Our business model was simple. Create an interactive fund raiser for the province of L’Aquila and its neighbors that would endure long past the event.
Everyone knows it takes mortar and stone to rebuild L’Aquila’s city center, university, homes and businesses. The same for those surrounding villages whose inhabitants’ lives changed profoundly on April 6th 2009. In this third year since the earthquake struck, two facts remain undisputed. The restoration effort will take 20 years and plenty of money.
Those of us with ties to L’Aquila and Abruzzo- through blood, residency, or heart, have been challenged by what actions we can take to help the region recover. Donate money, yes. Write blog posts, yes. Visit and patronize local businesses, of course.
Last November, LifeinAbruzzo.com author Sammy Dunham and I began a conversation about how we could do more for the region. Long story short, we tapped into our collective skills and interests to create a non-profit company called blogAway. Its mission: raise funds for two carefully selected local causes and grow Abruzzo’s online profile. To accomplish this, we have invited local and international bloggers to a ticketed destination conference to optimize their craft. Our ‘mortar and stone’ is to invite writers and sponsors to participate in a low cost sustainable project that will build long-term relationships with local businesses and international supporters.
The conference title ‘Hands On L’Aquila’ is meant to invoke commitment. It evolved from the simple desire to lend a hand and to keep the province in the collective “newsfeed.” We know that travelers turn to blogs for that personal and experienced view about where to visit and what’s cooking. We’re confident that Abruzzo tourism will get a boost from this conference as more bloggers will understand what Abruzzo has to offer.
The most rewarding aspect of the planning and organization phase has been the reception this idea has had in Abruzzo. Both Sammy and I have called upon friends and acquaintances in the region who have gone out of their way to collaborate with us to make this late September event successful. A b&b owner in Teramo is entering conference goers into a drawing for a free 3 night stay, a professor at the University of L’Aquila translated our sponsor packet to Italian, a local tour operator is calling on local Italian businesses for sponsorship, a small wine and olive oil producer from Chieti is sponsoring and volunteering to work the registration table. And the list goes on.
The commune of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, our host town which also sustained quake damage, has been generous to offer its piazza for our sagra lunch. Hotels and b&b owners are offering discounts for conference goers, and Mayor Antonio D’Aloisio has taken on the extra work of inviting other communes affected by the earthquake to showcase and discuss their specialties at our Market & Tour Fair. The grassroots response has been strong – from a restaurant owner in South Philly to a camping site owner in Chieti. Please visit www.blogaway.org to learn more.
By Helen Antonelli Free and Sammy Dunham