How do you share hyper-local news with your neighbors? If you live in Chittenden County, you've probably been using Front Porch Forum to spread the word about break-ins, lost cats and municipal meetings. The Burlington-based online community building service, created in 2006 by Michael Wood-Lewis (pictured) and his wife, Valerie, has become part of the fabric of civic life in many Vermont communities.
But the service hasn't been available in many parts of the state. Though FPF is free to users, the company has been charging towns that wanted to launch the service a one-time set-up fee to cover the cost of building the digital infrastructure and providing a community moderator. And some cash-strapped municipalities have been reluctant to pay.
Now those Porch-free towns are going to get connected for free. The Vermont Council on Rural Development has directed $300,000 in federal disaster relief funds from the Economic Development Administration to help upgrade Front Porch Forum's capabilities.
In a blog post announcing the award on the VCRD website, executive director Paul Costello lauded FPF's usefulness to communities looking to organize volunteer efforts in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. “It was amazing how people shared tools and lent each other aide through this vehicle,” says Costello. “We’ve been talking to FPF co-founder Michael Wood-Lewis for three years about how we could help bring Front Porch Services to every town in the state…and today, with the support of EDA we are doing it.”