Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Civic Group Woodhaven Residents' Block Association Turns to Social Sites to Find New Members by Lisa L. Colangelo - NY Daily News

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For more than 30 years, the Woodhaven Residents' Block Association has let people know about the good - and the bad - in their neighborhood.

At one time, that meant working the phones, hand-delivering newsletters and chatting on streetcorners.

But these days, the group uses Facebook, YouTube and other high-tech ways to connect with people juggling jobs and a busy social calendar.

"I try to put fresh content out there daily so readers stay in the habit of seeing news from us," said Ed Wendell, a long-time Woodhaven resident and current president of the block association. "Even something simple, like a picture, may motivate someone to get involved. And if it touches a nerve, they'll share it with others and even more people will get involved."

Civic groups around the borough are searching for innovative ways to motivate residents, who may be too busy, tired or disinterested to join.

"New people do not get involved," lamented 82-year-old Woodhaven resident Roger Hennin.

Sociologist Phil Lewis, who teaches at Queens College, pointed out that neighborhoods like Woodhaven have changed over the years. People no longer stay in homes for 30 or 40 years.

"If you needed help, you knocked on your neighbor's door," said Lewis. "There are more multiple dwellings now and people move in and out. So you may live peacefully with your neighbor, but you may never get to know them."

Devon O'Connor, a 19-year-old Whitestone resident, has created a Web page, Facebook and Twitter feed focused on that neighborhood titled "Welcome to Whitestone."

He's mobilized his neighbors on a campaign to replace the "Welcome to Whitestone" sign while planning a local talent show and poetry contest.

"We stood out on the street and tried to hand out flyers," said O'Connor. "We found out people really aren't interested in getting paper or literature. They would rather sit in front of the computer and get the information that way."

In Woodhaven, Wendell - a 45-year-old information technology manager for a courier company - has mounted an aggressive outreach campaign that includes the use of social media, online petition drives and old-fashioned neighborhood canvassing.

The block association saw the power of Facebook when they started a "Save the Forest Park Carousel" in July to boost interest in the historic, shuttered site.
More than 300 people joined within the first week. That number now tops 600.
"There's no approach we won't try," said Wendell.