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A Q&A with Neighbors & Friends in West Hartford Founder Patti Albee

Patti Albee. Courtesy photo

This ‘Neighbor to Neighbor’ feature, about a Facebook group that is ‘liked’ by more than 19,000 with ties to West Hartford, originally appeared in the September issue of West Hartford Magazine.

Cover photo of Neighbors & Friends in West Hartford Facebook page. Courtesy image

By Judie Jacobson

Scene 1: It’s Thanksgiving eve and, in the middle of cooking up a storm for the monster dinner you’re hosting the next day, the drain backs up and your sink is quickly filling with sludge that won’t budge. You would quickly call a plumber. If only you knew one to call.

Scene 2: Your nephew’s wedding is coming up this weekend and you finally decide to try on the outfit you’re planning to wear – the one you last wore during the Eisenhower administration. Let’s just say you need a tailor STAT.

Scene 3:  The good news is, you have no need for a plumber or a tailor. The bad news is, you sure could use a safe space to vent your post-pandemic, town-related fears and woes.

Scene 4: Not to worry. The Facebook group “Neighbors & Friends in West Hartford” is here to help. So don’t make a scene.

Created in June 2012, “Neighbors & Friends in West Hartford” is the brainchild of town native Patti Albee. A graduate of Hall High School, Patti still lives in West Hartford, just three houses away from the home she grew up in, with her husband of 28 years and their four children – two daughters, ages 23 and 14, and two sons, ages 20 and 18.

A stay-at-home mom, Patti, one gets the sense, is a woman in perpetual motion – constantly making things happen and getting things done. Small wonder that the Facebook group she founded from a small gathering of friends is today an active and involved assemblage of townspeople, numbering just over 19,000.

Recently, we caught up with Patti to find out more about Neighbors & Friends in West Hartford and the vital role it plays in the lives of town residents and their families.

Q: WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO LAUNCH THIS GROUP?

I started Neighbors & Friends in West Hartford because I had posted on my personal page that my father’s house had been broken into, and I discovered that in the blocks surrounding us a lot of people had also had their homes broken into, using the same MO [modus operandi] and things like that. It made me realize that there was no way for a neighborhood to know that information – and it’s helpful information for homeowners to have.

So I started it to fill people in on information like that through a new Facebook group, thinking the group would be a small neighborhood kind of thing – and it just kind of exploded. Now, the page is used for things like recommendations. Right now obviously, the big talk is the school re-opening and how COVID-19 is affecting things.

But it’s really meant to provide information, like if you’re looking for a plumber; is school open or closed today – sort of town-related information. But there was no central place to give you this type of information. You know, the town has a Facebook page and a website; the public schools have their own website; etc.; but there was no real way – no central place – to pull it all together and make it easy for people to find.

Q: DOES THE GROUP TARGET A SPECIFIC AUDIENCE?

It’s totally residents of West Hartford or people who may not live in town but may work in town. We also have a small percentage of people who may no longer live in town but their parents or family may live here.

We attract everyone from high schoolers all the way up to people in their 80s, both male and female. We’re just trying to connect neighbors in a variety of ways – whether it’s through a recommendation, whether it’s finding that “#2” balloon for a birthday party that’s happening the next day. Those are the kinds of questions we answer.

80% to 90% of what we do is dispense valuable town information, and answers to questions.

Q: HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO GATHER SO MANY FOLLOWERS?

When I started it, i simply added my Facebook friends. To be honest, that first year the numbers were kind of low; there wasn’t a lot of discussion and it just kind of meandered on. To be honest, I’m not sure why it suddenly took off. My friends started adding their friends and if you [went online and] searched West Hartford it would come up. Right now, I believe we’re at over 18,000 followers. [Editor’s Note: As of Sunday, Sept. 13, there are 19,001 followers.]

And there’s lots of engagement. We probably get anywhere from 40-60 posts a day and upwards of about 1,000 comments a week on various posts. It ebbs and flows, but overall engagement is really good.

Q: IN THESE HIGHLY CHARGED TIMES, DO PEOPLE GET POLITICAL WITH THEIR POSTS?

They try, but we have a no-politics rule. A few things kind of sneak in, but there is also a West Hartford political Facebook page, so we try to steer people towards that. Our admin team consists of four people and we try to pay attention to the postings. We put it on post approval, which means that things can’t just be posted to the group; we see it first and must approve before it goes up.

We do post information about the upcoming election, absentee ballots, and things like that, but often we’ll post it and turn the comments off, so that it’s strictly for the purpose of relaying information. So if they want to find more about it they can go looking.

Q: DO YOU VET PEOPLE WHO WANT TO FRIEND THE GROUP?

We get anywhere from 50 to 150 requests a day to join. When people request to join, we ask them to answer several questions, like where they’re from and why do they want to be a part of the group. If, for example, we find that they live in some other country or that their reason for joining the group is to promote their business or something like that we don’t allow them to join. We also ask them to repeat some of the rules which we have listed on our public feed. And we see how long they’ve been on Facebook; if they really have any connections to the town.

Q: IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU MONITOR THE POSTS PRETTY CLOSELY.

We try not to allow people to name call and bash other people, etc. We don’t want it to get out of hand, but it’s the only place where people can talk about what’s happening in town. We try to let the discussion go. We really try to give people that chance because it’s the only forum they have for the residents of West Hartford to talk about these issues, whether it be the school reopening or a business closing or whatever. There’s no other place to talk about it. There are a few other West Hartford Facebook groups, and it’s the same thing – those ARE the places to talk about these issues of concern.

A version of this article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of West Hartford Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

To view the magazine in its entirety, click here.

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