Association Insights

The Essence of Community: Coming Together During A Tragedy

In a time of crisis, communities will come together to provide support and make positive changes.

I have lived in a homeowners or condominium association nearly all of my 36 years. Like many of my neighbors, I enjoy and appreciate the benefits of the shared recreational facilities, the beautiful landscaping in the common areas, community social events, and private road maintenance. But, it wasn’t until the past month that I truly understood the benefit of the unique level and forms of communication that come with living in an established and clearly defined association. Last month, our community experienced a horrible tragedy. A pedestrian mother and her infant were struck by a vehicle while walking home from a neighborhood school. The infant did not survive, but the mother did. Needless to say, the community was, and is still, devastated beyond imagination. But, throughout the process of learning about, reacting to, and managing this tragedy, our community revealed to me an amazing power through its connectivity and activism.

An unofficial association Facebook Group page was constantly updated with information advising residents of how they could support the families in need. This Group coordinated a candlelight vigil, collected food and other care items for the family, spread the word regarding fundraising, and generally provided residents with a place to note their concern and support for the victims. Although the Group was not officially organized or administered by our homeowner’s association, it was a powerful tool. The administrator handled the flow of information well and appropriately deleted posts that divulged too much or unreliable, possibly libelous, information about the accident, including its cause. Seeing the real-time flow and exchange of information evidenced the power and peril of this medium. After this experience, I can see the true value that an online real-time forum can have for an association to stay connected and come together in a time of need. However, a qualified administrator who is charged with the duty to constantly watch the forum is required to avoid posting of inappropriate, inaccurate, and potentially damaging information. Further, rules for the forum should be established at its creation, to bolster the administrator’s discretion and authority to remove and edit posts.

Other valuable tools our community used were online crowd funding sources, such as Go Fund Me. These sources raised approximately $100,000 for the victims through online donations. If an association were to become involved in such efforts, it would be important to note for contributors whether any fees are deducted from the donations and to make it clear who the recipients of the funds would be.

In addition to these efforts, the community clubhouse was used as a pick-up point for support ribbons which were displayed throughout the community on mailboxes.

And, traffic concerns were placed on the Board of Directors agenda for the very next Board meeting. All of these were meaningful and effective ways to show support, raise awareness of the tragedy and possible causes thereof, and to provide members a place to voice concerns that the association might be unaware of and/or able to act on. Residents throughout the community were provided with the contact information for the local government representatives and Virginia’s Department of Transportation, so that they could voice, collectively as an association, and individually in mass numbers, concerns related to traffic on the public roads throughout the community, including the one where the accident occurred. As a result of that simple step of disseminating contact information, pedestrian safety measures have already been improved and are still under consideration.

Overall, this experience has shown me the power of community. While we may not always agree or even get along with our neighbors, in a time of crisis, communities will come together to provide support and make positive changes. Associations and their various representatives need to do very little to encourage this coming together which is a natural human instinct, but they can be instrumental in channeling this positive energy in the right direction to help those in need and make the biggest impact.

By Kathleen N. Machado, ESQ.

Kathleen represents community association clients, including condominiums and homeowners associations located in the District of Columbia and Virginia. Her experience includes representation of associations in collections and other covenants enforcement efforts, as well as working with boards of directors to handle the associations’ various general legal needs including interpretation and amendment of governing documents and contract negotiations.