New residents were rather scarce, but community leaders turned out in force for the first New Neighbor Welcome Night held June 4 at the Main Street Café meeting room.

Although only a handful of new residents came through the doors during the two-hour event, organizers are not discouraged and hope to hold another New Neighbor Night in the fall.

“We’ll try to spread the word and get more new people,” said Extension community development specialist Sarah Hultine Massengale. “But we have heard tonight that there’s people that have been here forever that met somebody new.”

She said the idea behind New Neighbor Night was to build connections between new residents and the community to make them feel more welcome and become involved quicker. This free event was hosted and sponsored by Main Street Café and co-hosted University of Missouri Extension- Dent County.

“We tried to work with the realtors to get them to invite some of their more recent clients, and just connected with our local organizations. A lot of folks have sent a representative to talk about their organizations and volunteer opportunities,” she said.

New Neighbor Night is an outgrowth of the Salem Vision 2040 project undertaken last year. One of the goals was to become a more welcoming community. It was also an opportunity for new residents to meet and mingle and get to know each other.

Organizer Liz Gruendel said she’s been hearing that people new to Salem sometimes find it difficult to meet others and find out about things to do, places to volunteer and services that are available.

“The idea was if we brought some community leaders, people that are engaged in activities in the community, and brought the new people in to talk with them, it would help,” she said. “That’s the goal. We’re not quite there yet but I don’t think we’ll give up. We’re really pleased at how the community came forward.”

Represented at the event were the Salem Chamber of Commerce, the Extension Service, City of Salem, Healthy Dent County, Southwest Baptist University, Dent County Health Center, Salem Memorial District Hospital and several realtors, among other groups.

Shala Plank, owner of Main Street Café, said hosting the event was a way to expand the restaurant’s role.

“When we purchased the business, it was really with the vision that we would be able to be involved in the community, not just part of the community,” she said. “We try to do a lot of extracurriculars. We have painting parties in this room. We do the Sunday lunch crowd and some other things during the week. We have quite a bit of community involvement. We try to do a little bit more than just be a business.”

Main Street is also involved with the schools, American Volunteers, the Elks Lodge and other non-profit organizations, she said. She called New Neighbors a good way to keep that community involvement going.

Gruendel said organizers will be assessing the first event and planning for the future.

“I think we’ll probably rethink and talk about what’s happened and go from there,” she said.