Getting to Know All of You Tips for Seasonal Community Building

Getting to Know All of You

 Whether you're in an urban high-rise or a sprawling suburban condo development,  it can be hard for a new resident to get to know their neighbors. Do you strike  up a conversation in the elevator or the laundry room, or hang around the  bulletin board in the lobby hoping to meet your fellow owners? And what about  the residents who aren’t as socially skilled as other, more gregarious residents, yet who want to make  friendly connections with the people living next door?  

 Many communities offer on-site amenities such as a pool, gym, or tennis courts  that put folks in contact with their neighbors and help foster a sense of  neighborly cohesion, but boards and management can help as well by providing  opportunities for residents to socialize with each other. Better inter-resident  relations makes for improved community involvement, morale, and overall quality  of life.  

 It's About People

 “The way I look at it is condos are just bricks and mortar, and a roof—what really makes it are the people,” says Jim Schneider, general manager of the Seven Lakes Condominium Association  in Fort Myers. “You can have a nice condominium but if you don’t have the people you don’t have a good condo association. Community building builds fellowship. It helps  people to work with each other and be part of a community. You can’t just isolate yourself and say 'We’re not part of this community. We’re going to close the gates and not worry about anything outside.' That’s no way to live.”  

 Raymond Pi Lara, president of the Master Association at Riviera Isles, a gated  lakefront community of 1,355 estate homes in Miramar agrees. “One of the great things about having people in a close-knit community is that  you’re all working towards the same goal,” he says. “We have a clubhouse, swimming pool, tennis court and nice buildings and  structures on the property and we all want to keep it nice. A lot of  communities we have seen, especially in this economy, are not investing in  their infrastructure and they say ‘we’ll fix it when the economy gets better,’ and that’s a mistake. By the time the economy gets better, what will those things look  like? And how much will it cost to repair them? At our board meetings we always  talk about reinvesting money that we collect from association fees back into  the community, whether it’s painting, landscaping, restoring our pool area or maintaining our gym.”  

 Toy, food and clothing drives during the holidays, conducting local beach  clean-ups, a tree lighting ceremony, a Hanukah candle lighting ceremony and  free musical performances are just a few of the events that the Seven Lakes  Condominium Association hosts annually.  

 “We have the local high school chorus come and put on shows for us,” says Schneider, whose HOA was named the 2010 Community of the year at the Florida Communities of  Excellence Awards. “The residents like the concerts, and the students like it because it gives them  a chance to perform. It builds a lot of community pride. We also have a  50-member chorus group who sing at Christmastime and put on a spring concert.  They have even gone caroling at nearby communities. They are a very active  group.”  

 Bake Sales—and Beyond

 In the midst of gloomy financial times for so many Florida shared communities,  homeowners associations have found innovative ways to hang together and build a  sense of community.  

 Lakes of Meadow in Miami are known for its popular family-friendly programs and  for hosting regular holiday community parties and fireworks displays. The Ritz-Carlton condo-hotel in Fort Lauderdale has been cited for its volunteer  work supporting local children's charities, environmental and arts programs,  and The Tuscany Bay HOA in Boynton Beach and the Golden Horn South Condominium  Association in Hallandale both have been recognized for their efforts  organizing and training volunteers for Community Emergency Response Teams and  creating emergency preparedness and survival kits for neighbors.  

 Association-organized events can become community-wide annual highlights. “Our annual Easter egg hunt is very popular. About 400 kids showed up and we had  4,000 eggs,” says Pi Lara. “We had carnival rides and pony rides. We also sold tables to local stores and  restaurants, so it’s not just for the kids, it’s also for the adults. Our big event is National Night Out. It’s usually the second week in August. We have a deejay, lots of rides and a rock  climbing wall. And we sell tables to locals businesses and restaurants for that  too. Winn Dixie came out and sold hot dogs and french fries. One of the big  realtors will come with an ice cream truck. Our vendors will donate items and  we raffle them off to benefit the association. It really brings everyone  together—the residents, the vendors, and members of the community. “  

 Bottom-Line Benefits

 Not only do community events spark communication between residents, but it may  have an effect on the building’s bottom line as well. Savvy community events can also provide a special  opportunity to renew current customers.  

 If management or the association doesn’t offer events, it might be for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s budget, while for others it’s a lack of interest or participation from the residents. Numerous factors can  contribute to a lack of community involvement.  

 “The key word is communication. If the board is not communicating with members of  the community, that's where they fail,” says Jay Mangel, president of Exclusive Property Management in Pompano Beach. “If you don’t communicate with members with what’s going on in the community with a newsletter, building website or a bulletin,  they feel left out and they don’t want to be a part of what’s going on in the community. We always push the associations to be very  communicative with residents, because if the community knows what the board is  doing they are less likely to come to a meeting and harass them. You’d be shocked by how many boards don’t want the community to know the real problems. I’m in favor of telling them everything—the good and the bad —so we can all work together.”  

 Schneider, Pi Lara and Mangel all agree that the board, management and residents  are all responsible for building a sense of community.  

 “It has got to be all three,” says Schneider. “The board has got to have the willingness to provide the facilities and support  the group and management has to go out and do the same thing. It comes down to  the residents/volunteers who want to do that stuff. It’s a combination of all three, but the residents/volunteers are the big issue,  they have to really want to do it. You have to have everybody working together.  If people are not cooperating then it’s just not going to work.”  

 “The management company, board and residents are all responsible for building a  sense of community,” adds Pi Lara. “We deal directly with the owners and they become really involved with what’s going on. The board works closely with them and they attend our board meetings  on a regular basis. It’s all of us working together. But it had to start at one point, and that was the  influence from our property management company who wanted to bring everyone  together.”  

 Where to Start

 Creating a roster filled with fun events is easy to do with some brainstorming  and imagination. To help kick start the ideas, check out the internet and see  what other buildings across the nation are up to.  

 The holidays are a perfect opportunity to schedule events such as photos with  Santa, a great family event, decorating contests, holiday parties, New Year’s Eve or Day gatherings, charity events, and more.  

 “We encourage the board to put out a mailing, because not everybody stops and  look at the elevator,” says Mangel. “Also, have non-holiday events. We are hosting an open house where people come  and share ideas. We are also doing a barbeque just because, so people can meet  their neighbors. I also encourage family communities to budget in things like pony rides, water  slides and bounce houses for parties. The holidays are great to have a party,  but everybody is busy during the holidays. Why not have a community gathering  in the first week of June, when the kids are out of school and before camp  starts? Throw something together, that way people feel involved in the  community and they are not feeling like it’s December and I got ten friends having parties so I don’t know if I can make it to the association party.”  

 In an increasingly busy world where connections happen more online than in  life, putting forth a little effort and capital to invest in your community's  most important asset—its people—can earn your association very real rewards.   

 Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The South  Florida Cooperator. Staff Writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this  report.  

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