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Iowa State Daily

WelcomeFest brings together students and members of the Ames community

Sarah Currier

Tangible excitement hangs in the air. Students line up outside the Great Hall, forming a line so long it passes by the Multicultural Center on the other side of the Memorial Union. They are there for the bi-annual WelcomeFest.

“I really like seeing all the students excited about it,” said Kristine Heflin, the student event planner at the Memorial Union. “[They] mostly come for the free stuff, but it’s also a good way for [them] to learn about the community.”

One of the Ames community representatives at the event was Curtis Spence, the assistant director of Ames Electrical Utilities.

It is his third year at WelcomeFest, and he said that he enjoys returning because he “likes to welcome the students” and tell them about the services offered by the city.

“There are way more resources and things to do [in Ames] than students [realize],” Spence said.

He and his wife went to school in Ames before moving away. They came back to raise their children.

WelcomeFest attracted a large number of Ames businesses.

“We brought 300 [succulents to give away], and we ran out in less than 45 minutes,” said Justin Gilger, one of the co-owners of Back Alley Home Plants.

This was the business’ first year at WelcomeFest, though they have been around since 2019.

“Everyone needs peace, and what easier way to [achieve that] greenery?” Gilger asked.

The Loft, a thrift store in downtown Ames, prides itself on its sustainability.

“Any clothing that we don’t sell [gets donated] to really cool organizations,” said Julia Ochanpaugh, one of the employees.

Ochanpaugh likes WelcomeFest because it gives her an opportunity to connect with students, who make up most of The Loft’s client base.

“We’re very affordable,” she said. “It’s a great way to buy [expensive brands].”

Mayhem Collectibles has been located in Campustown for 32 years. It sells comics, cards, and, according to manager Kelsey LaBuda, “everything that a nerd could possibly need.”

“It’s sort of run [by students] for [students],” she said. “We’re super cool.”

They ran out of free comics in the first hour and gave away Magic: The Gathering card packs for the rest of the evening.

Iowa State University organizations were also present.

“[WelcomeFest is] delightful,” said Brian Seckfort, who teaches in the theatre department. “Everyone is really excited.”

Seckfort said that everyone is welcome to join the theatre organization.

“It’s very fun and energetic,” he said. “[You can] finish your day covered in paint or sweating from a dance number.”

The Wesley Center is a progressive campus ministry based in the Collegiate United Methodist Church on Lincoln Way.

“We’re opening up our building to students to just be [themselves],” said Lewis Cox, campus minister. “[I love] the joy and energy that students bring to this place.”

The Wesley Center hosts weekly worship as well as small groups.

Rigdon Merrill was one of several people at WelcomeFest campaigning for Ron DeSantis.

“[I think he’s] more unifying [than Trump], and that’s something our country needs,” he said.

Merrill said his experience as a DeSantis supporter in Iowa has been mostly positive.

“Some people disagree, but that’s okay,” he said. “We get to talking, and sometimes they find out they like his policies.”

According to Heflin, the next WelcomeFest will likely happen around mid to late January.

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