive the greeting service, which is strongly supported by the city's age-friendly East Prince Seniors Initiative, and make it spread Island-wide.
“Giving people a warm welcome, a warm smile, and a basket of goodies fits into what’s happening when you look at Summerside as an age-friendly city, as well as the slogan ‘Choose Summerside.’
“You want to be here, you want to support our businesses, so we should acknowledge you. It’s a personal engagement service.”
Dalton added, “I’ve noticed a lot of seniors moving from the farms to the city, so I think we should also welcome our own newcomers. For example, if you are from Tignish or Souris then you are a newcomer to this area.”
Stacey Hamdan, the Welcome Wagon regional manager of Atlantic Canada, from Saint John N.B., will hold a community open session at the Slemon Park Plaza on Thursday, March 8 at 6:30 p.m. The floor will be open to a question and answer session, with an example basket on show.
“Welcome Wagon is a free greeting service that connects newcomers to the community through a local representative,” she said.
The ideal Welcome Wagon candidate is a self-motivated individual, who is passionate for people and sales, while possessing expert knowledge about their community.
“It was the kind of job that you just loved to do. I had a lot of small children (six), so it gave me the flexibility to arrange the times when my husband was home, so I didn’t have to get child care. And when I came to greet people they would be so excited.
“I made it my business to be involved in the community, attend school sports events and shows, so I always knew what was happening,” concluded Sommers.