A few years ago, Rex and Francis Hoover were on vacation when they drove through southern Idaho. The Tennessee couple stopped for coffee, visited a few sights, and immediately fell in love with the area. Two years later, the Hoovers moved to Twin Falls.
“The people are nice here and there are a lot of things to do,” Rex said.
The couple was greeted by The Welcome Mat – a newcomer greeting service owned by Connie Sowka. The Welcome Mat, which started in 2006, promotes local business sponsors by providing a friendly introduction to new residents. Sowka personally delivers welcome bags containing information, coupons and free goodies provided by sponsors.
“We want people to feel like they have a friend immediately when they move here,” Sowka said. “We’re helping new people get settled in the area, but we’re also helping the businesses with new customers.”
Sowka knows what it’s like to relocate. Hurricane Katrina forced her and her 12-year-old daughter from their Gulfport, Mississippi home in 2005. They packed what they could into a car and drove to California, where they stayed with Sowka’s sister. Not wanting to return to the devastated South and looking for a fresh start, Sowka searched the internet for places to live. She found a promising location in southern Idaho and purchased a home in Kimberly – sight unseen.
“We had never been to Idaho and we didn’t know a soul here, but something about the area drew us here,” she said.
After arriving, Sowka visited the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce to ask for a welcome packet. The chamber didn’t have anything for her.
“That got my wheels turning,” Sowka said. “If there is so much growth here, it’s obviously people coming from out of the area. This is something the area really needs.”
Sowka had never done anything like this before – she’s retired from the Air Force Reserve and worked as a nurse in Mississippi – so she brainstormed ideas with her sister, Anne, and they worked out a business plan.
“I had a target list of businesses – because if I needed these places, then other people would, too.”
The Welcome Mat holds monthly “meet and greets” for new residents, has distributed over 200 bags and now includes about 30 sponsors. It was named the 2006 Rookie Business of the Year by the Twin Falls Chamber.
After receiving their welcome bag, the Hoovers dug in and put the sponsors to use: They bought their home through Prudential Real Estate and went bowling at Cedar Lanes. They also enjoyed the coupons from Middlekauf Automotive, Team Con Paulos, Arctic Circle and Grocery Outlet. Information from State Farm and Lyda helped them make decisions with their insurance.
“There were a lot of things in the bag to help us get started and plugged in,” Francis said. “It wasn’t just the things in the bag that she brought us – it was her. Connie really knows how to connect people. I consider her a friend. If we have a question, she’s very good at helping us in any way she can.”
The Hoovers have moved across the country before, but their move to southern Idaho has been their best experience.
“This was way easier,” Francis said. “Before, we did not have a Welcome Mat. It has really made our transition much better, easier and smoother.”
Dustin and Keleigh Godfrey lived in Twin Falls previously, but school and Dustin’s job took them to Oregon.
“This is the only place we wanted to live,” Keleigh said. “We want to raise our kids here.”
Dustin is a funeral director, and when a job opportunity arose in Twin Falls, the Godfreys moved back in July.
“[The bag] was handy because there were some businesses in there that we had never heard of, even though we lived here once before,” Keleigh said.
A lot has changed since the Godfreys lived in southern Idaho. Before, the newlyweds were students; now that they’re older with a family, the information provided in the bag by financial companies – D.L. Evans Bank, First Federal Bank, Stevens Pierce & Associates and 3 Mark Financial – has come in handy. They also received items from St. Benedict’s Family Medical Center and dentist Dr. Robert A. Adams.
“Sometimes I look back at the last two years and can’t believe all that has happened to us,” Sowka said. “But out of the bad came so much good. We are thankful every day to be in such a great place.”
If you are new to southern Idaho, or
if you’re a local business and want to
become a sponsor, contact
The Welcome Mat, 208-423-4478,
Photos by Jason Lugo & Ryan Howe