Moving to a new place can be scary when you don’t know anyone or what’s around.
For newcomers to the Village of Oregon, that’s where Cathy Grender, the Welcome Neighbor Lady, comes in.
She has been doing this for 12 years and won’t be slowing down any time soon, Grender said.
Grender sits at Firefly Coffeehouse and Artisan Cheese on Saturday, Nov. 16, with some future Oregon residents during one of her “visits.” It’s a young family with a baby girl, cooing and laughing in her mother’s lap.
They share chit-chat over coffee as Grender explains what the village offers, using a map in Oregon’s community guide. She points to restaurants, where they get their oil changed, daycare centers, pharmacies and locations to shop, stopping intermittently to engage the baby.
Grender said the community members she visits are more friends than simply clients. And her flexible schedule allows her to plan visits whenever newcomers are available.
Sometimes new residents invite her into their home, while others meet her at the Firefly. Grender said she goes wherever they feel most comfortable – the most “home.”
To Grender’s right is a basket filled with gift cards, coupons and pamphlets donated by local businesses and nonprofits to welcome the newbies.
“They are overwhelmed with how much stuff I give them,” she said.
The Welcome Neighbor Lady said she knows a lot of local business owners personally and has formed great friendships with them. And while the businesses sponsor the basket of goodies, the service is free to her visitors.
They don’t just have to be new to the area, either.
One of the new residents was a woman who had lived in rural Oregon for more than 60 years, but had recently moved into the village and wanted to know the places to go.
“I spent almost the entire day with her,” Grender said.
This year, she’s had 75 visits. New residents find her via word of mouth, her Facebook page and her website, she said. One average, the welcome visits last around 45 minutes to an hour.
Sometimes they last way longer – the visits will turn into deep conversations about life and its trials.
One of Grender’s visits started a 12 year friendship. To this day, the pair hang out and do fun things together. Grender swipes through photos of her and her old friend in her phone – there wasn’t one where the two weren’t smiling.
Another visit that’s resulted in friendship started when a family moved to Oregon from Florida. She said her friend has four boys, and after playing a game of phone and email tag, they finally met for a visit.
“We hit it off and we’ve been best friends ever since,” Grender said.
As Grender reminisced about her Florida friend, she said the woman;s youngest son, who was 3 years old at the time, immediately ran up to Grender and hugged her during their initial visit at the Firefly. Her friend had said prior to hugging Grender, he never hugged anyone besides family.
“I love the fact that I can make people feel comfortable and at home … if they’ve come really far,” she said.
Grender regards herself as an “animal magnet.” Having gone to school to originally be a veterinarian technician, she was raised on a hobby farm. When new residents have pets, including cats who are skittish or dogs who bark frequently, Grender said they flock to her. There was a skittish cat who sat right at her side during one visit, she said, and dogs who calmed down the instant she entered the room.
Grender said she finds satisfaction in helping her neighbors get acclimated.
“I’m the one thankful for them,” Grender said. “It sounds kind of cliche… they complete me.”