Hilltown Families Voted “Best Blog” by the Valley Advocate’s 2014 Best of the Valley Readers’ Poll!

Hilltown Families Voted as Best Blog for the 4th Year in a Row!

Best Of 2014

Hilltown Families placed 1st for the fourth year in a row as Best Blog in the Valley Advocate Best of the Valley Readers’ Poll for 2014! ♥ Thank you to our readers, sponsors and writers who sustain Hilltown Families with their ongoing support!

GOOD STUFF!

Hilltown Families believes in creating resilient and sustainable communities by developing and strengthening a sense of place in our children and citizens through community based education and engagement. We work to accomplish this by highlighting the embedded learning that is found everywhere in our communities, making the information accessible to families, and giving parents/educators access to opportunities that supports their children’s interests and education while encouraging community engagement. We do this by connecting, collaborating, and creating community building events, community based educational opportunities, and community service leaning experiences.

Founded in 2005 by Sienna Wildfield, Hilltown Families is incorporated as a non-profit in the state of Massachusetts, serving thousands of families living throughout western Massachusetts. Through an online grassroots communication network, Hilltown Families connects people and organizations in the widespread communities of western Massachusetts by helping area residents share ideas, organize activities, support their children’s education and increase participation in community life.

This past Fall, Hilltown Families Founder and Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield, was invited to present a TEDx Talk that shared her vision and mission behind Hilltown Families.  In this TEDx Talk, “Supporting Education Through Community Engagement,” Sienna shares her story on why feeling connected to where you live matters, and how community-based education and community-service learning can help grow active citizens who care about where they live.

JOIN US

If you’re interested in getting involved with Hilltown Families as either a contributing writer, sponsor, bulletin board manager, volunteer, fundraiser, committee member or intern, we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your interests at hilltownfamilies@gmail.com.

HILLTOWN FAMILIES CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

Reaching over 1.3 million visitors to date, our blog continues to grow and expand! There are several ♥ amazing folks behind the scenes at Hilltown Families, along with an equally amazing team of ♥ contributing writers who believe in and support our mission!  Our current team of writers include: Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families Voted as Best Blog & Best Website!

Hilltown Families Voted as Best Blog & Best Website!

♥ Thank you for your votes!!!

Hilltown Families placed 1st for the third year in a row as Best Blog in the Advocate Best of The Valley Readers’ Poll 2013!

And, new this year, Hilltown Families placed 3rd as Best Website, behind MassLive.com and WWLP-22News… not bad company to keep!

♥ Thank you to everyone who supported us with their votes in the annual Valley Advocate Best of the Valley Readers’ Poll for 2013!

GOOD STUFF!

This has been an amazing year with a lot of growth and exciting changes & additions.  We’re looking forward to sharing this excitement as we move ahead as a newly formed non-profit organization, and continue our mission to connect, collaborate, and create community building events, community based educational opportunities, and service learning experiences throughout the four counties of Western MA.

JOIN US

If you’re interested in getting involved with Hilltown Families as either a contributing writer, sponsor, bulletin board manager, volunteer, fundraiser, committee member or intern, we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your interests at hilltownfamilies@gmail.com.

HILLTOWN FAMILIES CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

Reaching over 1 million visitors this past March, our blog continues to grow and expand! There are several ♥ amazing folks behind the scenes at Hilltown Families, along with an equally amazing team of ♥ contributing writers who believe in and support our mission!  Our current team of writers include:

ONGOING COLUMNS

In addition to our monthly and bi-monthly Contributing Writers columns, you can find:

Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night Featured in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Hilltown Families event at Bridge Street School
links community service and family fun
By Barbara Solow, Daily Hampshire Gazette

NORTHAMPTON (Dec 3, 2012) — City resident Margaret Martin said she brought her two granddaughters, 9 and 6, to a community event at Bridge Street School last Friday to “get them out and about and helping people.”

Victoria Worth of Ashfield was there with her 9-year-old daughter to learn more about the work of local social service agencies.

Phoebe Burch, also 9, of Petersham, said she came with her mom and two younger siblings because “it’s important to make other people happy.”

The Nov. 30 Community Service Night, hosted by Hilltown Families, drew more than 150 families to the city elementary school on Parsons Street. From 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Bridge Street’s cafeteria was transformed into a one-stop volunteer station, where participants worked on simple, hands-on service projects for local nonprofits.

Organizations benefiting from the first-time service night were the Northampton Survival Center, Highland Valley Elder Services, Safe Passage and Baystate Children’s Hospital.

