Eleven years ago, when our neighborhood was filled with young moms looking for play dates for their kids, six tech-savvy mothers created HoodPlayDates, a “listserv” that digitally connected parents and their playmate-starved kids.
Today, the Chesterbrook Woods listserv, which is how it’s known, has more than 500 subscribers and, in addition to finding babysitters for Saturday date night, the listserv is an instant town crier about crime, threats, and missing pets and children – a suburban parent’s most frequent heart-stopper.
Recent posts’ headlines include:
- Suspicious White Truck “Casing” Neighborhood
- Update: Unusual Person in the Community
- Items Stolen on Forest Lane
- Ten Burglaries in Less Than Six Hours in McLean
- McLean Child Predator … Please read & pass on
When a dog breaks his chain, word spreads in a minute on the listserv. The other day, a 10-year-old played hooky from school and a panicked parent sent a listserv alert; the kid was retrieved at a nearby creek a half hour later.
Not only are listservs a crime prevention tool; they’re a disaster prevention tool, too.
How to Start a Listserv
Starting a neighborhood listserv takes a little technology skill and a lot of dedication to spreading the word.
- Pick a “host” for the listserv, a traditional email provider like Yahoo! or Google, or one of the more listserv-specific hosts like nextdoor.com.
- Pick a name that easily conveys the purpose of your listserv. HoodPlayDates was a good name when our listserv started as a kiddy friend finder; it’s not particularly descriptive of the listserv now. So spend time coming up with a descriptive, easy-to-remember name.
- Pick an email address.
- Write a short description of the group’s purpose.
- Add a picture.
- Decide who can join. Some listservs are open to all comers, but many are restricted to neighbors or people with common interests. To join, a prospective member emails the listserv’s administrator, provides a line or two about why he’s interested in the listserv, then it’s up to the administrator to add him to the list, or not.
Somewhere along the line, listserv organizers should decide what topics are taboo. Our listserv nominally forbids political chitchat, although it allows our local town supervisor to address the group, and neighbors are constantly railing against developers who cut down old growth trees.
Make sure users know that their posts and their email address may be removed from the list if the administrator feels he’s not a constructive member of the community.
Spread the Word
Once you’ve created a neighborhood listserv, spread the word to attract members.
- Place fliers around the neighborhood.
- If you have a Neighborhood Watch, make sure the roving watch group is aware of the new listserv.
- During community association meetings, circulate a listserv sign-up sheet.
- Stuff neighborhood mailboxes.
- Make an announcement during PTA meetings.
When posting on a listserv, be careful not to reveal when you’re going on vacation or will be away from home. That social media reveal tells crooks when the best time to break into your home will be.
If you’re looking for vacation recommendations, be vague about when you’re planning to be away from home; say, “early spring” not “first week in April.”