Ways to Sustain Community During Social Distancing

Lifestyle communities should keep their focus during the pandemic but must find a new formula to facilitate social connection.

By Francine Wallace

The connections made and experiences shared are essential to a thriving lifestyle development, Mike Taylor, division president of Pardee Homes Inland Empire, told Builder & Developer Magazine shortly after the grand opening of Altis, its first 55+ market residential community in Beaumont, California. But how do such people-oriented places adjust in this era of ‘stay at home’ and social distancing?

Customer service, technology and creativity can help fill the void and find avenues through which to maintain the all-important sense of community in times when residents can’t physically be together. When social distancing took the Altis community out of the 16,000-square-foot VuePoint clubhouse – its home base for connecting — residents, homebuyers in escrow and prospective homebuyers found a new temporary place to interact in the Altis Virtual Clubhouse.

“What we are all going through this spring with the pandemic is unprecedented,” said Altis lifestyle director Michelle Pearl. “That is why I cherish the connection that we all experience every day through the Altis Virtual Clubhouse. Every time I stare at a screen of little squares filled with the laughter and smiles of our current and future residents, I know that everything is going to be okay — because we have each other.”

Folks are able to get their fill of entertainment, engagement and education through a myriad of online offerings of games, activities and seminars. In the virtual clubhouse, people connect through Zoom to play Pictionary, 21 Questions, 2 Truths + A Lie, Taboo, Altis Terms Bingo and Telecommuting Trivia. Paint & Sips on Mondays allows friends to brush up and drink up together while Ted Talk Tuesdays are the time to discuss thought-provoking topics. The game is definitely on in the virtual clubhouse with residents, homebuyers in escrow and prospects vying every week for prizes by competing in a variety of unique challenges.

DoorDrop Events cater to the more traditional residents, who leave orange bags out every Monday so that the event staff, equipped with masks and gloves, can deliver the fun directly to their doorstep. The first DoorDrop Events project was the Altis Cookbook consisting of the residents’ favorite comfort food recipes.

The Altis Guest Chef is a new event at the lifestyle development that features residents and staff opening their kitchens virtually and demonstrating the creation of some of their favorite recipes. Other residents had the opportunity to learn a few new moves in an online dance class.

Altis’ favorite professional comedian, Jason Love, brought a show to everyone’s homes through his Facebook Live seminars. On “Inside Comedy,” Love shared a few minutes of laughs, then introduced viewers to a new daily comedian, including the former stand-up comic and now iconic NBC weatherman, Fritz Coleman.

Seminars feed the need for self-improvement while also offering social interaction, two important fulfillment focal points to be sustained during the pandemic. Altis’ live stay-at-home sessions ranged from multiple beverage prep lessons to gardening tips. In the Designer Coffee 101 seminar, residents learned to make frappuccinos, cappuccinos and flat whites, and an exclusive sommelier seminar featured the husband and wife owners of Wildwood Oak Winery, Anita and Tony Matlock, sharing the secrets of winemaking. Through another online live interactive presentation, folks learned everything there was to know about growing herbs and microgreens from a Riverside Master Gardener.

Of course, fitness is the No. 1 self-improvement focus, one that the 55+ segment has taken to a whole new level compared to the generations before them. Altis residents have the option of creating a personalized exercise program using a variety of online Wellbeats classes, the same fitness-on-demand program available at the VuePoint clubhouse. The virtual variety of almost 200 Wellbeats classes, from body sculpting and kickboxing to yoga, is of great value for community members, who want to stay fit and active even when staying home.

“There is an undeniable peace that comes from knowing that no matter what the future holds, everyone in Altis will always have the support of their community,” said Pearl. “We will continue to connect, and we will continue to welcome new residents into the fold with open arms, even if those arms, for now, are virtual.”

Despite today’s challenges, social connection remains at the very heart of a pre-eminent lifestyle community such as Altis. With creative customer service and, of course, technology’s touchpoints, community is still the real result.

Francine Wallace is vice president of 55+ operations at Pardee Homes. For more information, visit www.PardeeHomes.com.