Tabletop projects ranged from tying knots for “no sew” fleece blankets to creating care bags for sick children. After visiting each station, participants got special service “passports” stamped by members of the Northampton High School Key Club, who were volunteer staffers for the event. Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families Voted as Best Blog by the Valley Advocate’s 2012 Best of the Valley Readers’ Poll!

Hilltown Families Voted as Best Blog
2nd Year in a Row!

Thank you to all of our readers for voting Hilltown Families as the Best Blog for the 2nd year in a row!

We can’t thank our readers enough for voting Hilltown Families as the Best Blog for the 2nd year in a row in the Valley Advocate Best of the Valley Readers’ Poll for 2012!

Interviewing Hilltown Families founder, Sienna Wildfield, Maureen Turner of the Valley Advocate writes:

When Sienna Wildfield takes her nine-year-old daughter to the Ashfield farmers’ market, she doesn’t worry about keeping track of her every single second. “Half the people there know her,” Wildfield says. “Everyone has an eye on her. It’s a safer community for her to be growing up in.”

That feeling of connection to a community is a big part of what drives Wildfield’s “Hilltown Families,” winner, for the second year, of the award for Best Local Blog. The site, which Wildfield calls an “online grassroots communication network,” has events calendars, essays and art by contributors, podcasts and other goodies, and, its name notwithstanding, covers the four western counties.

Readers can easily discern the ethos behind Wildfield’s work, with its focus on the local and sustainable, non-commercial and often non-mainstream… But there’s something a little less obvious that drives her, too: a desire to help families make real, multi-generational connections to their communities, the way her own child has.

Hilltown Families focuses a lot on what Wildfield calls “place-based, community-learning opportunities”… kinds of opportunities can supplement, in really enriching ways, kids’ school studies, Wildfield says. But they also help create and reinforce families’ connections to the place where they live—something she hopes kids will carry with them as they get older. “If their foundation of what they’re learning is coming from where they live, they grow up and become more invested in their community,” she says. “They want to protect their environment, they want to keep things local, they want to support their local economy, they are more civic minded.” And whether those kids stay in the Valley when they grow up or move elsewhere, Wildfield hopes they’ll carry that belief in the importance of community with them. “This isn’t a short-term thing,” she says. “It’s a real investment.”

HILLTOWN FAMILIES CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

There are several ♥ amazing folks behind the scenes at Hilltown Families, along with an excellent team of ♥ contributing writers & community correspondents!  Our current team of writers include:

JOIN US!

Interested in joining our team of writers, community correspondents, volunteers, fundraisers, sponsors, advertisers and street team? We have many opportunities and welcome your involvement to continue the mission of Hilltown Families!  Send an email with your interests: hillltownfamilies@gmail.com.

GET PLUGGED IN:

Follow Me on DeliciousFollow Hilltown Families on Pinterest Subscribe to the Hilltown Family Variety Show Podcast

“Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit” Featured on Connecting Point

Connecting Point Features “Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit”

Thank you to Dave Fraser from WGBY Public Television’s Connecting Point for traveling to Worthington, MA for a feature on Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit which aired on Jan 17th, 2012:

In 2011 the exhibit was on display in seven different locations through out the region.

In 2012 the show started out the year in Worthington for the first two months, will be moving the Treehouse in Pittsfield for the month of June, will be inviting local artists to join the show in Cummington in July, the Westhampton Library will host in August, and the Quarry Cafe gallery at River Valley Market Co-Op will host in November. All are great opportunities to showcase photographs from the region in community gathering spaces.

All  images in the exhibit are for sale and are a fundraiser for Hilltown Families. All net proceeds from the sale of images will benefit the organization. Contact us to inquire about hosting this fundraising exhibit for Hilltown Families in your town/venue.


“Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit” is supported in part by grants from local Cultural Councils in Ashfield, Buckland, Chesterfield, Cummington, Westhampton and Worthington — all local agencies supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

In Search of Holiday Season Events with Meaning (Featured in Daily Hampshire Gazette)

In search of holiday season events with meaning
By Barbara Solow, Daily Hampshire Gazette

From card swaps to community singalongs to charity hikes, the season offers a host of options for families. For simplicity's sake, Wildfield organizes her favorites into five categories: Hands-On Opportunities, Outdoor Adventures, Shopping Local, Educational Events and Community Gatherings. (Article by Barbara Solow, Staff Writer for the Hampshire Daily Gazette. Photo credits: Sienna Wildfield)

CHESTERFIELD, MA (Nov 23, 2011) – As the holidays approach, Sienna Wildfield faces a dilemma she believes is common to many parents at this time of year. Wildfield, the mother of a 9-year-old and founder of the Hilltown Families online network, aims to steer clear of the commercialism that envelopes the season like too much gaudy wrapping paper.

