We just learned that the community-building accomplishments of Front Porch Forum are being recognized with a national award! Hooray! Congratulations and thank you to the thousands of local people who contribute to the success of this service.
The Orton Family Foundation and PlaceMatters will present the award as part of the CommunityMatters07 national conference that will take place on Burlington’s waterfront Oct. 23-25. We’re truly honored by the “Innovator in Place” award and it provides a welcome boost to our efforts. Thanks to the Orton Family Foundation and PlaceMatters.
Orton Family Foundation Awards
2007 Innovator in Place to Michael Wood-Lewis
MIDDLEBURY, Vermont –The Orton Family Foundation takes great pride and pleasure in naming Michael Wood-Lewis winner of the 2007 Innovator in Place Award. Michael and Front Porch Forum http:// frontporchforum.com, his free on-online service, excel at building social capital and community capacity for change.
In choosing Michael, the Foundation decided he best fulfilled the spirit of the award, which aims to honor successful grassroots community activists and leaders not typically recognized for their efforts. Michael accepted his $3,000 award at a reception at the ECHO Center on Burlington’s waterfront during the COMMUNITYMATTERS07 conference.
“Some argue that the Internet isolates people, further tearing the social fabric,” said Orton Family Foundation President and CEO Bill Roper, “but Michael proves the opposite can be true. His innovation, civic spirit and commitment enable the kind of friendship, trust and interdependence among neighbors that the Foundation believes are key to vibrant, sustainable community. His tool is enhancing Burlington’s heart and soul.”
Michael Wood-Lewis, with his wife Valerie, founded Front Porch Forum in 2006. In its first year, the Forum’s trend setting use of the Internet at the neighborhood level brought 25 percent of the citizens of Burlington, Vermont (pop. 38,889), into community discussions. The free on-line service hosts 130 adjacent neighborhood forums covering every part of Chittenden County. About 7,000 households have subscribed, and hundreds more join every month.
“We hear from people all the time who lament not knowing their neighbors,” said Wood-Lewis. “When Front Porch Forum kicks into gear, those connections begin to form. It’s a wonderful thing to watch take root, grow and blossom.”
Neighbors put Front Porch Forum to good use, connecting with neighbors and building community by posting all sorts of messages: borrow a ladder, refer a plumber, look out for a lost kitten, organize a block party, discuss traffic calming, report a break-in, announce a school play, debate zoning, and on and on.
In addition to direct results (“Kitten Found!”), it’s the growth of community offline that is the true measure of Front Porch Forum’s impact. Each message comes from a clearly identified nearby neighbor, so over time participants get to know each other better. This familiarity spills over from the virtual to the actual front porch.
The webs spun by Front Porch Forum that connect people are strengthened by 250 Forum Neighborhood Volunteers who champion the forums in their own areas and 140 local elected and public officials who participate across their jurisdictions. Police and other government officials use the site to better respond to problems in their area.
A remarkable Burlington innovation actively cultivating the development of rich, vibrant community, Front Porch Forum is exploring replication options and has a waiting list with more than 150 communities represented. Michael Wood-Lewis’s groundbreaking social innovation is a blueprint for community development of the future.
Michael’s previous experience includes steering a regional trade association to a position of national prominence. He also led a consortium of municipal leaders from across the country in developing environmental technology. He is active on the advisory board of Burlington Telecom, a cutting edge municipally owned “fiber optic to the home” utility, providing data, voice and video. Wood-Lewis brings to bear an unusual combination of technical background (MS engineering University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), business experience (MBA), and 20 years of community organizing.
Director of Communications
The Orton Family Foundation
152 Maple Street, PO Box 111
Middlebury, VT 05753 www.orton.org