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Community Spirit - Building a Community: A Case Study


Introduction

The Young at Heart Homeowners Association (name changed for privacy) has long been an active community of young seniors. Built during the mid-eighties, this community has an established Board of Directors, Committees and Social infrastructure and professional management which made it one of the most desirable Adult Communities in its county.

Young at Heart HOA has a Social Activities Committee which is guided by and proudly implements its Mission Statement:

"To provide diverse activity and foster community spirit and assistance to members of the Association and to serve the needs of our greater surrounding community."

The Social Activities Committee has four sub-committees: (a) the Functions Committee which is responsible to plan and organize parties, picnics, and social gatherings; (b) the Game Committee, which organizes indoor and outside sporting events and card games; (c) the Sunshine Committee which runs fund drives and donation campaigns to donate to the local charities; (d) the Operations Committee, which monitors and implements maintenance requirements for the Social activities infrastructure and buildings.

Recognizing the Problem

Sometimes a challenge like aging and apathy escapes attention when the day-to-day appear to be working fine. Very often, Managers recognize "results," and tailor their actions to accommodate the obvious "results" without focusing on underlying root causes which often tend to be subtle and expand slowly over time.

The key is to recognize the community's challenge. In Young at Heart's case it was community apathy and low participation in social functions that were geared to promote community spirit and a sense of neighborhood. This occurred due to a failure to timely revisit the Associations Strategic Plan.

The existing Strategic Plan, to develop a financially secure Community Association which services the needs of its members operationally and socially, coupled with the Mission Statement of the Social Activities Committee were in need of a tweak. Both goals were still applicable, yet both plan's direction needed to shift to keep on target with the evolving needs of the community. The epiphany was the realization that not only was the bricks and mortar of the Association aging, so too were its residents!

The Test

As with any idea, certain experiments need to be conducted and data gathered to lend support to the theory, prior to recommending that changes are in order. This is true, especially in light of a population which generally tends to be conservative and has a reluctance to easily accept change in its pattern of living. In this case, the contemplated changes would also bring forward the somewhat uncomfortable recognition that the average resident age in the community was increasing; turnover was not impacting the age demographics, and the types of activities which were once popular were being replaced by more sedate activities. Their idea of a good time had changed, as well as the emerging need for assistance necessary to maintain the status quo or support those who needed outside quality life assistance to remain comfortable.

The test came to our attention without much ado when the Township sponsored a Senior Outreach Program. The Outreach Program focused on presenting a variety of health-enhancement and assistance programs available to our Community as free services from the Township. The Outreach Program was promoted by the Social Activities Committee consistent with historic methods. As opposed to declining attendance at previous programs, which emphasized physical activity, this program was met with a standing-room only attendance. The membership requested more daytime programs of this nature be provided.

The follow up program, one presented by a local bank addressing savings, lending, refinancing and a hands on demonstration of state of the art banking (i.e. debit cards, ATM cards, and on-line banking) was also a complete success.

It was clear that the Social Activities Committee recognized the Mission Statement could be successfully interpreted by including new types of programs that addressed needs that were more educational and less physical - and still achieve its objectives.

Shaking out our Party Clothes...or Adjust and Adapt the Plan

A strategy meeting of the Board of Directors and Management was called to set forth a "New Direction for the New Millennium." It was decided the Board would roll out a program to the Committees asking their assistance to help revamp the community programs and agendas. The Operations Sub-Committee was directed to make an inspection and recommendations for the replacement of old and outdated furniture, to take advantage of lightweight plastics for tables and chairs, thinking in terms of portability and mobility. Secondly, to evaluate the pool and replace old railings with new assisted lifts, and to examine the exercise equipment and replace it with cardiovascular and low impact aerobic devices.

The Functions Sub-Committee was given the task of working with the Township's Senior Outreach Center to bring in additional speakers and programs oriented towards introducing their services to the membership. While continuing their task of providing "fun" evenings to the community, dinner/dance programs and functions mindful of including our expanding group of members who had become widows and widowers and who were not participating due to cost or concern/perception that the functions catered more towards couples.

The Sunshine Sub-Committee took on the task of doing for ourselves as well as others outside our immediate HOA community. A telephone chain named "Making New Friends" was established to contact new homeowners as well as people living alone, emergency contact lists were updated; and medication and health information was gathered and placed in the same location in each home to enable Emergency/Ambulance workers immediate availability.

The Games Sub-Committee blended men's and women's events where participation was low, added a computer-learning center by recruiting grandchildren (now in their late teens and twenties) to teach members use of e-mail and the Internet. Grandchildren were paid volunteers - which translates into those who work when they can for $25.00 per day.

The Pay Off - A Happy Ending

Residents were interacting, learning and sharing with each other. The community had moved into a new phase of its evolution. They were once again socializing with each other, providing a network and support system for their residents, taking care of each other. They had redefined socialization and the types of programs which promoted it, they had re-organized the Social Committee with an expanded purpose, and they had created a new sense of pride and purpose in the Community.

As Management Professionals, we stopped to re-examine actions and activities we often took at face value, and, in the act of challenging ourselves, had challenged our Community, together Management and the Board had tweaked our focus, and improved the quality of life.

Once again, we are a Community.

 


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