If you just moved to Cleveland, opened a new business or had a new baby in Bradley County, Welcome Friends want to show you what real Southern hospitality is all about.
The nonprofit greeting service is all smiles in welcoming newcomers, newlyweds, newborns and newly registered businesses to the community.
Owned and operated by Linda Lundy and her husband, Ernie, with the help of family and friends, Welcome Friends provide newcomers to the area with a personal home visit and a free packet full of useful gifts, including coupons and gift certificates, as well as information about helpful agencies, places to shop and worship, and connecting with new friends.
Working in cooperation with the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, Welcome Friends expanded its welcoming services to include a variety of newcomers into the area.
“This was all Linda’s idea where she saw a need to get more involved in the community,” Ernie said. “It’s more of an outreach this way, especially with new babies. There’s a lot of new material in our packet, and different material in our new baby package.”
One added feature is how Welcome Friends is helping raise awareness about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to parents with newborns. Parents also get a free bib and kids book to read to their children.
“When we go visit people they also get coupons for a free haircut, a free manicure, a free oil change, a free X-ray and exam, a reduced price for a massage and much more,” said Linda, who has been welcoming friends to Cleveland for 18 years now.
“The neat thing is when I meet someone who is new and sometimes they don’t have anyone — they’ll call me and say, ‘I’ve been here for a year or six months and I haven’t made any connections’ — which is real sad,” she said. “So the Newcomer’s Club has lots of activities for them. Also, I’ll invite the ladies to Healthy Woman. They meet once a month. It’s also free. It’s 30 minutes of fellowship and then we listen to a speaker. Also, we have Senior Circle where the seniors are very active. So we can help newcomers get involved right away.”
Linda said the idea of expanding her services came when she was able to go to Chicago for a Welcome Service International convention where everyone got up and shared something about their community and what they were doing to help.
“One of the ladies had these other items in her package and she had it very well developed,” Linda said. “I thought it was a great idea. So I followed her example.”
The Lundys admit it is harder to find newcomers in Cleveland due to the increased use of cellphones where phone numbers are not listed in any phone book or public records. Still, they mail out some 200 welcome packets a month and visit about 20 homes and businesses each month as new residents, newborns, newlyweds and new commerce increase in the area.
Founded in 1994, the Lundys said they see their contribution to Cleveland as much as a ministry as it is a moral responsibility to show love to one’s neighbor. Linda is also following in the footsteps of her late mother, who she said really enjoyed getting out and meeting people.
“My mother was a greeter at the forest service in Virginia,” Linda said. “She was active and full of energy up to the very last moment. Then she died in 2003. (Prior to that) she had been to a dance, had been doing for other people and had taken a neighbor a meal. At the hospital she was telling me where to go and where to get things for my Welcome Friends service.”
Nearly two decades later and Welcome Friends is still going strong as a greeting service in Cleveland.
“Our daughter Melissa maintains our website,” Linda said. “Our other daughter, Jennifer, does packaging while Ernie maintains our records and does our photography. Our friend Marilyn Thomas is still with us as office manager and is a greeter.”
The Lundys recently included an image of their 4-year-old granddaughter, Esther, as the new face to promote their welcoming service.
“We thought her expression was the perfect one for what we’re trying to say — ‘Are you new to Cleveland?’” Linda said.
With services expanded to more newcomers in Cleveland as well as more sponsors to offer more gifts in their welcome package, Welcome Friends has approached 2014 with renewed emphasis on the company’s motto: “Helping you meet your community and make new friends.”
For further information or to contact Welcome Friends, call 423-618-7777 or write to: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit them on Facebook.