Roland Park to greet new residents with welcome baskets, gift certificates

Sometime in the next few weeks, a representative of the Roland Park Civic League bearing a welcome basket will pay a visit to new residents Dr. James Rothschild and his wife, Kelly-Brenan-Rothschild.

The basket will include gift certificates or discount coupons for local businesses, as well as candies and information about community resources, including the Roland Park Civic League.

"It sounds very nice," said James Rothschild, of Woodlawn Road, an anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, who moved to Roland Park from Towson. "We've noticed that the neighbors are very nice. It doesn't surprise me that they would do something like this."

Organizing the initiative to welcome new neighbors is Hilary Paska, a seven-year resident of Roland Park. She remembers that when she and her husband, Tom, moved to Roland Park with a newborn daughter, they found their neighbors welcoming, but there was no official support network in the community.

Now, Paska, 38, is finalizing details of the new neighbors program to officially welcome newcomers to the neighborhood with baskets of candies, tea towels, welcome letters, a Roland Park Civic League newsletter, and gift certificates or coupons for good and services from more than two dozen participating businesses.

"It's to proactively welcome new residents to Roland Park and encourage their support of local businesses and neighborhood activities and events, and make sure they know about our resources," said Paska, a stay-at-home mom, whose husband is a senior trader for Exelon Corp. "A lot of it is just being neighborly."

But it's also a way to promote the Roland Park Civic League, tell new residents about covenants in Roland Park, and help businesses market themselves.

"I think it's a fabulous idea," said Diane Lochte, owner of Gundy's Gifts, at Deepdene Road and Roland Avenue.

Lochte said she would contribute to each welcome basket a $10 gift certificate and a welcome letter wrapped inside a complimentary tea towel with the store's name imprinted on it.

"It's a great way to introduce people to businesses and let new residents know what a little gem we are," Lochte said. "I'm going to write a little welcome letter, just to let people know how wonderful the neighborhood is."

Other participating businesses as of last week included Schneider's Hardware, the Cross Keys Tennis Club, M&T Bank, Security Plus Credit Union, Tuxedo Pharmacy, the toy store Shananigan's, Majestic Cleaners and the restaurant Loco Hombre. Local artist Greg Otto is also participating, Paska said.

Roland Park is not the first neighborhood in north Baltimore to brighten a newcomer's day. Sally Grant Staugaitis has been delivering about 50 welcome baskets a year to new residents of Mount Washington since 1999. She said she finds new residents through home sales and word of mouth.

"We drop a basket off at their front door," said Staugaitis, who chairs the Membership Welcome Basket Program for the Mount Washington Improvement Association. Staugaitis said she spoke with Paska last weekend about the new initative in Roland Park.

Included in each basket in Mount Washington is a home-baked goodie, a welcome note that Staugaitis writes, an improvement association membership form, and pronotions of local groups and businesses like the swim club, arboretum and merchants' association in the Mount Washington Village restaurant and retail district.

The basket also promotes a "value card" that entitles members of the association to discounts at area stores, Staugaitis said.

Those who receive baskets "are truly appreciative and look forward to being in touch with their neighbors and learning more about the community," she said.

Paska said details of her welcome program in Roland Park are still being worked out, and some businesses aren't sure yet what they want to contribute. She hopes to welcome new residents quarterly, starting the first week of March, by asking civic league plat representatives and perhaps board members to deliver the baskets personally to new home owners. She said she anticipates delivering baskets to 17 homes to start based on home sales the civic league tracks.

"I'm hoping it will be a way to start establishing new connections in the neighborhood," said Paska, who got a positive reception when she presented her plan to the civic league at its most recent meeting, on Feb.7.

Paska said she doesn't want the welcome to be heavy with information about the rules of the covenant-driven community.

"We're not laying down the law," she said. "It's much softer than that. It's to tell them about the league, the newsletter, that there's a pool in the area. "It's like the good old welcome wagon."

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