There's no other way to begin than to tell you this contest was, by far, the most difficult to judge. We asked you to show us the discussion board post that has been the most valuable or most meaningful to you. Nearly every entry pointed to a solid, valuable post, with clear and compassionate explanations as to why that particular post holds so much value. Our judges came away amazed -- amazed at how much they learned and at how deep and rich the Fool Community really is.

Tough as it was, we had to whittle the entries down to a "Top Ten." This week's winner, FixitWoman, received a free year's membership in The Motley Fool Community and 10 Fool Contest points, which vaults her into a tie for fifth place in the race for the $500 grand prize. jack24k, who earned 9 points for his second-place finish this week, moves into the overall lead at the halfway point. The points system and the $500 grand prize are explained on the official standings page.

Here now are this week's winners. Be sure to treat yourself and read through them all!

First place (10 Contest Points)
entry begins with some discussion boards that have been helpful to her financially but, as she says, it's not all about money. Once you read the account of the Chicago Holiday Project, you'll agree. There may be no better evidence anywhere of the power and generosity of the community.

When I first began to use the Fool, I was trying to find answers about buying my first house. I was determined not to get ripped off by a mortgage broker, real estate agent, or seller. I wanted answers! I found myself at the Buying a Home board and found a wealth of information availability. The group pointed me to the Consumer Credit/Credit Card board to learn more about FICO scores and how to improve our worth in the eyes of the bank.

I've learned a lot about budgeting, Living Below Your Means (LBYM), FICO, BT's, DRIP's, 401K's, Snowballing and more about my financial well being.

But... it's not all about money.

The results of the 1st Chicago Holiday Project brings me to tears every single time I read it. The magnitude of giving by the Fool community, which began at none other than the LBYM board, is tremendous.

Second place (9 points)
has learned quite a bit from the Fool Community, and lays it out well in this entry. At the end, he explains three "Foolish tenets," and points us to a post that well demonstrates them.

What Fools Aren't:

1. Wall Street analysts, who often have inherent biases because the companies that they analyze may be clients of the brokerage company that pays the analyst's salary (resulting in overly optimistic earnings projections and the near absence of "sell" recommendations, until recently).

2. Auditors who, until recently, commingled their consulting and auditing divisions (again, resulting in potential conflicts of interest).

What Fools Are:

1. Others like you. They are investors who wander through the dense financial forest, but bring a universe of different life experiences and skills to the task. Few have agendas in conflict with yours, although some may be misguided.

2. Critical thinkers. Because of the above, Fools listen to everyone, but blindly follow no one. After weighing the options, they blaze their own path through the brambles. Discussion Boards are "sounding boards" -- you collect kernels of wisdom and discard the chaff.

3. A community. I've seen the community advise new graduates on which first steps to take toward financial security (based on lifetimes of experience), warn of specific financial scams, pray for and console strangers in the aftermath of September 11 (with no discussion of how to profit from calamity) while offering different historical points of view, ranging from World War II to the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. The Fool community provides perspective, whether relating to finance, football, or Foolanthropy.

The post that I think typifies the strength of the Fool community, and was meaningful to me as a retiree, was posted by rclyde on 9-23-01 (Subject: Can I Stay Retired?). The flames of terrorism combined with a plunging stock market left many retirees fearful and uncertain in the weeks that followed. Amid considerable discussion on the "Retired Fools" board, rclyde reminded us of some basic Foolish tenets:

1. Emotion should never govern investment.
2. Nothing beats forethought and planning.
3. Long-term investing means staying focused on the path through the forest.

I wish to commend rclyde for his cool, cogent advice during troubled times. You may read his post in its entirety here.

Third place (8 points)
Our third-place entry, from chkNYC, powerfully demonstrates the manner in which some of our discussion boards have become tight-knit, loving communities.

I am baby boomer -- born in 1947. I discovered the Baby Boomers Board (BBB) here at TMF back in 1999. At that time, there were only a few regular posters (as opposed to now where there are about two dozen "regulars"). I soon discovered that we have a lot in common! We all (pretty much) fondly remember the '60s, the beginnings of rock n' roll, hula-hoops, and Bucky Beaver from the Ipana commercials, among other things.

However, we are from all different parts of the country (some from other countries!) and have taken varied paths in our personal and working lives. Some parents, some grandparents, some married, and some not. Some professionals, some economic engineers (stay-at-home moms), some blue-collar workers, some semi-retired. A couple of us have admitted to being too old to be Boomers and some of us are actually too young to be Boomers. But we are, without a doubt, a community. We share happy times, sad times, disappointments, achievements, every-day life, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Trying to pick just one post that embodies this spirit and is the most valuable to me is very difficult. I selected this one because it came at a time when several of us on the board were going through very difficult times. My dad had died a few days before, as had the mother of another regular. The post was and remains valuable to me because it is a sample of the caring and concern that exists on the BBB. It is indicative of how much we are there for each other (even though many of us have never met in person). How we have become "friends" in the truest sense of the word and how we really are a community. And for that, I will forever be grateful.

Here's the post.

If you enjoyed those, the rest of the top ten is below -- and there are still more on the Fool Contests board.

  4. Lessons on Margin, by Phileo
  5. Ode to Bruce Brown, by Caesium
  6. Donkey Parable, by BroadwayDan
  7. Planting Trees, by shawnr33
  8. Reflecting on Oklahoma City, by Bob78164
  9. Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by msurel
10. A tribute to JABoa, by RecoveringFool

Next Monday is the President's Day holiday, so we'll see you Tuesday the 19th with the next contest!

Have you joined yet?
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