Building a Community of Neighbors

When my dog and I return from our daily walk, we scan the street for “the kids.” Six elementary-aged kids live across the street, and my sheep-a-doodle LOVES them. If they are out, I release Mabel from her leash and tell her to go see “the kids.” Off she bounds, bum wagging in utter joy at her friends being out on the street.

To me, this is one little example of what a neighbor is and it bring me joy: my dog knows these little people, and they know her. (In fact, sometimes my doorbell will ring and one of the girls will ask, “can Mabel play?” Mabel will then go out, and they will play fetch, chase and other shenanigans).

More importantly–neighbors help a person feel like they belong.

Earlier this month, my colleague and I attended Welcoming America’s Welcoming Interactive. Held in Dallas, Texas, over 800 people from across the nation convened to learn best practices, share their stories and connect with each other, all in the name of welcoming new people into their communities.

Hello, Range! officially joined forces with this organization when we were offered a place in the Rural Welcoming Initiative. The initiative was created because “Rural communities often have quite a bit to offer these newcomers: steady employment, a reasonable cost of living, social cohesion, and for many, the chance to live in a place that is similar in size to where they come from. While newcomers may initially be drawn to rural places out of economic necessity, they stay when these smaller and more rural places start to become home…”

It isn’t just the new folks that benefit. “Rural areas often thrive in return in part because their U.S.-born population is typically older, and newcomers often help revitalize and add vibrancy to rural communities.”

Working in both education and community development, a major concern voiced in our region is our aging, shrinking population. Carson Gorecki, DEED Regional Analyst for NE Minnesota shared that we had 3,400 job vacancies on average at any point in 2022 in NE Minnesota–and this number does not include Duluth’s job vacancies.

Hello, Range! is tasked with both attracting new folks to the region and helping everyone who is here STAY.

At the Welcoming Interactive, I attended the “Belonging Bootcamp.” Led by Lennon Flowers of The Dinner Party, we got a four-hour primer on how we create belonging. The session was divided into four parts: Understanding our stories of ‘self;’ adaptive leadership; understanding our stories of ‘us’, and diagnosing the problem: getting clear on our ‘why.’

What struck me as the group shared their stories was what made “community” for folks. These stories were not fancy. They were often tied to family and the most mundane of events: riding bikes with neighborhood kids; sharing goods from their gardens… What was key was the feeling of belonging–to someone, to some place.

This month we started our “New Iron Ranger Gatherings.” We meet at different libraries once a month to break bread and chat. I get to hear their stories. They get to hear mine. My hope is that through regular meeting, these attendees will start to feel a sense of connection. And with that, they will stay.

One of the perks of our region is that we have a lot of space: land, job vacancies, classroom seats… There is plenty of room for new folks. And there is plenty of room for us current residents. The Iron Range has a lot to offer. We are still a place where we know our neighbors, and they know our dogs. 🙂  I hope you will join me in celebrating our home and inviting folks to join.

Hello, Range!



  • Essentia Health Jobs
  • Iron Range Tourism Bureau
  • City of Hibbing
  • East Range Joint Powers Board
  • Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation
  • L&M Radiator
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