News

Facebook group meets in real life

Friday, March 29, 2013

By IRENE LABOMBARDE

Staff Writer

The Internet and social networking has changed lives, but a group of local moms is experiencing a new sense of community that would have been impossible just a few short years ago. They are able to turn to one another for help finding a dentist, a plumber or a music teacher, and advice on everything from Lyme disease to sledding safety.

Debbie Ellis, a mother of two elementary school-aged daughters, began a Facebook group in November called Moms in Bedford, Amherst, Merrimack, Milford and Manchester as a way to connect with other local moms. She invited a handful of friends, who then invited their friends, and within two weeks membership had climbed to 396. After the initial burst, growth has slowed down, but new members are still welcome. So far, there are 411 members.

Ellis was moderator of a Bedford Moms Yahoo group, but updates from that listserv arrived via daily digests, and participation seemed to drop as people switched to Facebook. Add to that the recent folding of the Newcomers and Neighbors Club, and Ellis felt she could help fill a void.

“I was president of the Moms Club seven years ago when I moved here, but now that the kids aren’t in play groups anymore this is a way to connect,” Ellis said. “I live in a nice neighborhood but it’s nice to get out beyond that. Our kids all end up in the same schools, but how else do you meet people these days? I wanted to open it up beyond Bedford so we can connect outside our little town, and now we have different people virtually meeting each other.”

Because she works from home, Ellis calls this group her “water cooler moment” and said she enjoys the camaraderie. The group’s status is “Secret” but membership is not exclusive; all that is needed is an invitation from a current member. Negativity is not allowed. There are several members who are new to the area, and the group has been a valuable resource for locating medical professionals, dentists, babysitters and handymen. After receiving recommendations, Donna Figler, who moved to Bedford last year, commented, “Thanks so much everyone. I love this group – so handy!”

Many members are entrepreneurs themselves, and this group has given them a chance to promote their businesses. Almost every new member posts an introduction, and there is an enormous range of professions represented. Job openings have also been posted, as well as a request for families to participate in a research study for a graduate student.

Since this is not a “new mom’s” group, many members have older children and have been a resource for those seeking advice on the tooth fairy, driver’s education classes, summer camp, nightmares and other concerns.

Another fringe benefit has been the chance to easily find new homes for things you no longer need such as a Kitchen Aid meat grinder, a doll crib and a girl’s coat.

Jennifer Dickson, a member of the original Yahoo group, hosts a cookie swap every December and opened it up to the new group.

“It’s nice having it on the Facebook feed and not email listserv,” she said, adding that she finds the group useful. “I found someone to fix my stove and I’ve been able to recommend a dentist I really like. I think it’s really helpful, especially for someone who is new in town. You get varying opinions, do research, it gives a starting place to look.”

The first snowfall brought inquiries about snowshoeing – equipment, trails, etc. Plans were made, and whoever could join that day ventured out. Another discussion was whether children should wear helmets while sledding.

There seldom is a lack of topics to discuss, but as moderator, Ellis will often ask a question of the group to keep things lively.

When she created the group, Ellis posted her vision for it: “A safe place to share your ups, your downs, new things, old things in a respectful manner. We are all moms and have many hats we wear every day. We are more alike than we are different and let’s create a really cool community of positive people supporting one another!”

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