Joleen Allard may not like getting up in front of large groups of people, but she has made it her business to help thousands of people a year get connected.
In 1985, she took over Green Bay Newcomers, a business that had existed for 32 years, when the owner was ready to retire. Allard was entrenched in the community and knew her way around, having done home child care for special needs children. When taking the children around the area on numerous field trips, little did she realize she was gaining experience for her next career. "What led me to this business was that I had three children and wanted to be with them as much as I was able," Allard said. "I heard of the Newcomers Club at the YWCA when I was there for a kids program, and I met the hostess and CEO of the group. She (Judy Ebert) thought I would be perfect for this because I was a local and knew the area."
Because it would be a business purchase, Allard and Ebert came to terms on a purchase price and Allard had an attorney draw up the purchase documents. She went to the UW-Green Bay Small Business Development Center for mentoring and help in writing a business plan. Then, she sought training support from Edna Bickford, who had owned the business before Ebert had purchased it.
Bickford worked with Allard and was vocal in both correcting and affirming her. She also prepared her for meeting with the Newcomers Board and club.
"I had to meet with the Newcomers social club to make sure they accepted me and to convince them that I could do it," Allard said. "They had over 10 activities a month to jump-start friendships, so I showed them my business plan and how I could make it work."
The business plan also took into account that this would be her job, and she needed to make an income while being a stay-at-home mom. That would be accomplished by selling ads and gaining sponsors — something that came naturally.
"I came from a family of 12 kids and was comfortable meeting people. If you believe in something, you can sell it," she said. "Earlier in my career, I had experience in pharmaceutical sales and found it easy to sell if you listen to the needs of the business and then let them know what you have to offer."
What Newcomers had to offer was new residents who wanted to find service providers and businesses. Initially, it started with welcome packages and resource directories, but has evolved to encompass so much more.
"There have been so many changes," Allard said. "We used to use stencils to make the resource guide and then went to a copy machine before we went to the computer."
Another major change came in the way of a name change. While Newcomers was initially targeted to those new to the area, Allard found that the social events were so popular that the new residents wanted to stay involved and other residents joined to meet people and get more involved. The business became Green Bay Newcomers Neighbors.
"Whether you’re new to Green Bay or just navigating life’s changes, we can help you connect!" the website proclaims. "It doesn’t matter if you’re a current resident, local business looking to join in on the fun, or a recent arrival searching for information about your new homes, the Green Bay Area Newcomers Neighbors has much to offer!"
She says that many of the new residents become family and continue to be involved. These people, along with the more than 300 newbies that contact her monthly for information, mean that thousands are impacted every year. That makes it an attractive outlet for businesses to advertise on the website, in welcome materials and in the resource guide.
For Allard, this success also presents a challenge.
"There isn’t enough time to do all I want to do and feel able to do," she said. "I like people and like to help. But when I am too busy, I can’t always do it and need to delegate it."
That delegation goes to a team of volunteers who she says seem to show up just at the right time. The volunteers help with the website, social media and visits. They also take over her least favorite task.
"I don’t like to do public speaking, so I have two volunteers for that," she said.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.