So when I heard about free neighborhood websites, I stopped multitasking. They are a place where neighbors communicate online with others who live nearby about community issues (a new building project in the area, traffic concerns, a burglary, a favorite gardener, a family in need), post requests, and get to know one another. That often leads to face-to-face connections and new relationships.
According to Michael Wood-Lewis, cofounder of the Front Porch Forum, a neighborhood website in Burlington, Vt., there are about 20 similar start-ups around the country. Created in 2006, his is among the oldest and serves one-third of Vermont.
One of most recent entrants is the San Francisco-based Nextdoor, which debuted last October and is in more than 1,200 neighborhoods nationwide. In order to join one of these private social networks, you have to live in that neighborhood (except if you’re an adult child/caregiver) and when posting, use your full name. If there’s no neighborhood website, you can start one and invite neighbors to join.
What does this have to do with caregiving? These companies are seeing adult children, who are caregivers, or their parents or relatives, the care recipients, using it to enlist the help of others. Last winter, during a blizzard, an adult daughter living across town got on the Front Porch Forum website and asked her mother’s neighbors to check on her. Several went over to make sure she was okay and fed, while someone else shoveled her driveway and walk…
Arthur Goyette knows the value of good neighbors. His wife Betty died three years ago, but while she was battling cancer, his neighbors brought countless meals to their Caroline Street home. When the neighbors learned that Betty had always wanted to ride in a convertible, they found a dealership willing to loan them a car, and surprised the Goyettes with a Chrysler Sebring. When the couple drove down the street with the top down, people lined the block waving and taking pictures.
Remembering this time, the 71-year-old Goyette marvels that he barely knew some of the people who helped him. He might never have known them at all if it weren’t for an email newsletter called the Front Porch Forum, which serves the South End neighborhood known as the Five Sisters.
Goyette’s neighbors used the newsletter to organize support for the family. “If the web wasn’t there,” he says, “it never would have happened.”
Goyette is not the only South End resident who credits the 6-year-old Front Porch Forum with bolstering community. The FPF website lists testimonials from dozens of users who say they like the way this free online service helps them connect with others in the immediate area; of the 350 households in Five Sisters, 286 subscribe…
And from this blog… Dozens of Front Porch Forum members requested help from their neighbors in the wake of the blizzard most in need of snow removal. Others posted generous offers to help. We also were glad to help spread the word about Operation Snow Shovel apparently to good effect:
Thanks so, so much for posting the message about Operation Snow Shovel throughout Burlington. The response was incredible! Can you believe that I’ve heard from 57 people willing to volunteer to shovel? 57! (That’s in addition to the 33 permanent volunteers who shovel for a particular person each time it snows”“ many of them were recruited through Front Porch Forum, too.) A large percentage of volunteers said they’d heard about the need through their neighborhood forum.
As of right now, every single elderly or disabled person in need of help that contacted OSS has been accommodated. And those I’ve yet to hear from will get help quickly. What a wonderful resource these forums are! Many, many thanks!
And another one… Watching neighbors connect through Front Porch Forum is often both fascinating and moving. This post from today, e.g., adds to other evidence we’ve witnessed of people wanting and waiting for a chance to lend a helping hand to those around them.
My husband died from metastatic prostate cancer in October. I asked for help finding someone to snowblow my driveway [through her FPF neighborhood forum] and think I have found someone. Then I went away for a week and when I returned my leaves were raked and removed and items moved from around the house to the driveway. I don’t know who did this, but I have to think it was someone in the neighborhood and I wanted to say thank you.
This message comes from a suburban-style neighborhood where about a quarter of the 200 households signed up with Front Porch Forum in the first three months of operation. To further thank her neighbors, the writer goes on to share a warning:
You should also know that in July 2006 we had a house invasion during the daytime (2:30 pm, man with a ski-mask) and my husband’s pain medication was stolen ([he] was lying in bed at the time). While I was away in November, there was another break in. His remaining medications were taken too. There is no more medication in the house and it is now very much more secure, but be aware that this sort of thing happens even in our own “safe” neighborhood.
Many thanks to the kind-hearted and energetic people who helped me out.
The anwser to the request for snow-removal help for the coming winter is great. The mysterious leaf-rakers are even better. But it’s the willingness of the writer to share her loss, ask for help, and offer a constructive warning to her neighbors out of what must have been an awful experience that motivates us to make Front Porch Forum happen for more people and neighborhoods.