Blog connects out-of-the-way Hilltown families, community
By Ben Storrow, Hampshire Daily Gazette
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.