“At the same time, Christmastime can be a magical time for kids,” she says. In search of a resolution, Wildfield has spent hours looking for holiday celebrations that capture the magic without focusing too much on what she calls, “the shiny stuff.”

The results of her explorations can be found on the Hilltown Families web site (www.hilltownfamilies.org) in calendar listings, blog posts and more recently, special events hosted by the network.

Earlier this month, Hilltown Families presented a talk on “The Importance of Creative Play in a Commercialized World” by child therapist and author Susan Linn at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg. It’s one of a series of “Community Conversations” on child rearing, voluntarism and other grassroots themes.

When she launched Hilltown Families in 2005, Wildfield says she “really had to dig” for holiday activities that weren’t tied to consumerism. As the network has grown, she’s discovered an increasing number of creative ways for families to celebrate the deeper reasons for the season.

“One of the main things I do is listen to other parents, and the community is definitely talking about this more,” says Wildfield, who has lived in West Chesterfield for a decade.

From card swaps to community singalongs to charity hikes, the season offers a host of options for families. For simplicity’s sake, Wildfield organizes her favorites into five categories: Hands-On Opportunities, Outdoor Adventures, Shopping Local, Educational Events and Community Gatherings.

Below are some examples of events and activities in each one. For more ideas, visit Hilltown Families online.

HANDS-ON OPPORTUNITIES:

Be on the lookout for make-your-own crafts events that are part of many holiday fairs. “These are a great way to make your own gifts,” Wildfield says. For example, on Dec. 3 at 10:30 a.m., the Carnegie Library on Avenue A in Turner’s Falls is offering a free workshop on how to make simple gingerbread houses. Call 413-863-3214.

On Dec. 4 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Friends of the Montague Grange are sponsoring a “Make-and-Take Craft Fair” that will include candle and wreath-making using recycled materials. Admission to the fair at the Grange on Main Street in Montague Center is $1 for gifts that cost between $3 and $10 to make. Proceeds will benefit efforts to preserve the Grange Hall. Contact Cindy Tarail, 413-367-0042.

OUTDOOR ADVENTURES:

Wildfield’s family has been attending the Gorge Apres Gorge Family Fun Walk in West Chesterfield since it was started by a group of local moms eight years ago. This year’s walk will be held at 11 a.m. on Sunday (Nov. 27) at the Chesterfield Gorge. At 9 a.m., a 5K Trail Race will be held to benefit the Trustees of Reservation and the Zephyr Rapinchuk Memorial Fund. The entry fee is $15 on active.com or $20 on the day of the race. Prizes include hand-knitted hats. Details are available on www.georgeapresgores.com or on the event’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gorge-apr%C3%A9s-Gorge/175499033294.

For an outdoor holiday activity that’s truly off the beaten path, Wildfield suggests the Audubon Society’s 112th Christmas Bird Count. The nationwide count begins on Dec. 14 and lasts through Jan. 5. The society uses information collected by volunteer “citizen scientists” to gauge the health of the nation’s bird populations. To find out when this year’s local counting day has been scheduled, visit http://birds.audubon.org/get-involved-christmas-bird-count.

SHOPPING LOCAL:

Wildfield recommends events that highlight community traditions along with shopping. Her pick in this category is Moonlight Magic sponsored by the Shelburne Falls Area Business Association. This year’s event starts at 4:30 p.m. on Friday (Nov. 25) . In addition to stores and galleries staying open late, the evening will feature holiday lights, caroling, crafts demonstrations and live performances throughout the village, Call 413-625-2526.

EDUCATIONAL EVENTS

Regional museums offer a wealth of seasonal programs and Wildfield notes that many area libraries lend free museum passes to card holders. Upcoming events on her list include Historic Deerfield’s “Seasonal Thanks” program on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Reenactors at the Tavern Hall building will offer a glimpse of life in the 17th century, including open-hearth cooking, examples of period arts and trades and a gift-making session. Call 413-774-5581.

On Dec. 10 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., the Wistariahurst Museum on Cabot Street in Holyoke will host a program on how to make Victorian era ornaments and other holiday gifts. Admission is $5 and reservations are suggested, Call 413-322-5660.

