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?