Owner, Columbia Welcome
YEARS LIVED IN COLUMBIA: Four most recently and a few years during graduate school
ORIGINAL HOMETOWN: Jefferson City
JOB DESCRIPTION: I run a welcome service for newcomers to Columbia and personally deliver baskets stuffed full of helpful community information, gifts, business coupons, maps, brochures and gift certificates from about 75 local business sponsors, the city of Columbia and civic organizations. I have a strong relationship with every sponsor and enjoy connecting newcomers to local home repair services, restaurants, health and beauty spots, churches, social organizations and myriad other services and activities.
EDUCATION: I received my M.B.A. from the University of Missouri in 2001 and completed undergraduate work in Springfield at what was then known as Southwest Missouri State University (ugh, that dates me!).
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: I am a board member of the Columbia Art League and coordinator for the Community Exhibits program; a gala committee member of Ronald McDonald House Charities; and a member of the Columbia Newcomer’s Club, Fortnightly Club, Friends International and Voices.
PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: I was manager of public relations and marketing for several years with the Missouri Corn Growers Association in Jefferson City and then went global when my husband’s job took us overseas for eight years. In Paris, I was director of the Bloom Where You’re Planted program that helped English-speaking residents adjust to their new lives in France. While living in Tokyo from 2002 to 2003, I participated in the Welcome Furoshiki service, which helped newcomers embrace their new homes in Japan. During my time abroad, I realized how important a welcome program is to ensure a smooth transition to a new city. When I returned to Columbia, I was fortunate to work for a similar welcome service until it disbanded, and then I launched Columbia Welcome.
A FAVORITE RECENT PROJECT: Last month I delivered my 300th newcomer welcome basket. It went to a family that had moved here from Chicago. Their transition was even more difficult than usual because the wife had to be put on bed rest soon after she arrived, and her husband was swamped with work. They now have a beautiful baby boy and were so grateful to receive their newcomer welcome basket, which will help them to get out and explore Columbia.
A COLUMBIA BUSINESSPERSON I ADMIRE AND WHY: Executive directors Melody Bezenek of Ronald McDonald House Charities and Diana Moxon of Columbia Art League are dynamic and organized professionals who can talk me into volunteering for anything.
WHY I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT MY JOB: The people! I have met newcomers from every state in the U.S. and even a few other countries. I love to hear what brings them to Columbia, be it family, jobs or education. One couple retired here from Oklahoma after attending a football game at MU because they liked the college-town atmosphere. Last summer a slew of film producers moved from L.A. because of the lower cost of living. Right now I’m seeing a lot of stay-at-home moms with bouncing babies and husbands who are new resident doctors at the hospitals. Of course, my favorite newcomer might be the Russian Internet bride; she was fascinating! No matter what brings someone here, I also know how challenging it can be to move to a new city because my family relocated four times in 12 years. I love introducing newcomers to shops and restaurants in their neighborhoods, guiding them toward volunteering activities and classes and helping them become a part of the community.
IF I WEREN’T DOING THIS FOR A LIVING, I WOULD: Be a matchmaker. Last year I set up my hairdresser with a family friend, and they are now engaged to be married this fall. I like helping people solve problems, and love always brings the most happiness.
BIGGEST CAREER OBSTACLE I’VE OVERCOME AND HOW: Finding newcomers. Surprisingly, it is easier to find sponsors to fund the welcome service than people new to the city because there is no list of newcomers who have moved here. I joined a professional organization called Welcome Service International. Within 10 minutes of attending the annual conference in Phoenix, I had a page full of ideas and sources. When I was struggling to help a business sponsor develop an offer to put in the basket, I sent an email to the group and received more than 50 ideas from other welcome service owners. It is fantastic to network with people who do similar work.
WHAT PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THIS PROFESSION: I am self-employed, as are all welcome services in the U.S. and England. Most have roots in Welcome Wagon, but that business discontinued home visits to newcomers in 1998.
WHAT I DO FOR FUN: I walk on the Katy Trail twice a week with a chatty bunch of ladies from the Columbia Newcomer’s Club.
FAMILY: My wonderful husband of almost 13 years, Dr. Wyatt Thompson. He’s an agricultural economist at MU and my biggest supporter.
FAVORITE PLACE IN COLUMBIA: Studio B, where my husband and I are taking dance lessons. Between his lack of rhythm and my inability to remember the moves, our instructor has job security.
ACCOMPLISHMENT I’M MOST PROUD OF: Three months after launching, Columbia Welcome was in the black and has been profitable ever since.
MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THAT: I was once offered a blind date with the actor Jim Carrey. I met a movie producer at a cocktail party, and she didn’t know I was married. My husband said I could go if we could double with Renee Zellweger, but I still turned it down. There were some celebrity perks to living in Paris!