COMMUNITY GATHERINGS:

Perhaps the best way to enjoy the holidays is to mark the season with friends and neighbors. Community events include the annual luminary nights in Hatfield and Florence. Wildfield is partial to the Ashfield Solstice celebration, which this year takes place on Dec. 22 starting around 6:30 p.m. on the Town Common. Residents gather around a bonfire to sing and welcome the gradual return of daylight.

There’s also storytelling, Morris folk dancing and the writing of “community intentions” for the New Year. Such events make the holidays “more about a time of year” than about presents under the tree, Wildfield says. “This is the kind of raw around the edges stuff I love to let people know about.”


Copyright GazetteNet.com. Reprinted with permission.

Mass Appeal Features “Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit”

Thank you to Ashley Kohl  of 22News Mass Appeal for featuring Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit on a recent episode:

22News Mass Appeal InterviewThe exhibit was recently hosted by the Trustees of Reservation’s  Bullitt Reservation and will be at the Northampton Center for the Arts in July and August.  In the fall the exhibit will be at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg, MA for the month of September, Elmer’s in Ashfield, MA for October, and then will close out the year in Nov/Dec in Shelburne Falls, MA at Mocha Maya’s.

Each exhibit is a unique showcase of images that correspond with the season and venue.

We are currently booking venues for 2012. Contact us to inquire about hosting this fundraising exhibit for Hilltown Families in your town/venue.


Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit” is supported in part by grants from local Cultural Councils in Ashfield, Buckland, Chesterfield and Cummington — all local agencies supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Hilltown Families Voted as Best Blog by the Valley Advocate’s Best of the Valley Readers’ Poll!

Hilltown Families Voted as Best Local Blog!

Wow! Thank you to everyone who voted for Hilltown Families in the Valley Advocate Best of the Valley Readers’ Poll for 2011!

Maureen Turner of the Valley Advocate writes: “What began as a listserv six years ago has expanded with advances in technology; now visitors to the handsomely designed site will find podcasts of the Hilltown Family Variety Show, which plays eclectic family-friendly music; expansive lists of weekly events for families; and art and columns by contributors on topics that will appeal to folks raising kids or just interested in participating in their local communities.”

What a great way to celebrate the past five years!

Get Involved & Support Hilltown Families!

Hilltown Families Blog is part of an online grassroots communication network for families living throughout Western MA. There are many ways families and the community can both support and get involved with Hilltown Families.  Here are a few ways:

WGBY Features “Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit”

Thank you to Meghan Lynn Allen from WGBY Public Television’s Connecting Point for featuring Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit on a recent episode:

The exhibit debuted in Feb/March 2011 in Florence, MA at Cup & Top Cafe.  It’s currently on display through the month of April in Haydenville, MA at Bread Euphoria.  In mid-May the show moves to the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield, MA for four weeks and then will be at the Northampton Center for the Arts in July.  In the fall the exhibit will be at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg, MA for the month of September, Elmer’s in Ashfield, MA for October, and then will close out the year in Nov/Dec in Shelburne Falls, MA at Mocha Maya’s.

Each exhibit is a unique showcase of images that correspond with the season and venue.

Contact us to inquire about hosting this fundraising exhibit for Hilltown Families in your town/venue.


Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit” is supported in part by grants from local Cultural Councils in Ashfield, Buckland, Chesterfield and Cummington — all local agencies supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

The Women’s Times Resource Guide Features HilltownFamilies.org

Resource Guide: HilltownFamilies.org
By Georgia Douillet, The Women’s Times

Click to see larger image

The Women's Times, Pioneer Valley Region (March 2011)

For parents living on the wooded spine of hills that separate the Berkshires from the Pioneer Valley, geography once had an isolating effect on the parenting experience.  Then came Hilltown Families, an online resource turning miles-apart neighbors into a tight-knit community embracing members from north Berkshire County, the wilds of the Westfield watershed and downtown Northampton.

