Contributed by Jennifer Miller 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, community association volunteers and professionals across the country have gotten more involved than ever in building community. One particularly rewarding way to establish strong and meaningful relationships is through volunteer service efforts.  

“We touch the homes of so many people in what we and our business partners do,” says Shaun Zavadsky, AMS, PCAM, past president of the CAI Minnesota Chapter. “It feels necessary that we have some sort of community outreach.”

Zavadsky, vice president of community management with FirstService Residential in Minneapolis, is not alone in espousing a renewed emphasis on the importance of acts of service. Community associations and CAI chapters around the U.S. are demonstrating the positive impact volunteer service can have every day throughout the communities they oversee and beyond.  

Sometimes, it’s easy to find ways to help your immediate community. Sara Minnis quickly discovered this when her board at CobbleStone in Urbandale, Iowa, announced it might have to consider closing the community pool due to staffing and financial limitations. Minnis coordinates the volunteer calendar for the pool, recruiting fellow residents for water testing multiple times per day during the pool season. 

She was pleasantly surprised when people signed up without much prompting. For the 2023 pool season, Minnis was able to fill about two-thirds of the necessary slots through her first call for volunteers; by the pool’s opening on Memorial Day, all the volunteer slots were filled for the summer.   

Drew Mulhare, CMCA, AMS, LSM, PCAM, encourages community spirit with Ford’s Colony at Williamsburg Homeowners Association in Virginia. At Ford’s Colony, volunteer service activities range from writing get-well cards to lending equipment for visiting families to providing transportation to residents in need.  

He emphasizes the intangible yet invaluable benefit: “I consider the social aspect of community the most important. If you have a high level of operational success in your social activities, it just makes the other business of community governance easier.” 

The CAI Alabama Chapter sought ways to rebuild connection and support well-being among members. “We felt like community service was a great — and different — way for all of our members to connect and have a positive impact,” says Executive Director Julia Boehm-McKay. 

Each September, the chapter hosts an appreciation lunch for first responders. Alabama Chapter President Morgan Place notes the event supports key community members and highlights the importance of building strong relationships with city and emergency officials. 

She also emphasizes how powerful community service is for volunteers. “Manager burnout is a real issue, and this is a great way for those of us in manager roles to have a mental health day. When we give back, our hearts get full, and we bring that feeling back and share it with clients.” 

In addition to the annual first responders event, the chapter sponsors and distributes lunches and care packages for unhoused people in the Birmingham region, organizes a service day with the Humane Society, hosts a coastal cleanup, supports local food pantries, assists in Habitat for Humanity workdays, and organizes a service day at a local high school.  

The CAI Washington Metropolitan Chapter also is no stranger to service. By far the largest effort is the chapter’s participation in Potomac Watershed Cleanup Day, a partnership with the Alice Ferguson Foundation across the entire region every April. In 2023, more than 450 chapter members picked up nearly 20,000 pounds of trash across 22 sites. 

“The mission of CAI is to advocate and to connect professionally. This event meets that mission in a relaxed, personal connection way,” says Executive Director Jaime Barnhart, CAE.  

As Barnhart sees it, community service events bring positive public awareness to community associations and the community management profession. “We have so many ideas and so many outreach efforts that we want to do. It’s a good problem that our members have so many causes they care about supporting.” 

Jennifer Miller is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.  

>>Read more about community association and CAI chapter volunteer service efforts in “In Service of Community” from Common Ground May/June 2024.

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