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Building a Community Starts with a Decision


My first job out of college was at St. Louis University (Go Billikens!).  They hired me to be a Community Development Coordinator in their residence hall system. That was right up my alley. I’d started organizations in college, worked in a residence hall, and loved the idea of strengthening a student community.

However, there were a few unanticipated challenges.

Challenge #1 – Most of the students who lived in my particular residence hall lived in the St. Louis area. They viewed their dorm room as simply a convenient place to sleep, not as a “home away from home.”

Challenge #2 – The physical building of this particular residence hall was old and worn. Poor lighting, poor plumbing, poor windows, small rooms, no common space – all barriers to creating a warm feeling.

Challenge #3 – I was young, fresh out of college, with no real idea of what I was doing.

(Mercifully, Challenge #3 became a huge asset because I didn’t know enough to know what an uphill battle I was fighting.)

Isn’t that true with most businesses and organizations, though? I mean, if we step back and look at trying to create a community, don’t the seemingly insurmountable challenges start to rise up in front of our eyes?

Challenges like – how on earth are we going to find, much less connect with such a far-flung group of people? What are we going to talk about once we run out of our standard marketing messages? How do we draw a group together and foster a true feeling of community that sticks? The daunting list could go on and on.

The only solution I found in my first job and in every other community-building situation I’ve ever been in is that building a community is a decision we make. Just like any other kind of relationship, we have to decide every single day that we want to build a community – no matter how difficult it might seem.

I decided every single day for two years that building a community out of college students was worth it. Worth the frustration, worth the long hours, worth the mistakes, worth it all.  And bit by bit, day by day, I watched this thing called community take shape and grow stronger. Pride developed. Trust developed. Passionate commitment developed.

In fact, by the end of my two-year commitment, the students were so invested in the well-being of their community that they sent a representative to interview the candidates for my replacement to ensure he or she would be a good “fit”.

All of this evolved, in spite of the daunting liabilities I listed above.

In another post, I’ll talk about the specific strategies I stumbled into that worked. These strategies apply to college residence halls, Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, and small businesses. It’s exciting stuff, really.

For now, though, you’ve got to decide that you want to build a community. And you’ve got to be prepared to make that decision every single day. Are you in?

P.S. If you want to go much, much deeper into what it takes to build a fiercely loyal community, join me for my annual guest blog series starting Feb. 1.


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