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social media & irene

On Monday, February 13th, representatives from the state’s Community Recovery Partnership, a group formed to support the efforts of long-term recovery efforts around the state post-Irene, visited Rutland.  The point of the conversation was to “reach out and listen, help identify short and long term needs, and develop a framework to help communities emerge from this disaster stronger and more resilient.”  They were posing questions to emergency management officials, volunteers, and survivors, asking what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen in the future.

Part of this conversation focused on the flow of communication and how social media played a part immediately following Irene. Not everyone agreed with this idea; actually, as many towns and survivors did not have power, and there for could not access the Internet or charge their phones in order to find out what was going on off of their “island.”  Although people directly affected by the storm may not have been able to access the Internet, I feel it was the main form of communication for volunteers and donors.  Let’s look at a few examples of groups that used social media immediately following Irene and their influence.

#VTResponse

A true grassroots effort, VTResponse formed the day after Irene. Sarah Waterman, Matt Sisto, and Katy Kent quickly sprang into action and did what they do best; build and manage websites. Sarah had disaster relief experience, having run efforts in Biloxi, MS post Hurricane Katrina.  She also focused her master’s research on disaster preparedness and response.

#VTResponse quickly became the go to source for volunteers, organizations, and donors. People needed help, and people wanted to give help.  It became a craigslist, of sorts, of people posting what they had, or what they needed, and when the two matched up, viola! people got what they needed.

They also blew up the twittersphere; their hashtag #VTResponse being very popular even on Monday, the day after the storm. From their website: “Social media has played a huge role in the relief effort. …real-time updates of the situation across the state have been prevalent. Even Governor Shumlin has continuously updated his Twitter account throughout the storm and aftermath. By Monday evening, vtresponse.com had over 8,000 visits to the site. Two days later the site had received over 5,000 emails and 95,000 page views.”

To this day, the #VTResponse crew is active, running their exchange site and giving out information.  Visit their site, vtresponse.wordpress.com or email them vtresponse@yahoo.com if you are interested in helping or need help.

Restoring Rutland  

Ok, I am a little biased about this one. The day after Irene hit, my friend Jim Sabataso and I went out for a drink to reflect and figure out what we could do. I wanted to help get food and supplies to the “island” communities. After spending some time searching online, I found the effort that Aaron Kraus was starting to bring fellow Vermonters home for the weekend to help clean up. I contacted him and we brought our two ideas together to form what has now become “Restoring Rutland.”

From the very beginning, Restoring Rutland has relied on social media to communicate. We posted what communities were looking for in terms of supplies, and people delivered.  If we need volunteers, we posted online, and people showed up and lent a hand.

During the weeks immediately following Irene, we had over 80,000 page views on our Facebook page. Our fans came from all ages, both genders, and several countries. We have a blog, as well, that still generates traffic and dally emails to us. We still use our Facebook and Twitter accounts daily to update our followers on what is happening in post-Irene recovery.

Last, but certainly not least, I Am Vermont Strong

I am so proud of my best friend, Lyz Tomsuden. The night after the storm, she created a simple, but beautiful graphic that went viral. Her boyfriend, Eric Mallette, loaded it onto Facebook and started tagging people in it. I was on my way to work on Tuesday morning and he called me up. “Can you tag some people in that graphic?” he asked. “Every Vermonter I can.” I replied. He then asked if I thought people would buy it on a shirt if he made a few and sold them at the Farmers’ Market that following Saturday. “Sure,” I said. “I think people would love it!” He was worried that not enough people would see it before Saturday. I think we all know what happened after that.

Again, without the original graphic going viral, IAVS would not have been able to raise over $70,000. We also wouldn’t have these classy license plates that are also raising money for the Vermont Foodbank and the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund.  Plus, they look snazzy on the front of your car. (She doesn’t know it yet, but I am going to ask Lyz to autograph mine and then I am going to frame it!)

Photo by Eric Mallette.

So, what’s the lesson learned?

I heard today that some people are “afraid” or “intimidated” by social media. I know there are some negative things that happen in social media; cyber bullying, privacy issues, just to name a couple. But I have certainly seen more good than bad happen on social media, and these are just a few examples of the good to come out of social media.

So I ask you, what are your reflections of Irene? What do you think worked? What didn’t work? What needs to happen in the future? What good things have you seen happen on social media? Either post comments below or email me at localsocialvt@gmail.com.  I would love to hear what you have to share!

 

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Ode to the Sabataso Family.

In my post the other day, I spoke about how Vermonters are raised to give a hand without being asked. If anyone in Rutland County exemplifies this notion, it is the Sabataso family.

Let me tell you a little bit about the Sabatasos (some of you avid Express readers already have some insight.) John and Jeri have four wonderful kids; Janice, Jill, Jay, and Jim. All four still live in the area, or live in the area again. If you see even a few of them together, you can tell how close knit of a family they are.

Jim, the youngest of the clan, many of you know as a writer for the Herald. Volunteerism and community certainly run through his veins, currently serving as the Vice President of the Creative Economy board; Director for the non-profit group, Sustainable Rutland; as well as serving on the boards of many other non-profits and committees in Rutland County. He does everything on his plate with an integrity and efficiency that is hard not to admire. Many will hear me refer to him as “the other half of my brain,” because I tend to pick his brain and run ideas by him quite frequently. I am happy to call him one of my closest friends.

As I am sure most locals know, his family owns The Palms Restaurant on Strongs Avenue. His parents, John and Jeri, are two of the nicest people you will ever meet. When I was contemplating the idea of the donation site for Restoring Rutland, I immediately sought Jim out; as he is the “other half of my brain,” and I knew he would have an idea for a space. He suggested the location at 34 Strongs Avenue. I told him that I did not want to impose. He said, “Let me ask,” and about two minutes later, I had been given permission to use the storefront.

That first day, John and Jeri continuously checked on what was happening and if myself or my friend, Alexis Voutas (another amazing friend who stepped up and helped out without being asked), needed anything. They brought us food, they brought us drinks, they even came over and helped us organize, sort, and move boxes. They let us use their trash and cardboard dumpsters. The same was true the next day, and the next. One night, Jim and I were working late at Restoring Rutland. We had been overwhelmed with donations, and were sorting for a long time past our originally scheduled departure time. John and Jeri walked right in and started to sort. Now, this is after having cooked food for multiple days for CVPS workers, making donations themselves, letting us use the building space, and after Jeri worrying that I was going to turn into a piece of pizza and making sure I ate something else.

I have to mention the oldest three kids, as well,; Jill, Janice, and Jay. The girls have made numerous donations and always check on the volunteers to see how we are doing. Their support has been amazing. Jay, has gone above and beyond for Restoring Rutland. He has made sure that timely and urgent supplies get to the Chittenden Fire Department. He has made numerous calls to ensure important medical supplies get to the “island” communities. He has completely transcended any expectations to make sure that Restoring Rutland ran smoothly and that needed supplies made it to those citizens.

Yes, their son Jim stepped up immediately to help me out with Restoring Rutland. But I know that even if Jim weren’t involved as much as he is, or if he weren’t involved in Restoring Rutland at all, his parents would still be the generous, caring, inspiring people that they are. I encourage anyone who donated or helped out with Restoring Rutland, to thank John and Jeri. Not only for the generosity they have demonstrated, but also for raising such an amazing family. Thank the Sabatasos when you see them.

So thank you, Sabatasos. For all you have done, and will surely continue to do, for your community.

This blog post originally appeared on the Vermont Today blog.

 

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