Starting Friday night, members of the R Town Welcome Squad will be posted around the New Brunswick train station, stadium shuttle stops and select hotel lobbies to help visitors find answers to any questions they might have about the area. Employees in dozens of local businesses will also be wearing the large yellow “Ask me about R Town” buttons and will be ready to help newcomers during their stay.
“We wanted to do whatever we could to welcome the fans who will be coming in to see the games for the Big Ten this year and kick off the Big Ten in the right way,’’ said Michael Norris, manager at Shaka Burrito on Albany Street. “I would like to show people that New Jersey is a much friendlier state than we have a reputation for.’’
The program grew out of meetings with city officials and local business leaders convened by Rutgers Athletics Director Julie Hermann. The group saw it as a way to help the tens of thousands of visitors attending Big Ten games navigate the New Brunswick area and get to know the university community.
“Very few people who come to the football game meet the director of athletics, but they all meet you,’’ Hermann told more than 100 volunteers during a training event Monday night.
“That is part of why this program is so important to us,’’ she said, “because the second they step off that train platform, or wherever you interface with them, you are going to be New Jersey’s impression, you are going to be Rutgers University’s impression and you are going to be the impression that I hear about in my email box.’’
R Town Greeters will be easy to spot in their red long-sleeve shirts and yellow vests. They will be armed with information about where to park, where to catch the bus to the game and what items are allowed in High Point Solutions Stadium. If they don’t have the answer, the volunteers will be able to direct visitors to the RU Info telephone line and ScarletKnights.com for more information.
The squad of greeters includes enthusiastic alumni, local community leaders and university staff. Some of the greeters graduated as recently as last spring while others attended Rutgers nearly half a century ago. They are ready with some of their own personal recommendations for visitors interested in the best burger (Stage Left), the area’s best pizza (Paulie’s) and best all-around restaurant (Old Man Rafferty’s).
Mike Tublin, a founder of the New Brunswick Jazz Project, is ready to tell visitors where they can catch some music during their stay: Makeda Ethiopian Restaurant on Thursday nights and Destination Dogs on Fridays.
“I love the town of New Brunswick so anything that draws anyone to it, I support whole heartedly,’’ Tublin said.
Some who will be greeting football fans, like Geralyn Colvil, came to Rutgers through a nontraditional route. She completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees while in her 40s, works as a program coordinator in the Department of Art History and was excited for the chance to represent Rutgers as the university takes its place in the Big Ten.
“I want to show that we are friendly and that Rutgers and New Jersey has so much to offer,’’ Colvil said, “Not just sports, but also education, research, arts, and history. Rutgers is all that and more."
A goal of the R Town Greeters is to encourage people to come to the area and take advantage of local amenities, said Linda Bassett, senior director of the Rutgers Office of Community Affairs, which is coordinating the program.
“There is a lot of opportunity with all the fans coming into to town to showcase how terrific New Jersey is, how terrific our local towns are and how terrific Rutgers is,’’ Bassett said. “It’s about relationship building, not just the rivalry on the field.’’
Some businesses are already seeing a boost from the Big Ten. The Heldrich, Hyatt Regency New Brunswick and other area hotels are sold out for the Penn State game. Town Greeters will be stationed in the lobbies during Big Ten game weekends to assist guests.
“With the anticipated increase in visitors we want to showcase our hometown hospitality by providing a warm welcome and critical information to our guests, such as – where the train station is located, the ATM, what restaurants do you recommend, where does the shuttle pick up for the big game?” said Pat Weldon, director of sales and marketing at The Heldrich Hotel, where staff will be wearing R Town buttons to welcome football fans. “We want to be part of that, so guests to our city have a great experience in New Brunswick.”
For more information contact Andrea Alexander in the Rutgers Office of Media Relations at (848) 932-0556 or firstname.lastname@example.org