There's a strong sense of community in a section of Shaker Heights that has been heightened by the creation of a Facebook group — the Onaway Community Organization.
The person responsible for creating the social hangout is Maria Vitullo Holcomb. She said she started the page in 2008. Before that, the group of residents communicated via meetings, phone calls and flyers. (That's so five years ago.)
"As Facebook developed and improved [its] group presence, it only made sense to bring this organization into the new millennium," said Holcomb. "Emily Braman is our official leader and has been for years. At the time she had a bunch of little kids and not so much time. I knew this could help so she was one of the first 60 or so neighbors I invited to join the group."
Things took off from there — the group now boasts 385 members after only a few years.
"It took me 5 minutes to create this group and four years and almost 400 people to have made it what it is today," Holcomb said. "My career background is in computers so I always looking for ways to use technology for good purposes. As more adults joined Facebook, creating this group only made sense."
The group is private, which means you have to request to be added — but don't worry, there's a good chance you won't be turned down.
"Everyone is added. No one has ever been asked to leave," she said. "There are a few of us who are regular watchdogs for the group. We will step in if a heated discussion gets mean or disrespectful."
(Editor's note: Some of the links in the story will not work unless you are a member of the private group. Click here to request to join the Onaway Community Organization page.)
One of the more active users is Mary Rouse, who was one of the first five people to jump onto the page when it was created. She said conversations aren't the only thing that are "watchdogged" regularly.
"We share all kinds of information, from recommendations for doctors and contractors, to 'block watch' kind of information, news of recent break-ins, speeders, etc.," she said. "I think it has been a good way for 'old' (longtime) neighbors to share with newer neighbors. It has also connected people with things in common, like young kids (needing childcare, summer camp options, Thornton Park Pool pass info, etc.) or fun upcoming events in Shaker or Cleveland."
Jenny Steadman, who moved to Shaker from Lakewood four years ago, has two young children and said she takes comfort in knowing about what's happening in her neighborhood — good or bad.
"Not only do I feel like I know people in the area better but I feel safer because we are all looking out for each other. At the first sign of suspicious behavior in the area, someone is posting it on Facebook to alert all of us," she said.
She's even gotten to know people in the city that she may not have known.
"Just the other day I was at the doctor and someone said, 'Jenny, right? I recognize you from Facebook!'" Steadman said.
Users are finding out about things to do and get involved in, but they are also getting community support for projects and problem-solving suggestions.
"I used it recently when I needed to collect tennis balls to put on the bottom of the chairs in my daughter’s classroom to cut down on noise. She has hearing loss and wears a hearing aid, and the screeching of the chairs on the tile floor was problematic. The tennis balls really make the classroom quieter for her," said 12-year resident Malissa Bodmann. "Thanks to our neighbors, we didn’t have to go out and buy them. So many people came forward with tennis balls they no longer use, or ones their toddlers collect from the Shaker Tennis Courts."
The page is used as a support system and sometimes it's just good ol' fashioned social fun. Pictures of community events and sights from Shaker Heights scatter the page.
Just recently, a member of the group posted a picture of Canada Goose in a pond that formed on a street. The group's members are currently trying to give names to the geese pictured.
So, what's not to "like?" Request to join the group page here. If you're already a member, tell everyone what you enjoy most about the page in the comments section!
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