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The neighborhood welcome committee

Tara Ciliento, right, a representative with New Neighbor Welcome Service, shares some local information with new resident Linda Bailey at her home in Apex, N.C. Apex is home to New Neighbor Welcome Service, a company supported by local businesses and tasked with finding new residents through public records and real estate agents.

When a neighbor stopped by with a basket of information to welcome Susan Rohr to the neighborhood, she was touched.

"It just made me feel really comfortable in my new home," said Rohr, who bought a house in the historic Kenwood neighborhood in St. Petersburg, Fla., nearly four years ago. "It made me feel like I moved to the right place."

The neighborhood association has had a welcome program for years, said Rohr, who now heads it. The social call helps engage residents in the community and gives them a chance to ask questions.

In many areas, the practice of welcoming new residents has moved beyond a neighbor dropping by with a plate of cookies to a more formal, community-sponsored visit. Neighborhood associations often use such visits to acquaint new homeowners with the rules and regulations of a community. Other organizations use the opportunity to promote local businesses, social services or events.

"Many associations have some sort of welcome packet," said Frank Rathburn, spokesman for the Community Associations Institute in Falls Church, Va. "It's just a way to inform people about how to enjoy the community and here's what we need to do to maintain it."

At Sun City Hilton Head, a 13,000-person development in Bluffton, S.C., community representatives invite new residents to an orientation meeting, which includes games and prizes. Residents also can request a visit from a member of the welcome committee.

"We're bigger than some cities," said Sue Sweeney, executive director of the community association. "It's very easy for people to get lost in the crowd."

In Farnam, Neb., members of the town's Economic Development Corp. have put together an information booklet about local service clubs, government offices and churches. Volunteers deliver it along with coupons from area businesses.

Residents in the town of 200 want newcomers to become active in the community, said volunteer Muriel Kotschwar.

"The people who are the happiest are the people who get involved," said Kotschwar, who makes a handful of welcome calls each year.

They don't rely on volunteers to greet new residents in Apex, N.C. The city is home to New Neighbor Welcome Service, a company supported by local businesses and tasked with finding new residents through public records and real estate agents.

"It's a person saying to you, these are our sponsors" and they want your business, said Brenda Steen, executive director of the Apex Chamber of Commerce. "It's a more professional approach."

When a transitional housing apartment building went up near the offices of the Hunger Intervention Program in Seattle, employees decided to give welcome bags containing food and household staples such as laundry soap and spices. The gift is a way to familiarize residents with the agency's services, said program manager Kate Murphy.

Staff and volunteers are collecting similar donations for a Seattle Housing Authority apartment complex that is opening this summer.

"We're finding ways that our program can benefit them and build ties," Murphy said.

Volunteers for the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, in Florida, also are interested in building relationships with newcomers. It tries to pair new residents with mentors with whom they have something in common, said Bonnie Friedman, the federation's executive director. Members of the welcome committee not only drop by with a gift basket, they invite new residents to accompany them to events or meetings, she said. They also make themselves available to answer questions, she said.

"That's what people need in a community," she said. "That's how you start adjusting and learn to like where you live."