CUMBERLAND — As a reporter for WMTW Channel 8 in 2006, Marnie Dean was assigned a story on the Cumberland/North Yarmouth Family Network. She showed up to their annual ice cream social at Toots in North Yarmouth with cameraman in tow, and left with more than just another feature story.
Sensing a high level of community support and drawn toward the strong connections she saw fostered by the group, Dean began rethinking her own community.
“I’ve done thousands of stories,” she said, but none stuck with her as much as this one. It stuck so much, in fact, that she moved her family to Cumberland.
Now, helping the group celebrate its fifth anniversary, Dean has joined the group’s first leadership team, a panel of six moms taking over what used to be a one-woman operation. With nearly 500 members – grown from an original 12 – the leadership change was necessary, she said.
And with kids outgrowing the group’s original mission of connecting kids and families before kindergarten, they’re trying to broaden that mission as well.
The network, which is run online as a Yahoo! Group, has evolved to be more than just a forum for setting up play dates. While the leadership team wants to continue encouraging the person-to-person connections formed through the group, the Web-based network has also become a place to find recommendations for anything from family-friendly restaurants to pediatricians to babysitters, trade everything from advice to organic vegetables, and set up or advertise community events.
There’s even a trading post (which has gained several hundred more members since breaking away from the main network), where families can recycle, freecycle, buy, sell, or trade anything. Last Christmas, Dean said she found a “really expensive Barbie house” she’d been wanting to get her girls, and took it off another mom’s hands for just $20.
Between the main network and the trading post, the Family Network “is a fast, easy, accessible way for people to connect on a variety of levels,” Dean said. “It’s a resource,” she added. When looking to buy something or searching for a recommendation, she knows “this is somebody I know has kids, and they really liked it.”
While families can arrange their own play dates through the online forum, the group also plans its own events. Aside from the annual Toots visit, which was held last week, they arrange trips to Mackworth Island, Halloween parties, and are starting an event series called “Hey kids, do my job” where kids will visit various workplaces to learn about them. The first of that series brought 15 kids to the WMTW studio, where a meteorologist taught them how she predicts the weather and then put them all in front of the green screen to try it themselves.
Families interested in joining the network or trading post must submit personal information to leadership team member Julie Ann Perkins – the info is used mostly to keep the group local and safe. Required info includes name, home town, phone number, and kids ages and names, and should be sent to email@example.com. The group can be found online at http://groups/yahoo.com/group/cumberlandfamilynetwork.
Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.