By Kathy Danforth / Published December 2016
While senior living is often the “face” of community associations, many communities face the challenge of bringing together mixed ages or a predominantly younger demographic. This year’s winners in the Family-friendly category of the Communities of Excellence contest are Egret Landing of Jupiter and TerraLargo of Lakeland. Both of these associations have a mix of ages, with over half the homes including children.
Egret Landing is an established association with 654 single-family homes. “The houses have three to six bedrooms and there are 10 school buses in here every day, so this is definitely a family community,” states manager Alicia Laine. “About 60 percent of the residents have kids still in school. Several of the families without kids are original owners who raised their children here, but since it’s affordable and great, they stay here even if they don’t still need the space.”
With this group, Laine reports, “The Fall Festival is definitely our biggest event. The community has held this festival for more than 10 years, and we had 1,300 attend in 2015. It lasts four hours, and we have bounce houses, rock-climbing walls, food vendors, carnival rides, a DJ, and other activities.” A Thanksgiving food drive is included in the festivities.
The Spring Eggstravaganza draws a smaller but enthusiastic crowd of about 250, according to Laine, and includes a visit by the Easter Bunny with age-appropriate egg activities. A winter event includes pictures with Santa, games, snacks, and a Polar Express train ride in 2015.
Other events are not necessarily scheduled annually, but Laine notes, “We haven’t written off anything. We’ve done safety rodeos with police and fire department personnel, who have brought a fire truck. This year we’re trying a casino night because we felt we were catering so much to the kids that there was no time for ‘adults only.’ At that event we’ll have poker, blackjack, roulette, and craps, and we plan to have a chocolate fountain. We held a business mixer and invited those residents who own a business to come to the clubhouse to exchange information. About 40 people attended, and we would like to schedule that event quarterly with a different business hosting it each time. Currently we are waiting on someone to spearhead that program.”
“We had lots of fun with a dog wash in 2015—our junior volunteers washed dogs, a veterinarian and local pet adoption center came, and we held a parade with a costume contest. About 75 residents attended, and with more advance notice and marketing, I think we would have more, as there are plenty of dog walkers in the community,” Laine comments. “Our doggies made the Channel 12 News with their dress-up clothes!”
Junior volunteers are an innovative addition to the community programs. “We always need help for functions, and kids need volunteer hours for school,” says Laine. “At the beginning of the year, we hold a meeting so we can pass out numbered credentials and get phone numbers and e-mail addresses to arrange volunteer times. Last year, we had about 50 youth volunteers, and they proved to be a truly valuable asset.”
In addition, Laine reports, “Our parents are awesome for volunteerism. They’re always bringing up fundraising ideas, such as Shoeboxes for Haiti, recycling, Angel Tree, and more. Volunteerism is always genera-ted by residents, not management, and it’s great to see them getting involved and putting more effort into that than even their own parties.”
The community brings vendors on board to help sponsor events. “The Fall Festival brings in $4,000–$4,500 in sponsorships,” Laine explains. “Some donate raffle gifts, and a food vendor returns some of the proceeds to the community. For casino night, ten vendors will help cover the cost since realtor groups love getting their names in front of our owners.”
E-mail blasts, the monthly printed newsletter, and banners are typically used to inform residents of events. “Without the banner, events are not as well attended,” Laine has found. Going forward, Laine notes, “The goal is to make events more cost effective and more fun to attend. Many events were in place when I came, but we want to keep improving!”
TerraLargo is a growing, gated community of almost 300 homes, with approximately two-thirds of the families including children. “We have a fitness center, clubhouse, pool, hot tub, and tot lot area,” says manager Mandy Morgan. The Lifestyle Program was stepped up two years ago with new management and hiring of a full-time lifestyle attendant.
The community offers special events and ongoing activities to bring neighbors together. “Our first event of the year is for Valentine’s Day, with crafts for the kids in the morning and an adults’ event in the evening, usually including wine and cheese or chocolate and wine,” Morgan shares.
“The Spring Carnival is a huge event,” says Morgan. “We include an Easter egg hunt, bounce house, inflatable ‘hamster balls,’ train rides, bean bag toss, and pony rides. Last year we had 400 people attend, which is awesome for a community of 280 homes! Teen volunteers helped, and we ended up in the pool at the end.”
The pool is a gathering point for Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and summer Dive-in Movies. Morgan shares, “For Memorial Day we had a DJ and popsicles for a red, white, and blue celebration. On July Fourth we had an ice cream social with crafts such as face painting on the pool deck. We held a picnic-style barbecue for Labor Day.”
The end of the year includes Boo Bash and a visit from Santa. “We have a DJ and costumes and sugar the kids up for Boo Bash,” Morgan reports. “In December there is a photo with Santa, and we decorate cookies or build gingerbread houses.”
“We try not to do exactly the same thing each time so the activities don’t become stagnant,” comments Morgan. “At movie night we build a little suspense…Will it be ice cream? Pizza? Popcorn? We try to change it up, and the kids like to try to guess what’s coming.”
Crafts are provided throughout the year. Morgan explains, “When parents come to the fitness center, an adult supervises the play room so the kids can do crafts while the parents are working out. The kids can be creative and make a mess, and we post the artwork on the wall.”
Communication gets the ball rolling to build attendance. “We have an interactive calendar online, so even though most events are free, we do try to get people to register so we can plan for the right number of people. We use e-blasts, bulletin boards, and six-foot banners also,” says Morgan.
Morgan advises that flexibility is essential to helping residents have fun. “You’ve got to be ready to adapt quickly,” she notes. “Remember, you’re often the only one who knows it’s not going according to plan, so adjust! Even if the heavens open up on your picnic, you can pick up, move inside, and still have a good time.” Encouraging friendships between homeowners is the goal, so new programs, old favorites, and routine activities and clubs are all on the agenda to make it happen.