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Neighbors connect with online network

Nancy Hawkins of Kerrisdale Ridge Drive in Medford reaches out to her neighbors every year to help decorate the street for the holidays. This year she was looking for a digital way to organize when she stumbled upon a new social network just launched in October by investors in San Francisco.

"I got on the Internet and did a Google search for neighborhood social networking, and low and behold here comes this 'nextdoor' website thing," said Hawkins.

Nextdoor.com is a private social network launched Oct. 26 by Benchmark Capital and Shasta Ventures, two investment companies. The password-protected site requires a minimum of 10 people in a neighborhood to create a free account. Neighbors must verify their home addresses and use their real names.

It allows neighbors to quickly and easily share recommendations for yard care or baby sitters, stay up-to-date on crime or missing pets in the area, and ask for help and advice, such as organizing community fundraisers, as Hawkins did.

"Our Candy Cane Lane gets bigger each year," said Hawkins. "As a group, we had a work party just before Thanksgiving; we went out and wrapped 85 trees and light poles. We wrap them in red and white and put a big, red bow at the top of them like candy canes."

Last year, Hawkins started what she calls Candy Cane Cares, a program in which members of the neighborhood, which includes about 35 homes on Lone Pine Road, Kerrisdale Ridge Drive and Sycamore Way, give back to the community.

Since the neighborhood gets so many drive-by visitors each December from people taking in the holiday light displays, the neighbors this year will collect food for St. Vincent DePaul and toys for Toys for Tots, via collection barrels in the streets. The collection barrels will be out from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16-18.

"We are so proud of our street and our decorations, why don't we try to give something back?" said Hawkins.

For years, Hawkins, a retired director of a youth organization, has been writing a newsletter called Neighborhood News as a means of communicating with her neighbors. She has organized neighborhood watch meetings, apple pie socials and neighborhood yard sales. In the newsletter, Hawkins usually features a family in the neighborhood with a photo and a little bit about them.

Now, with nextdoor.com, Hawkins can digitally produce her newsletter in much less time and in a paperless fashion. This year, Hawkins shared photos of a neighbor who was using a truck lift to put up Christmas lights on a two-story house. Abby Jossie, who lives on the other end of the street from Hawkins, posted a note on nextdoor about fundraising for her daughter's ice hockey team.

"It's a neat little tool. We're able to see what's going on with folks and get to know our neighbors a little bit more," said Jossie. "Nancy is a real go-getter; she's done the newsletter for years, but I'm online more than I read materials, so it's quite handy for me to use nextdoor.com to share information. The Candy Cane Lane part of it has been a real kick."

Although the entire neighborhood isn't on nextdoor, those who are get an email notification when a new post is made.

"I just want to try to make it be something like the old days, when neighbors were neighbors and neighborly," said Hawkins. "We have a common interest for good things in our family's lives."

Nancy Hawkins stands outside her home on “Candy Cane Lane” on Kerrisdale Ridge Drive in Medford on Wednesday. Hawkins organizes the neighborhood's annual Christmas light display, this year via social networking.