“The term ‘family’ and the term ‘community’ are really the same thing,” says Hilltown Families editor, coordinator and founding visionary Sienna WIldfield.  Wildfield moved to West Chesterfield near the beginning of her own parenting journey and quickly realized how useful it would be to have a virtual bulletin board where parents could post their concerns, share resources and meet one another.  Hilltown Families began as a listserve for families organizing potlucks and playgroups.  As it developed, it added a blog, then a community radio presence (on 103.3 WXOJ, Northampton), and a podcast for areas outside the station’s frequency.  It now includes a vibrant Facebook presence.  Writers provide regular commentary, from the perspectives of a teen mom to a mother of boys describing family-friendly ways to “Thrill and Tire” her tribe.  Rachel Simmons, a leading expert on girls’ psychological development, is one of the newest regular contributors.  In between, regular moms and pops, grandparents, aunts, guardians and others share places to go, things to do, tips, resources and concerns.  Hilltown Families’ utility extends far beyond Wildfield’s original vision; as an economic development tool, it showcases the cultural and social riches of the region for prospective newcomers.

Wildfield, a self-described activist, is delighted that the seeds she and a few other community-minded, tech-savvy families planted have blossomed into such a rich resource.

That resource has not only rescued many a parent from cabin fever.  It has rounded up roof-rakes, alerted followers to the latest in school cancellations and made people aware of community resources in region-wide emergencies  like the devastating December ice storm two years ago.  “I want to see our community become healthy and strong,’ says Wildfield.  “It takes a lot of time, but it’s a labor of love.  I feel this is an important resource for the community to have, and it fuels me that way.”

Reprinted with permission. Originally appeared in the
March 2011 issue of The Women’s Times.

Annuals of the Arts: Hilltown Glories in Photos

Annuals of the Arts: Hilltown Glories in Photos
By Chelsea Faria, Daily Hampshire Gazette

Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, MA (February 3rd, 2011)

Sienna Wildfield, founder of The Hilltown Families online grassroots communications network, does not subscribe to the notion that if you’ve seen one Hilltown, you’ve seen them all. Far from it.

She believes each Hilltown has its own “unique culture, often reflected in their seasonal and community celebrations,” she said in a telephone interview with Briefings.

To catch a glimpse of the individuality of the Hilltowns that give the western region of the state part of its character, the Hilltown Families network is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a photo exhibit on the region. Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit opens this week in Florence. Wildfield is the curator as well as the photographer featured in the exhibit. Her work features images of Hilltown family life and the landscapes of western Massachusetts.

The exhibit will travel to five towns this year: in February and March at the Cup & Top Cafe in Florence. There will be an opening reception Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. “As the show travels throughout the region, it will showcase images relative to the season and the host town,” Wildfield said. The debut, however, will incorporate images from towns all over western Massachusetts.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families Makes Front Page Headlines!

Blog connects out-of-the-way Hilltown families, community
By Ben Storrow, Hampshire Daily Gazette

Hampshire Daily Gazette Article

"I'd like the blog to reflect the positive work and educational efforts activists, families, teachers, and artists work towards and accomplish and how that affects, supports and empowers our families." - Sienna Wildfield, Hilltownfamilies.org founder

CHESTERFIELD, MA (Feb. 9, 2009) – Connecting with neighbors in the HIlltowns can be a daunting task. People are spread thin over the bumpy expanse of land that rises up from the Connecticut River Valley. The narrow, bending roads may be covered in ice and snow, as they are this winter, making a trip down to a friend’s potentially perilous.

Yet neither rain nor snow nor expanse of land can keep families in the HIlltowns apart, thanks to an online blog created by West Chesterfield community organizer Sienna Wildfield.

Wildfield created the blog, called Hilltown Families in 2006 with the intention of providing a communication network that could connect families, as well as attract guest writers and artists from the area. According to Wildfield, the blog covers western Massachusetts, the Hilltowns and the Pioneer Valley.
Wildfield, who described herself as a lifelong activist, said her focus on community organizing blossomed when her daughter was born. “The Hilltowns can be isolated and I wanted to provide a network for families and all members of the community to connect with one another,” she explained, “so if they wanted to teach a Spanish or rock-climbing class they could do that.”

Recent articles posted to Hilltown Families described the Golden Dragons, a Chinese acrobat group, scheduled to perform at the Calvin Theatre March 1, complete with a description of the group, a YouTube video showing them perform, and a link to buy tickets; information from Felice Wolfzahn, of Shelburne Falls, about a quilting class for kids that was to be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and an announcement of a Hilltown Sustainability meeting in Cummington.

Blog, begun by activist, connects geographically isolated families

The blog boasts 154,830 page views. In addition to operating the Web site, Hilltown Families also moderates an email listserv, which enables parents to discuss issues and events taking place in the community, along with a free newsfeed that emails news updates to subscribers.

