Champaign-Urbana can be a isolating place for mothers of young children, and the mainstream media options for parents left Laura Weisskopf Bleill and Amy Hatch cold. So, rather than complain about it, they took matters into their own hands and started ChambanaMoms.com, a one-stop shop for C-U parents, which launched in November.

 

BLOGGING TO CONNECT

"It was Laura's idea," Hatch explained. "She realized there was a total vacuum in town as far as parenting goes. You try to find information about what to do with your kids or where to go, and you have to go to 18 different places."

When Hatch relocated to C-U about four years ago with her husband and then-toddler from Rochester, N.Y., she had trouble making connections. And being a freelance writer who worked from home didn't help.

"Metaphorically, I was trapped in the house all day with a toddler," Hatch related, and that experience stuck with her as she became more comfortable in C-U. "I don't want anyone to have to meet someone by happenstance to belong."

In their experience, that's a situation that many mothers face. "The reality of the online world is that whether you're a stay-at-home mom or a working mom, being a mom is very isolating," Weisskopf Bleill, a Chicago native, said. "You might have people you know at work, but your whole life outside of work is your kids."

She continued, "It's very hard to be in a place where you don't have any family, so whether you moved here from wherever — I've been here almost ten years, but I don't have family here. I don't have that organic network; I built my network."

Photo by Shannon Leigh Anderson Photography

So, Laura and Amy set out to construct a site that could help parents assimilate into the community. "The fact of the matter is that online is where moms are meeting these days," Weisskopf Bleill said. "That's where we came up with our tagline, 'Where Champaign-Urbana moms meet.'" They started a Facebook group before their site launched, and they gathered hundreds of fans (they're now up to an even 700), which further convinced them that ChambanaMoms was a good idea. "Facebook is unbelievable. When we post things on there, people click on [them]," Hatch noted. "Moms are on Facebook."

Through their savvy, personal use of social media (you can also find them on Twitter at @ChambanaMoms) and a go-getting attitude from their journalism backgrounds, they've been able to engage their audience and build a strong online community. But they don't want local moms' connection with them to stop there. "We want to create a community that's online and off-," Weisskopf Bleill stated. In addition to several online ventures, "we're also sponsoring a story hour with kids in February [at Cakes on Walnut, one of the site's sponsors], which will hopefully be once a month," Weisskopf Bleill said, and they'll also be coordinating a Moms Night Out at the restaurant. "That's sort of the basis of our whole site: relationship creation."

 

BLOGGING TO INFORM

On a given weekday at ChambanaMoms.com, you'll usually find three new posts, on a variety of topics. Regular features include:

Weisskopf Bleill elaborated, "We're really about making this a great place to live. I'm sick of people complaining about this; what are the great things that you want to tell people about [living in C-U]?" They make sure that every post has some connection to parents living in Champaign-Urbana. "We're a hyper-local site," she continued.

They're using that focus to help transplants find them. "One of the things that we're trying to do is put together enough things that when people search for 'parenting, children, Champaign-Urbana,' we'll come up," Hatch stated. "So when you're new in town, you won't have to rely just on networking with your friends; we want to be that kind of resource."

ChambanaMoms is also the type of site that parents of the Internet age can take advantage of. "People are becoming parents later, and they're more cerebral about it," Weisskopf Bleill observed.

Hatch agreed, "My mother tells me all the time, 'I wish we had stuff like this when you kids were little.'"

Here's a look at the site:

 

BLOGGING AS EMPOWERMENT

The rise of online publishing has leveled the playing field for women, and both Hatch and Weisskopf Bleill have appreciated that. "I've been telling my husband, I'm having the time of my life," Hatch said. "For me, online publishing really shifted the paradigm, because people like us could never do this in the old world."

Her background in community newspapers in the eastern U.S. had left her jaded about the gender politics of media. "I was a reporter, I was an editor, I covered everything from murder to the high school prom, but I was always at somebody else's beck and call," she said. "There was... usually an old white guy, sitting behind a glass wall telling me what to do. I always thought, 'If I could just get a chance, I could do all this stuff.'" Now, she's writing about what she wants and she controls the forum in which it's presented.

Weisskopf Bleill is gratified to see ChambanaMoms covering topics that weren't a priority to the old guard. "The reality is that there are a lot of information and stories out there that are important to people like us, and men are interested in that too, and we're able to deliver that information."

They're also succeeding as business owners, garnering an enviable stable of advertisers in the few months they've been in operation. "We offer so much more than traditional media." Weisskopf Bleill said. Advertising on ChambanaMoms is much more affordable than print, radio, or TV advertising, and they partner more with their sponsors, like the number of events that they have with Cakes on Walnut, or a recent contest they sponsored with EarCheck.

ChambanaMoms is already a tremendously valuable resource for C-U parents, and Amy and Laura's impact will only continue to grow as they become more established.

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There are many tremendous bloggers in Champaign-Urbana, and this column will recognize them one blog at a time. Every other Tuesday Extremely haphazardly, we’ll shine a light on a different outstanding local blog, explaining how they got started and revealing what keeps them going and where they’re headed. If you know a local blog that you’d like to see profiled in this space, send me a tip at joelgillespie [at] smilepolitely [dot] com.

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