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Category Archives: Crisis Response

We all have a part in local businesses success

Neighbors show their support of Vermont small businesses on FPF.

“I was on a call this week in which the somber fact of our local businesses on the brink of failure was very apparent. Many of our local sandwich shops, bars and restaurants are in dire need of support and are looking at the possibility of having to close down for good bc of the financial situation they are in. I was going to suggest we all try and support a “Take out Tuesday” (because A. Takeout sounded best with Tuesday and B. this would include all our eateries whether they were serving in their location or just doing take out), but realize many of our local spots aren’t open on Tuesdays. Therefore, I suggest we all try and go out to eat or get food to go from our local eateries that aren’t serving in house at least once a weekday when they need our support the most. Without our help, many of the local establishments that you love are not going to make it through this winter. Help out your neighbor, friend, or local business owner now, so that we may have the chance to enjoy them after this mess is over with. We all have a part in our local businesses success.

This also applies to our local independent shops as well. Please think of them with the upcoming holiday season and shop local this year!”  • Bob in Stowe

Share local dining/take-out options and gift ideas on Front Porch Forum.


VT Farmers: Apply by Oct. 1 for State COVID-19 Relief Grants

It’s not too late! The Dairy Assistance Application and Agriculture and Working Lands Applications are now live. The deadline to apply for these funds, part of Vermont’s COVID-19 Agriculture Assistance Program (VCAAP), is Oct. 1, 2020. These grants are intended to stabilize agricultural businesses and organizations based on their lost revenues and expenses related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Learn more here.

If you have neighbors in your community who could benefit from this information, or other helpful info to share, post it on your neighborhood FPF!


Apply now for economic recovery grants!

As a result of the federal CARES act, the State of Vermont has recently made available new Economic Recovery Grants for minority and women-owned businesses with 0-5 employees.  There’s also special funding for nonprofit arts and cultural organizations as part of a special allocation of funding through the Vermont Arts Council.

Learn more and apply for the economic recovery grants for Vermont small businesses owned by minorities and women.  $2.5 million has been set aside for women-owned businesses and $2.5 million for minority-owned businesses with 0-5 employees.

Vermont nonprofit arts and cultural organizations should use the same portal to apply for these grants. To learn more about what it means for Vermont’s creative sector check here.


Grow and Give

Front Porch Forum members are organizing gardeners to share their extra produce this summer with neighbors who are in need.

If you have a veggie garden, and as you find yourself with more produce than you can use in the coming months, I’m hoping you might donate it. Local food pantries welcome produce from home gardeners.  My plan is to harvest extra produce as I have it and take it to one of them. It doesn’t need to be a lot — every fresh little bit helps. Just grow and give.”  • Karen in East Montpelier

“We just put out a Little Free Greenhouse & Seed Library in front of our house.  If you have extra veggie starts or seeds to exchange, please consider contributing them to the greenhouse and library for others to take. There will also be free wildflower bouquets for the taking from time to time. There are some lettuce starts in the greenhouse at the moment as well. Please take whatever you need and contribute what you can.”  • Allegra in Burlington

Ready to start something similar in your town? Post on FPF!


“The Internet’s Missing Link in the Age of COVID-19”

COVID-19 is forcing everyone to adapt. An essential part of that adaptation is the use of technology to keep people connected without the face-to-face risk factors the coronavirus presents. Micah Sifry of Civic Hall observes the many challenges we all face as we navigate a global pandemic and the tech solutions that may help us move forward.

Sifry identifies Front Porch Forum as digital public infrastructure that can help communities thrive. See the excerpt below.

In all my years of reporting on how we use tech in civic life, one platform has stood out for how it has successfully fostered healthy community engagement while reaching significant scale: Vermont’s Front Porch Forum. Seventy percent of the state’s 260,000 households have an account on one of FPF’s local town or neighborhood forums, which are in every part of the rural state. Two years ago, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released an in-depth study of FPF’s users, finding that their daily use of the site led to increased trust in their neighbors, increased interest in civic life, greater participation in local government, and increased optimism about the future. ‘Witnessing everyday acts of neighborliness is a powerful driver of both online and offline community engagement,’ the study concluded.

Last week, I checked in with its founder Michael Wood-Lewis and his chief innovation officer, Jason Van Driesche, to find out how they are weathering the current storm. After a brief dip in the site’s fortunes when the state went into lockdown in March, they were happy to report that even though no one was posting yard sales or local events, the type of information that has always been FPF’s bread-and-butter, user engagement was up. The number of net new signups per day doubled during the first weeks of the crisis, and posting is up considerably over the seasonable average, along with open rates.

