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Social Programming vs. Social Distancing Communities Are Getting Creative

For many buyers, a key factor in deciding to purchase a home in a residential community rather than opt for private, single-family ownership is often the appeal of amenities that come with condo, co-op, and HOA living—pools, gyms, clubhouses for social activities, and even on-premises restaurants and retail shops being only a small sample. Suburban and 55+ or ‘active adult’ communities often go even further, with full-time social activity directors on staff to organize planned outings, creative workshops, lecture series, and more. In many communities, there’s never a dull moment.

Thanks to the unwelcome arrival of COVID-19, however, this sought-after lifestyle is now in a time of transition. The virus is insidious and spreads with relative ease from person to person, often without the least bit of warning from many who appear asymptomatic. This reality has made casual contact with one’s neighbors more of a threat than a pleasure, and has brought us to an intersection in a Venn diagram where we have to balance social programming with social distancing to keep both ourselves and our neighbors safe. 

Now, as communities both vertical and horizontal are trying to reopen facilities like pools, clubhouses, gyms, theaters, and the like after months of mandatory shutdown, many are facing a new surge in the pandemic, and must develop a plan to keep residents both active and safe.

At a Crossroads

Amy Gallogly is the corporate operations director for WTS International, a Rockville, Maryland-based lifestyle and amenities management firm that manages such activity-minded properties throughout the east coast of the United States. “It’s been very ironic,” says Gallogly, “in that lifestyle directors are normally tasked with bringing people together—and now they literally have to keep people apart. This has posed a very big challenge for management. Very early on in the pandemic, we started to see our various sites making adaptations to their activity calendars as the country started to shut down. This included closing pools, fitness centers, and kids’ clubs, and canceling traditional celebrations like St. Patrick’s Day and Easter festivities. We quickly sought out candid feedback from our directors from all regions on weekly Zoom calls to discuss what was happening in their world. This simple move has been a lifesaver for our operations team. For instance, managers shared tips on what vendors had gym wipes or sanitizer in stock, along with best practices for programming at 55+, mixed-aged, resort, and high-rise properties.”

Lynne Edwards, also with WTS, is a lifestyle director at Four Seasons at Monmouth Woods, in Howell, New Jersey. She adds that “networking and idea-sharing between lifestyle directors are becoming more and more important than ever before. Weekly Zoom calls have become very productive and important, as social distancing will continue to be the way of life for a while. One great positive with virtual programming is that lifestyle directors can now combine programs where multiple communities can participate together in one event.”

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