October 19, 2004
Call it a community icebreaker.
As the brainchild of Gilbert Congress of Neighborhoods, a laid-back welcome social Saturday at the Southeast Regional Library introduced about 25 newcomers to town services — and to one another.
Couples of all ages traded handshakes and a "Nice meeting you" as often as the classic "Where are you from?"
Representatives of local programs also spoke about services including trash collection, leadership classes, crime prevention, water conservation, the Riparian Preserve and the Boys and Girls Club.
The event impressed Jeff and Candace McLeod, who mingled enthusiastically with other residents.
"I’ve never seen anything like this before, where it’s an outreach by local government to pull together a community," Jeff McLeod said.
The newlyweds moved to Chandler this summer from Cleveland, Ohio, and await completion of their Gilbert house in February.
"This is our home," McLeod said. "This is where we want to grow up."
Gilbert’s newcomers arrive from both far and near. At Saturday’s event, as many people had moved from other East Valley cities as those from halfway across the country.
"We really wanted to see what the community has to offer," said Rob Saucerman, who attended Saturday’s social with his wife, Missy. The couple currently live in Chandler, but will move to their new home in Gilbert next month.
David Nicolella moved to Gilbert’s Arbor Walk neighborhood about two weeks ago from Mesa. He found several outlets Saturday for getting connected and meeting new people.
"It’s hard to find friends nowadays," he said.
Gilbert holds these welcome socials in October, January, April and July. Anyone can attend.
"We do our best to get out there and help people make Gilbert a good community to live in," said Helga Stafford, Gilbert’s neighborhood services specialist. "Community is a lot more than roads, mortar and building. It’s the people."
Stafford calls Gilbert resident Jill Humpherys "a poster child" for becoming an active citizen.
Humpherys, who attended a welcome social about two years ago, formed a volunteer committee of fellow residents in her Spring Meadows neighborhood.
Spring Meadows does not have a homeowners association. Instead, the town’s Parkway Improvement District — commonly called PKID — is an umbrella program that oversees maintenance of the neighborhood’s park and rights of way.
"The whole idea of HOAs and neighborhood associations was totally foreign to us," said Humpherys, who lived in Chandler for a year and a half before moving to Gilbert. "In Pennsylvania, at least where we lived, there was no such thing. It was a huge change for us."
Inspired by the welcome social, Humpherys went to an announced PKID meeting about voting for improvements to her neighborhood’s park.
She was the only resident who showed up to meet with two town officials.
"It’s kind of the norm. I didn’t know at the time that people didn’t show up," she said.
Humpherys then rounded up a few neighbors and headed door to door for resident feedback on park improvements. They secured 58 percent approval for each household to pay a monthly fee, then put the park plan in motion.
Following votes and final nods, the town installed new playground equipment in October 2003.
Humpherys marvels at the achievements of a neighborhood working together toward a common goal.
"I got to know quite a few people from that, and I think others did too," she said. "It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gone to that meeting."
Find out more
To learn more about the welcome social, call Helga Stafford, the Gilbert’s neighborhood services specialist, at (480) 503-6767.