Wood-Lewis and Van Driesche are also gratified to report that people are using the forum’s daily email bulletins to organize help for neighbors, share vital public health information, and fight isolation. They’ve decided to have their paid community moderators screen out misinformation about COVID, which Wood-Lewis said is ‘usually people getting stuff off of Facebook and sharing it with good intentions.’ They’re working on an array of service improvements, and also thinking hard about how to support the 10,000 local businesses, thousands of local officials and hundreds of nonprofits that use the site. ‘On a daily basis, most of the people in our state are giving us five to ten minutes of their attention,’ Wood-Lewis noted. But he and his team are frustrated that so much of FPF’s core mission, which is to bring neighbors together face-to-face, is stymied by the pandemic. ‘We know we’re successful when those real in-person things happen,’ he adds, so his team is trying to highlight local initiatives like safe scavenger hunts for kids and community claps for frontline workers.

Front Porch Forum’s model works because it keeps its forums to human size and speed, and it has paid moderators perusing every post before they reach subscribers. A typical instance has 500 to 1,000 people on it, all from the same town or neighborhood, and all verified, using their real names. Everyone sees the same content at the same time, Van Driesche pointed out; there’s no microtargeting of content. So while people still are people, and they may post things that get on their neighbors’ nerves, the general tenor of the site is ‘let’s pull together instead of knocking each other down.‘”

Read the full article here.


Spring refresh: FPF’s Email Forum redesign

Change is afoot. Front Porch Forum is glad to present a new and improved Email Forum design today.

The daily FPF Email Forum has a new look.  At the same time, we’re keeping all the content and functionality that members have come to appreciate in place and easy to use.

This redesign is one step in a series of upgrades that FPF is making to deliver the highest quality service to our members. The new, simplified layout of the Email Forum is designed to make postings shine. We’ve also made it easier to compose postings, search the posting archive and more!

Other recent steps we’ve taken to improve our service:

  • Launched a mobile app, making FPF easier to read from a smartphone
  • Expanded our service to parts of upstate New York
  • Became a Vermont Public Benefit Corporation
  • Celebrated our 180,000th member (and counting!)
  • Continuing to grow our in-house team of software engineers
  • Serving as essential civic infrastructure during the COVID-19 crisis

Already we’ve seen how these milestones and changes have helped us to fulfill our mission across the state in Vermont and in growing upstate New York forums. As the weeks go on, we look forward to sharing news on the additional updates and new features we’ll be rolling out to better serve you and our communities.  Next up… redesign of our website, including the posting archive and Web Forum.

Stay tuned for details about these and other exciting new features and updates. We eager to share our progress!

For more information on FPF’s growth and community impact over recent years, check out the following pieces:


Covered Bridge Courtesy

The little things count, especially when the going gets tough. Being kind, friendly, or considerate toward our neighbors can make all the difference. Read this excellent metaphor shared by an FPF member about being courteous during difficult times, or when in tight spaces!

Anyone who has gone through a covered bridge appreciates Covered Bridge Courtesy. 

People, who can be total strangers, back up, stop, blink their head lights, wave. Signal, “you first.” Basically, acknowledge each other in that tight space. Then we get on with our lives.

And now, we find ourselves in a tight space again. Big Time.

The quarantines, stay in place orders, the uncertainty, have created a collective anxiety. It does matter how we feel about it. Life, like that bridge, will likely be a tight space for some time.

And guess what – we are waving at each other more. We see it driving around. The finger flick off the wheel, or eye contact, or the double whammy of both at the same time. Whoa – that was good.” • Stuart and Patti in Charlotte, Vt.

Have you seen examples like “covered bridge courtesy” in your neighborhood? Tell your neighbors about it on Front Porch Forum!


Front Porch Forum on WCAX’s Across the Fence

As the world adjusts and adapts to social distancing and self isolation, communities in Vermont are looking to connect with and help their neighbors safely. They’re doing so on FPF.

Listen to Front Porch Forum’s co-founder, Michael Wood-Lewis, share how the service is being used across the state (and in parts of Upstate NY) during the COVID-19 crisis.  He joins Fran Stoddard for an interview, below, on Across the Fence, the country’s longest-running locally produced program.

 

Learn more about how Front Porch Forum is being used during this time here.


