Julie Helms believes in the power of social media to connect people in real life.
The Willows elementary teacher, who grew up in Oak Bay and lives here once again with husband Eric and their two young children, was looking for a way to build her community.
Her solution was a website for and by locals, www.oakbaylocal.com, launched in April.
“I started it because I felt we could connect a little bit more in Oak Bay,” Helms says.
The idea is to connect residents with their neighbours and neighbourhood, with local service providers and businesses – everyone from local dog walkers and piano teachers to contractors and the best babysitters. Helms also hosts a weekly draw, giving away a gift certificate to a local business.
“It’s a very positive space,” she says. “If you’ve had a great experience, you can share that.
“If people have questions, they can ask. I think they like that they’re connected in a different way. Before you could ask a friend about a Halloween costume; now you have 650 people.”
“One of my proudest things was we had a local carpenter and I put a page up on the website and he’s booked until Christmas now,” Helms says.
Then there was the youngster who lost his Go Pro and all its related equipment. A posting on the site quickly reconnected the youth and his gear.
Then there was the birthday party at risk of being rained out, when a posting brought a timely and most welcome tent from the crew at Engel and Völkers real estate company.
“I really believe in a healthy community you can ask for help and get some help if you need it,” Helms says.
Another top posting? “We have a lot of single shoes, especially in summer,” she says with a laugh.
The site also offers the opportunity to link generations, Helms says, noting young families can feel isolated, especially without relatives nearby.
Connections have come from neighbours wanting to learn from each other, bringing the idea for microworkshops exploring topics such as raising mason bees, for example, or teaching bread-baking for children.
“Now, with social media, we can really branch out and I feel it’s really healthy to do that,” Helms says. “I’m hoping everyone can find an area of interest.
“Ultimately the part I love is they are posting about whatever, but in the end they have a few new friends.”