Firm helps newbies land softly
Afterthemove provides personalized relocation support for people moving to West Michigan.
If you’ve ever uprooted your life to move to a new city, state or country, you’ll know it’s no walk in the park. But it can certainly be easier, a local consultant says.
Candy Wilkes-Scheper founded afterthemove “gradually” from 2010 to 2012 after she realized she had something to offer families who were having a hard time transitioning to a new city.
A Greenville native, Wilkes-Scheper earned a degree in international relations from Michigan State University after her experience as a high school exchange student in Brazil sparked her love of travel.
Post-college, while working at Travel Consultants in Grand Rapids, she met her now-husband, Cincinnati native Rob Scheper, a designer at Steelcase who now is the company’s director of design for Studio B.
The pair married and moved to France for his work in 1995 when Wilkes-Scheper was six weeks away from giving birth to the first of their two children. They lived in a rural area, Wilkes-Scheper didn’t know anyone, and she was not fluent in French.
For the next 10 years, the family moved from France to Grand Rapids to Greensboro, North Carolina, then back to France and finally, home to West Michigan, where they now live in East Grand Rapids.
“In all of those moves, I never really had anyone to support me or help me through the process,” Wilkes-Scheper said.
The many difficulties she faced during assimilation included finding services, connecting with the community, making friends and understanding the local culture, among other things.
“When we got back (to West Michigan), I mentioned to my husband that I felt like the company had ignored me through the process. He always had a community. He always had people he could rely on, and I didn’t,” Wilkes-Scheper said. “He said, ‘Well, you know, if that’s a service that you know is missing, maybe you should do something about it.’”
She then founded afterthemove, “a company dedicated to helping people integrate into their new communities after relocation.”
Many of her clients are foreign nationals coming to West Michigan for work.
“For international clients, we help them understand the cultural differences and provide avenues to start a social life in their new community,” she said, adding she also can help connect people to various international groups to ease their transition.
Her website says relocation is the third-most stressful life event behind death and divorce, but she said it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Just spending one day with a local native can take months off your learning curve and take stress off your psyche, your whole self,” she said. “It allows you to relax in your community a little bit more so that you can venture out more easily.”
Wilkes-Scheper works one-on-one to create customized packages for each client.
Services may include helping clients obtain legal documents, such as driver’s licenses, insurance, Social Security numbers (in the case of foreign nationals), bank accounts and credit cards.
Or, they might want to learn where to shop for necessities, such as grocery, specialty, furniture and appliance stores; car dealerships; and cable and internet service providers.
Some clients might need direction getting their children enrolled in school; others are looking for friends, local culture, volunteer opportunities, and entertainment and recreation.
Since launching her business, Wilkes-Scheper estimated she has helped about 50 clients. Afterthemove is a member of Hello West Michigan and is listed on the talent attraction organization’s “relocation members” page, a list of companies that provide resources to people moving into the area. Wilkes-Scheper said she has received a fair number of new clients through Hello West Michigan.
Wilkes-Scheper said she is more than happy to offer herself as an ongoing resource to clients — at no extra cost — even after they have settled into their new lives. Past questions have included, “I’m vacationing up north. What does that look like and how does one find a place to stay?” and Wilkes-Scheper puts her travel agent hat on.
She often initiates a face-to-face meal with the client several weeks after the move to find if any new challenges have come up.
“I don’t charge for this meal, or for this time, either,” she said. “The way I see it is I could email them, but it’s much better if I actually am sitting there looking at them because eyes tell all, and I can tell if they’re doing well or not. I have yet to have somebody not have something come up that they wanted to talk about that was a challenge to them but yet they probably wouldn’t have necessarily emailed or reached out. We as humans are funny about that.
“I let them know I am here; you don’t have to reach out to your spouse’s HR if you’re uncomfortable with that. I will answer your questions and help you work through this.”
There are many issues Wilkes-Scheper helps people overcome that she wouldn’t have known to ask about if not for her own rocky past experiences.
She said others who always have lived in one place often have a hard time understanding how difficult the transition can be.
“I find that all the time with people whom I meet, local people here in West Michigan who have never moved,” she said.
“They’re like, Grand Rapids is such a friendly place. It’s got to be easy to move to. Well, people are very nice. However, if you’re new to the community, you don’t know anyone, and the people who have lived here forever already have their friends and family and work, and they’re busy. They’re not necessarily reaching out and opening their doors to the neighbor down the street who just moved in. You smile and say ‘Hi,’ but are you inviting them for dinner? Are you inviting them out with friends so that they can meet other people? Those are the things that make the difference.”