And Hilltown Families doesn’t stop there. Wildfield also hosts a radio show with her daughter every Saturday morning from 9-10 a.m. on WXOJ 103.3 FM in Northampton. The Hilltown Family Variety Show, as the program is known, features an hour of children’s music, along with a healthy dose of folk, jazz and bluegrass songs. Podcasts of the program are available on the Hilltown Families Web site.

The success of the Hilltown Families might be somewhat ironic considering the fact that its creator did not know what a blog was before she launched the site.

“I’d heard all this stuff about blogs, but I didn’t really know what they were,” Wildfield said. Prior to starting Hilltown Families, she had operated a listserv that informed parents of issues and events in the community. However, the more she learned about blogs the more she thought a site would nicely partner the listserv.

“I had been really big on trying to connect communities through a listserv, and the blog seemed like a really nice way to complement that,” she related. “It offers a forum for different people to communicate as guest writers or bloggers,” she said of a blog’s capabilities. “It just seems more interactive than a listserv.”

As an example of the blog’s ability to organize people, she noted the keen interest over the holiday season for people looking for ways to volunteer n the community with their children.

The blog boasts four contributing writers and a stable of guest bloggers, and Wildfield said she welcomes anyone interested in contributing to the site. Individuals interested in the blog can visit it on the Web at www.hilltownfamilies.org. Anyone who would like to become a guest writer can send inquires to hilltownfamilies@gmail.com.


Copyright GazetteNet.com. Reprinted with permission.

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Hilltown Families In the News: The Highland Communities Intiative

Reprinted with permission from
The Trustees of Reservations: The Highland Communities Initiative,
Winter 2008 Newsletter, Highland Happenings



STRENGTHENING HILLTOWN FAMILIES IN THE LAND OF DIAL-UP

While the highlands may enjoy reliable high-speed Internet access in the near future, local parents cannot wait to meet the needs of their growing children. For Sienna Wildfield, the Internet’s potential for connecting families led her to believe that it could become an invaluable resource for parents in this region, and in the life of her own daughter. With that in mind, Wildfield decided to brave the Highlands’ infamously slow Internet access to create the weblog, Hilltown Families (www.HilltownFamilies.org). Judging by the site’s growth in one year, with more than 33,000 visitors and 150 families subscribing to its newsfeed and email list serve, the need was real.

Wildfield felt isolated when she moved to West Chesterfield five years ago, and worried that her daughter might not have easy access to the physical, social, educational, and creative outlets that are available, but are spread across the sparsely populated area. Luckily, it was all a matter of connecting with those around her. She soon became the Communications and Community Outreach Coordinator of the Cummington Family Center and organized summer and weekend activities. She also brought together families to host information-sharing events. “I must have held 20 pancake breakfasts at my own home alone,” Wildfield recalls. Within three years, 80 families were participating in Family Center events.

When her daughter became school-aged, her mother found few centralized resources available to meet the needs of grade-school children, Sienna started her Hilltown Families blog to fill that void, and it has flourished.

Currently, the Hilltown Families blog coordinates five distinct services. The blog allows users to register for a list serve where families can privately discuss any and all relevant issues, ranging from school choice to health to fun activities. users can also subscribe to a newsfeed where they receive information posted to the site. On the blog site itself, Sienna and guest writers maintain an updated list of family-friendly local events, as well as links page of Internet resources. Podcasts of the Hilltown Family Variety Show, hosted by Sienna and her daughter on Valley Free Radio (every Tuesday at 7PM on 103.3 FM), are also available for residents who miss the show or can’t receive the station’s signal.

Hilltown Families aims to be inclusive, welcoming families of all compositions and philosophies, and highlighting events in both the Highlands as well as he Pioneer Valley. Families without computers are encouraged to access the site at their local libraries.

Wildfield feels strongly about connecting families with local communities, economies, and landscapes. Every year, the group’s craft bazaar introduces children to local artists and businesses. Recently, Hilltown Families has partnered with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Hampshire and Franklin counties in the distribution of hand-knitted hats to Hilltown children in need. It has also begun an Outdoor Adventures for Kids program in conjunction with Tekoa Mountain Outdoors.

“It’s been an amazing, enriching experience for myself and, I hope, for the community,” says Wildfield. She is not sure what she’ll do when her daughter moves on from grade school. For now, there are plenty of things to keep her busy. “We’re always looking for guest writers on the site,” she hints, reminding everyone that while one person started Hilltown Families, community is what makes it work. Read the rest of this entry »

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