In a time where more connections exist over great distances than ever before — thanks to swift advances in technology — a sense of community can sometimes be elusive.
Add the immediacy and reactive nature of social media channels and connecting with fellow friends, neighbors and enthusiasts can be a thorny process at best, a turnoff at worst.
Yet in Cherry Hill, Abe Karetny has done his part to buck the trend and create a one-stop, online haven where all township residents can promote the general welfare of the 71,000-strong town.
Karetny and his wife Megan founded the “What’s Up in Cherry Hill (Official)” Facebook page roughly seven years ago, a time when the potential for good in social media had not yet outstripped its ability to frustrate users. The page — which to date boasts nearly 14,000 followers — aims to provide a neighborly and cordial digital conversation among some of the township’s 26,000 households spread over 24 square miles.
For his community bonding efforts, Karetny was named one of the 14 recipients of the Camden County Freedom Medal at a ceremony on Jan. 22.
“When I first got the email, I responded back asking, ‘Is this legit?’ — as I was beyond shocked. It’s humbling to be in the company of so many amazing community leaders,” Karetny said.
One such “amazing leader,” who happened to nominate Karetny for the award, is Camden County Freeholder Melinda Kane.
“Abe has been an active, dedicated member of the community for many years and has worked over the past decade to help keep the community informed and engaged,” Kane said in a statement issued to the Sun the day after the award ceremony.
“Through his work, he has not only created a more active citizenry, but has helped to stimulate interest in the local economy and drive consumers to locally owned and operated businesses.
“Abe has played an enormous role in making Cherry Hill the vibrant community that it is today.”
Beyond merely finding out what’s up, Karetny wanted to promote a positive social media space that connects the community to its small businesses and stimulates the local economy. On any given day, those who post to the page do their part to bring together people in Cherry Hill’s unique enclaves for guidance, advice and for business recommendations based on their neighbors’ experiences.
“When Megan and I were deciding to move back to Cherry Hill from Collingswood, we wanted to know ‘What’s going on“ and “What’s up,” Karetny explained.
“I was surprised to see that there was not a community page. After experiencing a great community page in Collingswood, we saw what an impact that can (make) as a resource.”
Karetny himself is proud to have been born and raised in Cherry Hill and he currently presides over a house painting business. Like many residents, he moved around a bit in his younger years but returned to the area due to its many benefits.
“I’ve lived up and down the coast from Rhode Island to Florida, but I always make it back home,” he admitted. “I love being able to raise my child in the Cherry Hill school system.”
Rules for participation on the site are as democratic as they can be, but ultimately set by Karetny in his role as administrator.
“We created a detailed post that acts as a guideline for the page,” he related. “Each time we have added to it, we would poll the members of the page and ask for their input so that it became ‘our’ page. Some people don’t appreciate the ‘positive only’ approach.
“We do our best to curb things that don’t bring out the best in people.”
Caution is urged when discussing religion and political issues are limited to the scope of local events. As stated clearly in one of the site’s 18 principal rules, “Disrespect to us or other members will not be tolerated. Save the drama for yo mama.”
In a world that increasingly demands big actions to curb big problems, Karetny’s efforts offer proof of the old saying, “Think globally, act locally.”
“I’ve always liked the idea of community,” he noted. “Living in other states and even smaller local communities, I really grew to embrace all of what community means — from running an event to just getting everyone together and seeing how we can all make a difference.”
To access the What’s Up page, visit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/156270267879957/.