Archive » February 2, 2012
Welcome to the neighborhood
By Willis Jacobson, Staff Writer
Paul Wolff had moved about half of his family’s furniture into their new home in Buellton last year following their move from Virginia, when he heard a knock at his front door
. Fearing the worst – someone with a sales pitch – he answered and was pleasantly surprised.
Standing outside his home was Linda Wellington, one of his neighbors, with something to give, rather than sell. Wellington introduced herself, welcomed the Wolffs to the neighborhood and gave the family a packet filled with information about the area, as well as gift certificates to local businesses.
“I thought it was great,” Wolff said of the welcoming, noting that much of the information in the packet proved useful right away. “We moved out here to get away from the rat race and to find a friendlier, kinder community where there’s some trust and camaraderie between the neighbors.”
Wellington has been working to build that camaraderie for five years now as owner of Neighbor to Neighbor, a welcome service that started more than two decades ago and encompasses the entire Santa Ynez Valley. By working closely with area real estate companies, Wellington tries to visit at least 20 homes per month to meet new residents and provide them with her welcome packages. Included in the stuffed folders is vital information, such as local dentists, veterinarians and utility companies, along with helpful information and certificates to local groceries, restaurants and even a car service center.
There are also brochures from the chambers of commerce, which include details on area wineries, museums and other things to do.
“I think that we’re so acclimated to sales calls and people coming to have someone buy something from them,” Wellington said. “So when I come to the door, I just smile and say, ‘I’m here to give you a gift from the Santa Ynez Valley, no strings attached.’ I just help them acclimate to the community so that they feel a part of it.” Part of Wellington’s inspiration comes from her own experience as a new – and somewhat lost – resident of the Valley. She and her husband, Barrett, and their son and three daughters moved to Buellton from Santa Barbara 10 years ago. She said she hadn’t had much time to get to know the area during that hectic unpacking phase a decade ago, and she was greatly helped when the previous Neighbor to Neighbor owner, Shirley Barbrick, came knocking on her door.
Wellington and Barbrick became fast friends after that, and she said she’s also become great friends with many of the neighbors she’s welcomed since taking over the business following Barbrick’s move away from the Valley five years ago.
“I love it. It’s a great way to see a smiling face,” she said of her years visiting her neighbors. “I really enjoy meeting people and helping them find their way.”
Among those friends she has made through the service are Wolff and his family. Wolff’s 10-year-old daughter Sophia and Wellington’s 10-year-old daughter Sarah are close friends, and Wellington’s oldest daughters, 19-year-old Elisia and 16-year-old Jessica, have babysat for Wolff and his wife, Anita.
Paul Wolff said he likes that closeness with his neighbors, noting that he wants his daughter to be able to live in a relatively safe, “non jail-like” community.
“That’s how it was in Michigan in the community that I grew up in. This is a nice place. It’s not like Disneyland,” he joked, “but it’s a really nice place.”
Similarly, Wellington said she deeply appreciates getting the chance to meet her neighbors face-to-face, something that is becoming less common in a world that is getting more technologically inclined.
“I think that people are becoming more in-grown into their technology,” she said. “They do everything over their computers or iPhones. It is very challenging these days, I think, to meet a neighbor.”
In addition to working with real estate agents, Wellington also relies on word-of-mouth to add new residents to her list, as well as to add businesses to her welcome packet. Although there are several already included, she said that there is always room for the inclusion of more businesses, which pay a small fee to be added.
“I know the economics are tight and businesses are looking for ways to connect with people quickly,” she said. “Our goal is to keep the businesses in the Santa Ynez Valley. The idea is to introduce (the new residents) to everything we have in the Valley, and it works.”
Wellington runs the small business from her home. She has a bookkeeper, Diane Bastanchury of D & B Bookkeeping, who keeps the inventory of homes visited. In part, no doubt, to keep the face-to-face aspect as strong as it is, the business does not have a website, but Wellington can be reached at (805) 686-4013 or at email@example.com.
Paul Wolff, who had a friend in the area to help him even before he moved from the East Coast, said that Wellington’s visit was also invaluable in helping him and his family settle into their new home.
“It brings back community and it kick-starts you,” he said of receiving the welcome packet. “It motivates you to go around to different places and meet those people. It kind of speeds the whole process up so you get acclimated a lot quicker. It kind of forces you to look around.”