What I Wish I'd Known About Coordinating Help: Web Entrepreneur Barry Katz
In 2003, Carole Singer, a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Massachusetts, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. "Essentially, for the four years that she battled the cancer, there was probably no more than a two-month period when she wasn't in some sort of treatment," recalls her husband, Barry Katz.
For more than a year before Singer's death, Katz cut back on his work at a start-up Internet company he'd helped found, instead managing her care and looking after their two daughters. And throughout Singer's treatments, the couple was blessed with an outpouring of support from friends.
"I wish I had known that there was a way to coordinate the onslaught of help that barraged us," says Katz. Friends regularly left four-course dinners and boxes of cookies on the doorstep. Some days two dinners would arrive; other days, none.
"There was a minimum of ten calls every time I came home," he adds. "You can only say things so many times, but people feel insulted if you don't respond."
After Singer's death, Katz did some research and discovered that there were no websites that provided coordination of what he calls "'circles of community' -- the people from work and your neighborhood and your place of worship who want to help and don't really know each other. There were websites beginning to show up that provided communication coordination, but none that provided logistical coordination."
So with his friend Hal Chapel, Katz created Lotsa Helping Hands, a free Web service that helps organize the efforts of family and friends through medical crises, long-term eldercare, and times of "family-caregiver exhaustion."
In just four years, the site has hosted more than 11,000 Web communities around the world, providing tools such as interactive calendars and message boards that each group can customize to its own needs. "There isn't a day goes by that I don't get an e-mail from somebody who says that this has helped so much," says Katz.
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