BUILDING COMMUNITY IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

By: Melissa D. Francis, Esq.

Sidewalk Chalk Art in Canton, MI
Photo Credit:  Laura Kitzman

As Community Association attorneys, one of the things I hear most often from Community Association Boards and Homeowners is that they do not feel connected to their neighbors.  Residents of the community come home, do their own things, and (with the exception of perhaps a few close neighbors) only see each other occasionally.  Many Community Association residents do not attend meetings, volunteer for committees, or participate in any other community events.  Now is the time to work on changing these patterns by making connections we may not have been able to make before COVID-19 interrupted our daily lives.

With Governor Whitmer’s stay-at-home order and the Federal social distancing guidelines remaining in place until at least April 30, 2020, many community residents are spending more time than ever before at home.  Many individuals and families are looking for activities to keep their time occupied, within the social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines, as many activities and events have been cancelled.   Why not use this time to plan some simple community events to build a sense of belonging?

Messages of Encouragement and Happiness– Across the United States, many people are leaving messages of encouragement on their driveways for neighbors to see as they walk or drive by, or look out their windows-Happy faces, hearts, children’s pictures, encouraging words. A Florida friend recently reported that her daughters’ pre-school teachers came to the house early in the morning and left the girls chalk messages for their birthdays.  The girls were so excited when they looked outside and saw what their teachers left!  Invite community residents to decorate their driveways and email a picture to the Association’s email, or post on the Association’s Facebook page, or challenge community members to find as many chalk messages as they can on their daily walks.  Associations with restrictions on sidewalk chalk use may consider making a temporary change in policy to allow residents to participate in this activity.  If sidewalk chalk is not an option, have people participate by leaving pieces of paper with these messages in their front windows.

Nightly Neighbor Check In– A group in Plymouth, Michigan started the “Plymouth Pause”.  Each night at 7 p.m. these residents and their families turn on their porch lights and go out on their front porches to wave to each other, say “hello”, and make sure everyone is alright. With a little communication, this would be easy to implement in any Community Association.  This gives people an opportunity to see people they do not see often, and introduce themselves to their neighbors.

Organize a Bear Hunt–  Based on the children’s book classic, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, even your oldest residents will enjoy participating in this activity.  Invite community members to place teddy bears in their windows during the week of the event.  As families and individuals are taking their daily walks, bike rides and runs, they can search the neighborhood for bears.  How many bears can you find?  Are they all similar?  What are the bears doing?  Create a Facebook event and have residents post their finds or their favorites in the event discussion.  Have residents vote for their favorite bear and award small prizes to the winners later in the spring or summer.

A Commerce, Michigan home ready for a Bear Hunt
Photo Credit:  Julia Kondoff

Neighborhood “Graduation” Ceremony–  With the 2019-2020 school year ending abruptly in early March and the Governor and universities ending face-to-face instruction for the year, many 5th graders, 8th graders, high school and college seniors will not be able to experience their milestone end-of-year traditions and ceremonies.  However, that doesn’t mean they cannot get recognition of their accomplishments from their community.  Choose a day to celebrate these milestones in your community.  Have the “graduates” stand on their porches or driveways while other community members walk or bike at a safe distance or safely drive through the neighborhood pausing briefly at each graduates home to clap for them and congratulate them for their accomplishments.  List the names of your Community’s graduates, by category, in your Community Newsletter.

Now is also an excellent time to start planning your Spring and Summer, 2020 committees.  Get an invitation out to members to join committees and start planning committee meetings using conference calling and other technology.  Engaging in building a sense of community now, will strengthen your community as we come out of the Covid-19 crisis.

Sidewalk Chalk Art in Canton, MI
Photo Credit:  Laura Kitzman

The activities listed above are only a small sampling of things you can do as a Community Association to strengthen your bond as a community and get to know your neighbors.  Be creative while working within the confines of the stay-at-home order, social distancing, and general community safety.

Melissa D. Francis joined the Firm in 2013 as an associate attorney. She is a graduate of Plymouth-Canton High School and earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Relations from Michigan State University’s James Madison College in 1998. She earned her Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University Law School in 2001.  Ms. Francis is admitted to practice law in the State of Michigan, Federal District and Bankruptcy Courts for the Eastern and Western District of Michigan, and the United States Supreme Court. Ms. Francis has extensive experience representing both Creditors and Debtors in Chapter 7, 11, and 13 Bankruptcy proceedings.  Since association collections matters routinely involve bankruptcy issues, her vast experience in that field provides the Firm with a unique resource that provides tremendous value to the Firm’s Clients.  Ms. Francis is a member of the American Bankruptcy Institute.  She was a speaker at the 2019 Community Association Institute Law Conference in New Orleans discussing Consumer Bankruptcy and its impact on Community Associations.  She is also a speaker at the 2019 American Bankruptcy Institute Detroit Conference on Veteran’s Day.

Ms. Francis is a Past Dean of the Metro Detroit Alumni Senate of Delta Theta Phi Law Fraternity International.  She is active in the Plymouth-Canton Community as a member of the St. Thomas A’Becket Church choir, Beckridge Productions, Spotlight Players Theater Company, and the Plymouth-Canton Marching Band Alumni Community.

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