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October 23, 2016
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Growing community; One email at a time

Beverly Sterner of Milanville, PA is the founder of the Upper Delaware Community Network.
TRR photo by Jane Bollinger

vir•tu•al (adjective):

(1) Very close to being something without actually being it

(2) Existing or occurring on computers or on the Internet


UPPER DELAWARE RIVER REGION — You might be tempted to call the Upper Delaware Community Network (UDCN) a “virtual community.” It definitely exists online. Today it has about 500 members meeting via email in a yahoo group in cyberspace, sharing news and information, asking questions and receiving answers. But if you think it’s only “very close to being” a real community “without actually being” one, you’d be mistaken. The UDCN is a thriving, living, breathing, real community—online.

Testimony from some of its members confirms this:

“In a rural area where one can sometimes feel disconnected from human interaction, and when getting out is difficult due to illness, or inclement weather, or the lack of a vehicle, etc, the Network is a lifeline for our community. It provides referrals for all types of services (rides, healthcare, home maintenance and repairs), announcements for wonderful local events, a way to buy or sell great stuff, and it keeps us informed on all sorts of important local issues. It has also been a way to meet new neighbors, many of whom have become friends.”

—Joanne Wasserman Brinkerhoff

“I have a technicolor recollection of Beverly Sterner coming to me and suggesting in her inimitable way that people from the community gather together to share what they were feeling and thinking about 9/11. Out of that desire for connectedness in the wake of tragedy, from gathering to gathering in homes up and down the river valley, we pot lucked and met about matters of mutual concern. Friendships were made. Alliances were forged. The UDCN became a living online presence.”

—Cynthia Nash

“For those of us who may not always have the good fortune to be here physically, but are always here spiritually, the Network has become a veritable lifeline, connecting us to each other and to our river. Posts vary from the quotidian (roofer? plumber? stump grinder?) to the political, as together we wrestle with the ultimate fate of this precious environment that we steward….”

—Mary Sue Price

“I’ve lived in many places, but the UD Community Network is unique to our/your region. Its real value to me right now that I am living in Virginia, is to keep in live contact with all of you superb individuals living and working in the Upper Delaware region. I believe you are all just around the corner, not half way up country. I don’t know enough people down here yet to start a similar network, but hope to someday meet enough to start one down here in the southland.”

—Barbara Yeaman

The Upper Delaware Community Network was founded 12 years ago by Beverly Sterner of Milanville, PA. It wasn’t called that at first, and it wasn’t online at first—just a group of friends and neighbors who needed to gather and talk and to be there for each other in the wake of 9/11. “Some of the people who live here saw the buildings come down,” Sterner recounted in an interview recently, referring to the twin towers in Lower Manhattan. Thus, the seed was planted, and Sterner began to reach out to connect neighbors and friends over pot-luck suppers and discussion about issues of community concern. She kept in touch by email and started to develop and maintain an email list.

“I didn’t have a goal, exactly,” she said, “just the idea of creating a way for people to communicate, so in case of a crisis we’d have a vehicle already in place to deal with it.”

The email postings became a community bulletin board. Its purpose was both to serve individual needs and at the same time to introduce people into the community. Over the years, most people have joined by word of mouth. “I didn’t really do anything specific to promote it,” Sterner reflected. “Rather, it just grew organically.”

She remembered the day her service provider called to suggest she establish a LISTSERV™ to handle the growing volume of email. “I asked, ‘What’s a list serve,’” she laughed, referring to her introduction to the software technology that allows a sender to post an email to a group list. Soon after, the Yahoo group was created with the help of a tech-savvy friend.

As the moderator of the Network, Sterner established some guidelines as spelled out in the original introduction to the Network sent to those who join: “As individuals we recognize that we will have different views and approaches to issues and events, but as friends and neighbors, we wish to share them, inform and educate ourselves and hold our differences in common and with respect.”

“The truth is, you can’t attack other people here, and even though there’s plenty to be outraged about, this is not a place to vent. Here is where you support each other, share your resources and your common interests. If you disagree, you can say that, of course, but such discussions and personal responses are directed offline.” Sterner says she sometimes has to remind people about that.

So, what’s next for the UDCN? Two ideas have been floating around in Sterner’s head. One is to share information and resources around the issue of health—such as a recommendation for a doctor, or some alternative remedy or supplement that worked for you, or some condition that you need help with—just ways in which we can support each other on health.

“Another idea for the Network is to provide people with a place to tell their story as a way of bringing themselves into the community; to share what’s important to you, why you came here, what your needs are, what you have to offer and thus possibly make even more connections.

“I would like us to be able to get as much out of this great online vehicle as possible,” she said, “to help further connect us and expand our beloved community.”

After 12 years, it seems like the UDCN is off to a pretty good start.

How to join the Network:

If you would like to post a message to the group, you will need to join by going to the home page http://groups.yahoo.com/group/udcommunitynetwork and following directions. (You will need to establish an ID name and password.)

In order to subscribe to the group you need to e-mail a blank message to: udcommunitynetwork-subscribe@yahoogroups.com