Spending time with friends and family is often the focal point of Christmas for many people and in our community we are given the opportunity to share and to form new friendships through the NeighbourLink Christmas Match-Up initiative.
The program works towards matching guests, who otherwise might be alone for Christmas, with host families, for Christmas dinner.
This past Christmas, the Welechenko family took part in the program for the second year in a row.
Travis and Melanie Welechenko moved to Summerland three years ago. This past summer, Travis’s mother Debbie Welechenko joined them here.
Two years ago, Melanie saw a post about the NeighbourLink program on social media and it reminded her of a time when she had first moved west, from Ontario, as a young woman. At that time, it was too expensive for her to return home for the holidays but someone always invited her to their place for Christmas and thus she never had to spend the day alone.
Melanie also realized at the time of reading the post that she and Travis, being new to Summerland, did not have friends or family to share a meal with.
“So I thought I would sign us up,” she said. “It would be an opportunity to meet a new person and to be able to give back, after all those years of me being a guest.”
NeithbourLink matched the couple up with a man by the name of Art Arnel, who joined them for Christmas dinner.
“It was refreshing to have somebody new in our home and to learn someone else’s story,” Melanie explained. “It was nice.”
Arnel had been made to feel very welcome by the Welechenkos, so much so that this year he asked NeighbourLink if he could join them again.
Luckily, the couple had signed up for the program for a second year. They were now in a larger home of their own and Debbie, who has a restaurant background, was here to help.
“She basically ran the show,” said Melanie, laughing. “It was a lot more of an extravagant meal this year!
“We did the full turkey dinner,” Debbie said. “Art is a cook too. I think he felt comfortable. He had all kinds of neat stories that he told us so we could get to know him better. He’s a nice gentleman.”
The Welechenko’s also had a couple of other friends over and after dinner, the group played Dice.
“It was enjoyable,” said Arnel. “I enjoyed the fellowship and everything else.”
Part of that “else” included Welechenko’s two friendly dogs.
“They both liked Art and Art was pretty excited to see them again too,” explained Travis.
For some the idea of going to a stranger’s house for Christmas dinner would feel uncomfortable, but not for Arnel, who believes it is a great way to make new friends.
“I would recommend it to most anybody!” he said.
Debbie agreed and thinks highly of the program.
“If I would have moved out here and not had anybody, I would really have liked a program like this,” she said. “It’s not really easy to meet people when you move to a new community, so I think I would have liked to meet a family to have Christmas with. Otherwise it would be pretty depressing.
Melanie likes how the program is made so personal.
“One touch I like is that they (NeighbourLink) have you call the guest and invite them over yourself, rather than just hooking you up,” she said.
For Travis it is the sense of community that is most important.
“It’s a good way to be part of the community,” he said. “It would be nice to see programs like this in other communities and towns.”
Mirjana Komljenovic of NeighbourLink said that because of the Christmas Matchup Program, people’s awareness of those who may be alone has been heightened and she has noticed an increase in kindness and special gestures being shown towards strangers throughout the community in many different ways.
“In that sense we feel it has been a success,” she said. “We are going to continue on with this year after year, just because of the spirit it brings to our community.”