BlogHer Session Discussion: Community Assistance on Day Two

BlogHer Original Post

19th in our series introducing you to each of our BlogHer Conference '06 sessions and their speakers, and finding out what you would like to get from each session. Today, I bring you from Day Two:

Community Assistance: BlogHers are cutting through the red tape and doing it for themselves, delivering tangible aid to communities in need, locally and around the world. Many blogs focus on raising awareness, but sometimes they actually raise money, become a hub for victim assistance or even put those who want to help directly in touch with those who need the help. Betty Sullivan, whose Betty's List has been assisting the San Francisco LGBT community for years, talk to Sara Ford, Grace Davis and Dina Mehta about why and how they did it. Learn how you can too.

The four women on this panel will inspire you with what they've accomplished in their own and in the global community. They've delivered tangible results; physical assistance, not just general awareness. Our focus is also on talking about how you can make a similar impact. How did they do it? What worked and what didn't? What would they do differently? How can we all work together?

[img_assist|fid=837|thumb=1|alt=Betty Sullivan]
Moderator Betty Sullivan is fairly new to blogging, but has been using the Internet for community outreach and assistance for over a decade. Betty's List is renowned in the San Francisco Bay Area as the resource for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. Long before we bloggers talked about community, Betty was seeking to create that safe space for her community to meet and connect. While the others on this panel were originally drawn to the work by a natural disaster, Betty quite eloquently shares this:

"My work as a community connector isn't focused on natural diasters at all, really, unless I allow my sense of humor to kick in, in which case I could say that being lgbt in a sense is a 'natural disaster' if one has no ties to community and no connection to the very rich culture that has grown up within our community. It's sort of an on-going 'save the flock' roll that I play in trying to help individuals overcome their social isolation and make the connections needed to join or create support groups, extended families, friendship circles and one-to-one commited relationships."

[img_assist|fid=841|thumb=1|alt=Dina Mehta]
It's particularly important to introduce you to this session today, because one of our speakers has started a new community assistance blog that could use your help. Dina Mehta, from Mumbai India, was first pulled into social media as a community assistance and recovery tool when the tsunami hit Southeast Asia over 18 months ago. Since then she has applied the same principals to other natural disasters, like the Pakistani earthquake. And this week, sadly, she is working on a simlar effort in the wake of an unnatural disaster...the Mumbai commuter train bombings. There is, perhaps, no better way to see community assistance via blogging in action than to visit MumbaiHelps and the Mumbai Help Wiki. Enough said.

[img_assist|fid=845|thumb=1|alt=Grace Davis]
Hurricane season is approaching, and Grace Davis is getting ready. Last year Grace became what she calls an "accidental relief worker" when she found a poignant posting on Craig's List in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A Mississippi mom had working car and working cell phone and wanted to make a difference, but wasn't sure how she could distribute the information she was able to drive around and pick up. Information distribution? A blog could do that! And so was born the Hurricane Disaster Direct Relief blog. It became much more than information distribution; it helped facilitate actual distribution of needed supplies from people outside the affected areas to people inside the affected areas, touching lives throughout.

[img_assist|fid=849|thumb=1|alt=Sara Ford]
Sara Ford happens to be from Waveland Mississippi. A smallish town that wasn't going to get much attention in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but which was, nonetheless, devestated. She started a blog to keep everyone up-to-date on what was happening, and it mushroomed into a huge endeavor...connecting people and serving as a centralized resource and information location for those inside and otuside the affected areas. Sara recently returned to her hometown for her 10-year high school reunion, and while there is still much to be done she was heartened to see some green on the trees. Sara is a Microsoft engineer turned activist, and has a lot to share about what worked and didn't, almost one year later.

Our biggest goal? To help other people imagine how they too could become a resource for such community assistance. It doesn't have to be disaster-related, either. How could you use these same tools to deliver tangible assistance to your community? Come to this session and figure it out.

So, that's what we are envisioning for the session. But what do you think. What do you want to learn? What do you want to hear? What do you never want to hear again? What would make you attend this session?

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