Out & About: Program welcomes new Upper Valley residents with open arms

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/20/2022 7:31:00 AM
Modified: 3/20/2022 7:30:11 AM

When Leona Bergman-Gaul moved to the Upper Valley nearly two years ago, she considered herself lucky: Her job at Cedar Circle Farm and Education Center in Thetford provided her with ready-made social connections.

But that isn’t the case for everyone who moves to the region, and a new group sponsored by Vital Communities, where Bergman-Gaul now works, could provide a new forum for newcomers to meet those who are more established in the area.

Bergman-Gaul is overseeing the Upper Valley chapter of the Vermont Welcome Wagon Project to help connect people with common interests become more engrained in their communities.

Vital Communities is now recruiting people to serve as hosts, who would be willing to introduce people to the area and newcomers who are interested in connecting with someone more established in the Upper Valley. Once people sign up, Bergman-Gaul sends out a biweekly email with participants, and hosts can respond asking to be connected. She will then send an email introducing the two parties.

“The hope is each new participant is able to meet up with at least three hosts,” Bergman-Gaul said.

Beyond sending an introduction email, Bergman-Gaul will leave any meetings and conversations up to the pair.

“The commitment is very flexible,” said Rebecca Bailey, communications manager at Vital Communities. “You get to choose on a week-to-week basis what kind of commitment to make.”

The program is open to adults ages 18 and up. There is no longevity requirement for people who are participants or hosts. If someone identifies as new to the area, they can participate.

Bergman-Gaul, who is 24, moved to the Upper Valley from Cleveland at the end of March 2020. Mud season was on and the COVID-19 pandemic limited her options for meeting people.

“Initially I would just drive around and try to familiarize myself with the area,” she said. “For individuals who are coming out here and working remotely, it’s got to be incredibly challenging, too.”

The Vermont Welcome Project was founded in 2018, and last fall Vital Communities staff began thinking about starting a chapter in the Upper Valley. The group fits in with the nonprofit organization’s goal of supporting economic and civic life in the region.

“You’re getting people to know the area; you’re helping them to build a sense of place,” Bailey said.

When people feel connected to where they live, they’re more likely to get involved in serving their community through schools or nonprofits. As the population continues to age, more people will be needed to join the workforce.

“They need to be happy and be connected here to make it their forever home,” Bailey said.

Editor’s note: For more information about the Upper Valley chapter of the Vermont Welcome Wagon Project and to sign up as a host or participant, visit

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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