Why Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Home. Made

April 27, 2021
Hosted by Stephanie Foo


When Michael and Valerie Wood-Lewis first moved to their home in Burlington, Vermont, they were eager to get to know their neighbors and start building connections within their community.

So eager, in fact, that they baked cookies for the neighbors and delivered them on real plates – not paper plates. The hope was that, when the neighbors returned the plates, they’d have another conversation. Another chance for connection.

But the plates never came back. Michael did find one of them, later on. At a yard sale, in the 25-cent pile.

It was going to take a lot more than a plate of cookies to befriend their neighbors.

“What took me a while to figure out was, it’s not that the neighbors were unfriendly or uncaring,” Michael explains in this episode. “They were just busy and there wasn’t a stay-at-home parent in most homes anymore. Commutes were longer. People were just on the go, go, go.”

It was 2000 – years before the social media craze would take over. But Michael had an idea.

“Maybe we can use this newfangled thing called the internet to help neighbors connect and build community,” he remembers thinking.

So Michael and Valerie created a listserv for their neighborhood where people could ask questions, get recommendations or post notices about things like yard sales or lost dogs. They called it the Front Porch Forum.

Front Porch Forum founders Michael and Valerie Wood-Lewis

The creation of Front Porch Forum has led to lasting change in communities throughout the state of Vermont. Even in the age of Facebook and Nextdoor, Front Porch Forum is still going strong; according to their 2020 report, for every 1,000 households in Vermont, Front Porch Forum has 750 members.

An example of the type of post you’ll find on the site today. Front Porch Forum took on increased significance for Vermonters during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they searched for ways to stay connected with their neighbors while staying apart.

In this episode, hear the inspiring story of how Front Porch Forum transformed the Wood-Lewises, their neighborhood and neighborhoods throughout the state.

We’ll also hear from Kathleen Cagney, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, who explains health risks of not knowing your neighbors, along with the behavioral science of why community is so important to us. Tech/sci-fi journalist Andrew Liptak provides us with some context on the rise of social networking in the early 2000s. And meet Lauren Curry and Julia Andrews, who founded the food bank Westford Food Shelf – and found a lasting friendship – thanks to one message on the forum.


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