October 26th, 2020

Building Community during COVID: 5 Things Everyone Can Do

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “community”? Is it a place, a feeling, an experience? For me, it’s those moments of belonging, that palpable spirit of togetherness, and those profoundly positive memories that become such a big part of what we crave in our daily lives. And for the past 15 years, my job has been to foster exactly that, Building Community!.

I currently work as a Lifestyle Director at a residential agrihood community in Palm Beach called Arden, and I love my job. But when the global coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, I was tasked with one of the most challenging undertakings in my career: to nurture a thriving sense of Community while everyone’s stuck at home. I knew it was going to be difficult — anxiousness and restlessness had swept the nation, and weeks of social distancing made “community” feel like an abstract notion from a past life.

Naturally, I felt daunted by the task. Community spirit has had such an impact on my life: it’s what helped my anxiously introverted younger-self blossom into who I am proud to be today. So, I felt it was my mission to pay it forward, especially during these trying times. This pressure to find solutions to our COVID circumstances opened the door for creativity. It allowed me to explore unique ideas that have transformed these challenges into opportunities to make stronger connections between neighbors and keep a sense of community as strong as ever.

Over the course of the past few months, I have learned so much about what it takes to building community and what it takes to make a community flourish. Here are five things we all can do to ensure that we continue to foster a sense of togetherness within our communities during this pandemic:

1. Engage in digital spaces…

While not a substitute for in-person experiences, community togetherness can be fostered via Facebook groups, Zoom calls, and group chats. This is also where you can spur moments of connection by introducing a variety of engaging community-wide challenges. For example, recently, I’ve used our Community’s Facebook group to organize a Window Display Challenge. Residents decorated their front windows based on the week’s theme and posted their project on the Community’s Facebook page. When neighbors voted on winners and had a spirited banter on which were their favorites, it felt just as lively as it would have been in person. These challenges and online community groups can be easily established with neighbors and friends.

2. …But have screen-free time as well

In spaces where you can safely social distance, engage with your friends and neighbors to keep the physical sense of community alive. Invite your neighbors for an outdoor picnic. Transform your backyard into a nature exploration field for the neighborhood kids. Host a cul-de-sac meet and greet. When so many of us are starving for in-person communication, these activities will mean more than ever before.

3. Learn from your neighbors

One of the best ways to build a connection with someone is by sharing what you’re passionate about. Ask your neighbors what they are experts at — and take opportunities to learn and experience their passions with them. Maybe they are a cocktail connoisseur, a pro at tennis, or an ardent woodworker — asking your friends what skills they love to share is a great way to find new activities and foster a sense of Community around things you all love doing, in a socially distant way, of course.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

4. Remember that small actions go a long way

One of the most impactful experiences of togetherness Arden has had in the past few months was our Community Together campaign to help Front Lineworkers. Neighbors were able to sign up to be either a receiver or a giver. Each week, givers deliver to their porch a token of their appreciation, whether it’s homemade cards, fresh flowers, a small gift card, candles, or treats. These moments of gratitude were small, but the impact was huge — and this simple program can be easily emulated with other communities.

5. Practice kindness

We are all facing this pandemic, and much of its impact is out of our control. What we can control, however, is how we respond to this adversity and how we interact with those around us who are experiencing similar difficulties. Whoever you interact with – be kind. Write letters to your neighbors and friends, even just to say hello. Send flowers to those you care about to let them know you’re thinking about them. Ask your neighbors how they’re holding up. Your thoughtfulness will not be easily forgotten.

To enjoy Community, we have to continuously create it. We often hesitate to initiate this process. But speaking from experience, I can assure you that, if you make the first step, you might be surprised by how many of your neighbors are interested in connecting as well.

By starting small and implementing at least some of the activities on this list, we can make our building community feel like more than just residences but true homes. And at a time when we continue to be torn apart by the pandemic and divided by the bitter political climate across our nation, the secure and comforting feeling of home and a greater sense of connectedness with our neighbors is something we can all benefit from.

About the author: Donald Smith is a Lifestyle Director at Arden, an award-winning residential agrihood in Palm Beach County, FL. He is an expert in recreation and leisure activities management and works to help residents get the most out of their community – and themselves – when it comes to living a full, healthy life.