Building Community is More Important (and Easier) in Tragedy

Posted by Andrea Drennen, CMCA on June 17, 2016


Too much tragedy builds callouses

Since the information started coming in about the mass shooting in Orlando, the whole country has been reeling. For those of us who have recently come back from the CAI National conference in Orlando, it feels very close to home. A few weeks earlier, and that could have been us, dancing at Howl at the Moon for the TOPS Portals launch party.

I remember wondering years ago how people in Afghanistan managed to live their lives day to day when there were shootings and suicide bombings all around them on a daily basis. I read an article that explained that the secret was the human brain itself. Apparently, we can get used to anything if we are exposed to it enough - extreme heat, extreme cold, daily suicide bombings, mass shootings...

But life goes on.

When tragedy strikes closer to home

But when the tragedy does directly affect you and yours, what then? Emily Isip of Towers Property Management in Orlando, Florida was struck by this problem in the aftermath of the Pulse club shooting.


Her heart-wrenching comments on social media after the events reminded me that tragedy can have two effects. It can tear you apart, or it can bring you together.

A sense of community

We often throw out a phrase in community association management - "Building a Sense of Community". The phrase encompasses the ultimate goal of the association manager - to create a sense of neighborliness and Mayberry small-town love in an urban or suburban environment.

how_much_you_care_maxwell_quote.pngA sense of community evokes the idea of white picket fences with ladies talking across the yard while hanging up clothes. Of course, this idyllic picture is not very realistic for modern life, but every community struggles to evoke the feel of that picture, a Norman Rockwell idea that even in modern times we can know who our neighbors are, and care about them enough to know each other on a first name basis. Neighbors that we could chat amiably across the yard with, invite them to a barbecue, take in the newspaper when they are on vacation, bring them a casserole when they lose a loved one, offer to feed the dog when they are away.

No matter if you live in a single family home community, or a high rise condo, or somewhere in between, we all secretly dream of that kind of neighborliness. Building a sense of community is the brass ring of community association managers. It is the carrot at the end of the stick. If you can do this, you can do anything.

Tragedy as an opportunity

love_listen_help_quote.pngWhen a tragedy strikes, people open up. They become more vulnerable, the shields around their hearts open a bit, and an opportunity arises. This is the time when a sense of community is the most attainable. When even a small kind act for a stranger in your building can have the greatest effect.

In his CAMfire 2016 session, Triaging Tragedy, Rolf Crocker, CEO of Omni Community Management in California, spoke about this process. He explained that the simple process of showing you care, of being real with the community can bring everyone closer together. 

He quoted a favorite author, John C. Maxwell, who said, "People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Fostering the bonds that are built in tragedy

Bringing your community together after tragedy, and showing you care is just the beginning. The next step is to direct the community members toward a shared goal or purpose. This allows you to foster that community spirit and grow it into community bonds that last for longer than just a single event.

Rolf offers several tips to help grow those bonds:

  1. Set the example. (DNA starts at the top)
  2. Be more real. (Be willing to have candid conversations)
  3. Maintain accountability. (Call out issues with consistency and immediacy)
  4. Communicate early and often. (Proactive outreach)
  5. Create an Atmosphere of Safety. (Safe to speak, safe to fail.)

In closing his presentation, Rolf said, "Ultimately, to do this business well, you must genuinely LOVE people." This is so true of every part of community association management, but most particularly when things go wrong in a big way. And when you show the people of your community that you do have love in your heart for them, they will respond accordingly, and the seeds for a true sense of community are planted.


*Rolf Crocker will be one of the keynote speakers at CAMfire 2017 this year, expanding on his experiences on preparing for tragedy. This session is powerful and highly charged emotionally. I highly recommend it!

**Image credit: Phelyan Sanjoin

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