FPF’s Response to the Coronavirus Crisis

Here’s an update on FPF’s situation as the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold for all of us.  The big picture:  

  1. FPF usage is up across the state
  2. Our team is solid and working hard
  3. We’ve stabilized our short-term finances
  4. We are innovating on many fronts to strengthen local communities

FPF usage is up across the state.  Vermonters are making more use of FPF during the pandemic than ever before.   Posting volume is up 42% and new-member sign-ups are up 83% compared to the same period last year.  We are seeing many different ways that neighbors are using FPF for crisis response, including:

  • Neighbor helping neighbor:  Many requests for help being made and fulfilled
  • Community organizing:  People using FPF to organize mutual aid and services of all kinds
  • Information sharing:  Public officials, healthcare facilities, and others disseminating essential information
  • Staying connected:  Combating isolation during this time of social distancing

We’ve stabilized our short-term finances.  While the future remains uncertain, we now are confident that FPF will weather the crisis intact.  Steps taken include:

  • Austerity measures:  We cut and delayed spending aggressively starting March 1.
  • Sales revenue:  We’ve worked intently with our small-business advertisers to help them with their goals while staying affordable.
  • Member donations:  We’re grateful for a tremendous response to our brief request for donations from our members in late March.
  • SBA loans:  We have applied for SBA loans and are awaiting news.

Our team is solid and working hard.  In response to the health and economic crisis, we have made several changes to both our operations and our service:

  • Protecting FPF staff:  We closed our central office and switched to 100% remote work.  Additionally, we have been able to avoid layoffs and pay cuts.
  • Keeping Vermonters informed:  We created new features in our software to make it easier for our members to find coronavirus-related information.  We also removed posting limits for government officials, hospitals and social services regarding crisis-related messages.  And we are aggressively screening out misinformation related to coronavirus.
  • Facilitating neighbor-helping-neighbor:  We continually are taking steps to reach more Vermonters and to encourage mutual aid-type postings.  We also are in conversation with groups across the state that are working to increase volunteer efforts.
  • Helping small businesses and nonprofits:  We dropped our advertising prices by 38% across the board.  We removed monthly posting limits for any messages related to the crisis, including changes to business hours, delivery services, etc.  We are promoting “buy local” to our 180,000 members.
  • Building social capital and community resiliency:  We built a new feature to frequently promote examples of neighbor connection to all our members during this time of social isolation.

We are innovating on many fronts.  Looking forward past the crisis-response stage to the recovery phase, FPF will focus on making Vermont communities ever more resilient by:

  • Building social capital among neighbors:  Helping neighbors connect and build community will remain the heart of FPF’s work.
  • Strengthening local economies:  We will support the 10,000 small businesses that participate on FPF by enhancing their connection with customers.
  • Supporting local social safety nets:  We will continue to work with grassroots mutual-aid efforts, nonprofits, and government agencies to strengthen supports in every community across the state.
  • Enhancing civic engagement and local democracy:  We are developing additional ways for Vermonters to become more involved in the civic life of their local communities.  We are also exploring options for giving public officials new tools to engage with neighbors post-crisis.
  • Elevating local journalism:  We will expand our efforts with local news publishers to bring their work to a larger audience and enhance their viability.
  • Strengthening FPF:  We aim to make FPF stronger as we move forward through growth, product innovation, tech resiliency enhancements, creative partnerships, and more.

As a Vermont Public Benefit Corporation, FPF’s goal is to help Vermonters stay connected and build community throughout this crisis and beyond.  We welcome feedback and ideas about how FPF can be of service in this time of need.


Planting signs of hope

To share a little joy among neighbors, several FPF members report planting yard signs of hope for all to see. Signs have been spotted in front of houses, apartment buildings and nursing homes.

“A community-wide, grassroots project called “Planting Signs of Hope” has been born. Its intentions are to lift spirits, create a sense of connectedness and bring color and life back to our downtown (and beyond) by “planting” as many positive messages around Johnson as possible. Who knows? Perhaps others will be inspired to do the same in their neighborhoods and communities!  If you are interested in painting and planting a sign of your own, but don’t have the materials, email me. Otherwise, happy painting and planting- can’t wait to see your signs “popping up” around town!”  • Kyle in Johnson

“Smile More-Worry Less” “Vermont Strong” “Inhale Courage-Exhale Fear” “You are Loved”!  Thank you to the person who created the loving inspiration along the road side. I don’t typically walk that road but like so many of us, I too am walking a lot more and in new places. Your gifts helped brighten my spirits. My friends loved seeing the photos I took of the colorful kindness stones. I look forward to my return walk! We so need more and more kindness! Happily, I also met a new neighbor while walking. Grateful.”  • Sherry in Hinesburg

“Please consider posting a thank you/appreciation for the healthcare and first providers in your yard acknowledging these awesome individuals. A great family project!”  • Dan & Amy in Burlington

“As a local art teacher, I created a positivity poster of my own to inspire my students and I have hung it in my window. We are all cooped up inside, let’s get that creativity flowing. If you have kids out of school, make it a fun, creative family activity. Then put your artwork in your window and doorway. As more and more people are walking through our neighborhoods, let spread some happiness and positivity!”  • Kayla in Waterbury