Newcomer Get Togethers Help Small Towns Thrive

Jennifer Anderson, extension agent in Forsyth, Montana heard about working with newcomers at the first Reimaging Rural Conference. It’s a simple idea: gather your newcomers together to meet each other and some folks from town. 

Jennifer and Forsyth created their own newcomers event. The extension hosted it and the community foundation helped. It was a success, and now the Chamber of Commerce is hosting it more regularly. As a result of that first newcomers event, Samantha Beyl, who attended, stepped up and got involved in her city government and ran successfully for city council.

We are winning here!”
sticky note that says love community connection

Jennifer Anderson

Montana Extension

Bennettsville, SC hosted such a gathering during my onsite visit there. The room was packed!

There’s a secret they used to guarantee attendance.

The realtors who sold homes personally invited the newcomers to come and meet others. They get the opportunity to ask questions of the locals. Things like ‘can I burn garbage in town?’ Or ‘where’s a good place to volunteer?’ 

The mayor and I proposed a walk around downtown to see what the empty buildings could be used for, and to meet some shop owners. Several people attended that walk around later in the week and as a result, one of those folks opened a new business in an empty building

Red Lodge, Montana has a newcomers welcome event every year now.

They are led by the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation with support from the Red Lodge Chamber and city. The events are held at local eating and drinking establishments in town. Newcomers are asked to write comments on sheets of flip chart paper with questions like:  “Where did you come from?”, “Why did you choose Red Lodge?”, and “What do you love about Red Lodge?”.  

Attendees are encouraged to connect with each other and to ask questions of the community leaders from the city and the Chamber. There is no agenda for the events other than to welcome the newcomers.  They are not asked to volunteer or give anything, though many have sought volunteer opportunities at the community foundation and some have even become new donors.

Newcomers events offer a warm and inviting platform for people to connect, access information, and engage with their new community.

These events not only support newcomers in their decision to move and get involved in their new town but also provide an opportunity for townspeople to see the growing number of new residents. People are drawn to small towns for reasons such as quality of life, a safer environment, and the desire to be closer to family. Being welcoming to newcomers is a social tenet that we can all strive for. 


How do you organize a newcomers event?

Use the Idea Friendly method. Who else would like to meet your newcomers? Ask them to get together with you and talk about it. You’ll figure out the best way that works for your community. In Bennetsville, SC the real estate people personally invited people who they sold homes to.

Who should be invited to a newcomers gathering?

New people in town. Or in the countryside. Your crowd can decide what new means to you. Or you can let them self identify.

What kind of activities could be done with newcomers?

It’s not a meeting! Relax, give them opportunities to meet each other. Network. Maybe have snacks. Don’t stand up in front of the room and lecture. Introduce yourself briefly, then ask if they have any questions you might be able to answer for them. Don’t overwhelm them with so many people talking about who they are and what they do. If you were a newcomer, what would you want to know?

How often should you host a newcomers event?

At least once a year. It depends on the size of your community and the influx of newcomers. Your electric company can tell you how many people set up new service. That should help you decide.

Is your rural town big enough for a newcomers event?