Early success greets North Yarmouth welcome program

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NORTH YARMOUTH — If you’re new to town, don’t be surprised when the proverbial welcome mat is laid out.

The “First Greeter” program, a product of the town’s Living Well initiative, since late September has welcomed 45 new residents and delivered gift bags as a form of introduction to 26 of them.

Those “bags of bling,” as Living Well members Gay Peterson and Steve Palmer jokingly referred to them in an interview Dec. 28, are stuffed full of things like a town resource guide, town history, ecomaine garbage bags, and maps of the town and its parks and trails.

The program allows “new residents of our town to be introduced by other residents of town,” said Palmer, who concocted the idea with fellow Living Well member Rod Duckworth and other residents.

Living Well worked with the town’s Communications Committee to launch the program three months ago. Peterson runs the initiative, and has assembled a group of 14 greeters who go through an orientation program before going out to knock on doors.

Peterson designed the orientation program, and “has spent considerable time meeting with a group of people who have offered to be first-greeters, and making sure that we’re all on the same page, that we’re delivering the same message,” Palmer said.

That message contains “no religion, no politics, no personal business, selling your business,” Peterson said. “Basically the line is, you’re here to sell the town.”

By opting not to include items like gift certificates, Palmer said, “we … keep this focused on the municipality of North Yarmouth, the town’s government, how we operate and how we communicate with one another.”

Peterson uses tax assessor reports to find new residents, although the data is about two months behind. Which is just as well, she said, since “we figured that takes a little while for people to get organized” after they move in.

The data provides addresses only, so Peterson sends letters to those residents, welcoming them to town and asking if they’d be interested in a greeter visit. Although she has received only one response through “snail mail,” word of mouth has spread through town hall and the community, as well as info posted on Living Well’s First Greeter page at northyarmouth.org, to help generate interest from newcomers.

Once she has a phone number in hand, Peterson assigns a first greeter, who makes contact with the resident.

She was surprised to find how many people have moved to town in recent months, noting, “I didn’t think there was that much activity going on.”

The demographic she’s gleaned on new residents has also been eye-opening.

“I just figured everybody who was moving to North Yarmouth had a kid about to go into kindergarten,” Peterson said. “But more than a third are retired people coming into the town. We’ve had two single women in their 40s that thought it was just a nice place to be. There’s a nice mix of all ages, and all places in life.”

“We’re hoping from this that we will get our new residents involved in the town at a quicker pace,” Palmer said. “It’s the open invitation.”

In that spirit, residents new and old are invited to a potluck dinner, sponsored by the North Yarmouth Historical Society, at the former North Yarmouth Memorial School (120 Memorial Highway) at 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21. Those interested in contacting Peterson to be a greeter, or to be greeted, can reach her at firstgreeter@northyarmouth.org.

Peterson was jubilant about the warm feeling she and her fellow greeters have gotten out of welcoming new people to town.

“I think it’s more exciting for the greeters than the greetees, of doing something positive, and the feedback that they get,” she said. “Everyone’s like, ‘got another one? This is fun.'”

Palmer echoed those sentiments. “This was meant to engender … that reconnection to community,” he said. “For Gay and a few other people who are the first-greeters, it sort of reignited a little flame of passion that they’re able to share in the community.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Gay Peterson, left, and Steve Palmer are among the architects behind North Yarmouth’s new “First Greeter” program for new residents. The contents of the bags they present include a town resource guide, town history, ecomaine garbage bags, and maps of the town parks and trails.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.