Community Website Partnership: Informing, Inspiring, and Promoting Resilience in Rural Oregon
By Brooke Nuckles Gentekos and Rhianna Simes, M.S. Ed.
When the wildfires ravaged Southern Oregon in 2020, folks living in rural areas did not know where to turn for current information and updates. Rural residents from the Illinois Valley searched for news from the larger nearby towns, but could not find updates that were impacting THEM as thick smoke filled the skies and mandatory Level 3 “Go” evacuation areas expanded rapidly due to the Slater Fire.
Between evacuating her home and making trips delivering water for her fellow evacuee neighbors in Cave Junction’s Jubilee Park, Lindsey B. Jones, the Illinois Valley Web community website team lead, got on her computer and started sharing updates on their local Community Website emergency page prepared as a placeholder for emergencies. Within hours, IllinoisValleyWeb.org saw an incredible 1000% increase in website users, and over 2,700 people viewed the wildfire emergency information page created that day.
“When my family had to evacuate from the wildfire, the only place I could find local updates was Illinois Valley Web” -Community Website Partnership participant
Community Website Partnership embraces a collaborative approach that builds capacity in rural communities to self-organize and strengthen relationships among businesses, nonprofits and residents working to inform and improve their communities. This work is centered around the development of community websites and the skillbuilding required to sustain the websites while engaging their communities to provide dynamic website content.
WIth southern Oregon roots, the Community Website Partnership has grown to serve 10 place-based networks, statewide. Partnership teams from Sisters, Jefferson County, Coos County, Bandon, Wild Rivers-Del Norte/ Curry Counties, Siuslaw, Klamath, Applegate Valley, Illinois Valley, and Newport, serve as mentors and leaders in our growing Partnership cohort and together we are ensuring rural communities have stronger connections, increased methods for communication, and more effective collaboration through participation.
In 2020, Community Website Partnership website pages were viewed 231,898 times and we became a critical information source in crisis. In response to Covid-19 and wildfires, the affected areas with community websites leveraged their websites to provide accurate, emergency information and updates to remote, rural residents at critical times.
In addition to providing support and information in times of emergency, Community Website Partnership has also served as an important platform for promoting local, small businesses and micro-enterprises. Through our free business directory feature on each community website, businesses are able to market to their local communities, create an easy to update online presence, and increase visibility for their brand locally and beyond. As communities begin to repair and recover from wildfires across Oregon, CWP business directories have helped underscore the importance of supporting local, and keeping dollars in their communities to bolster resilient economies.
Rural communities with Community Website Partnership websites have been better prepared in the face of emergency, but have also weathered these events with more resilience because they can quickly promote local businesses that can help with rebuilding and recovery efforts.
Community Website Partnership convenes rural community teams to bring diverse people together with a common purpose to provide information, strengthen connections and transform communities. “We are doing more than creating a website, we are training people, building capacity, and creating bridges in ways that help rural communities to be informed and resilient.”