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 »