A Rich Sense of Community | What Makes People Stay?

What Makes People Stay?

Today, I attended the Downtown Lakeland Partnership’s General Meeting at Trinity Presbyterian Church.  Tim Rice,  the Pastor, spoke on the topic of building a rich sense of community.  He suggested that one of the challenges we face in society today is “rootlessness.” There is no strong sense of belonging, or establishment of roots/connection to a particular place.  He challenged us, as members of the business community to focus on this idea when considering how to strengthen the city, how to attract (and keep) young professionals, skilled professionals, passionate artists, and other talented people to live (and stay) in Lakeland.   As a result of his discussion and the questions he asked throughout his presentation, I walked away wondering, “What makes people stay?”

Tim talked about his personal decision to stay in Lakeland – to make the community and his church stronger.  This community, he said, is his ministry. He has made a promise to remain in Lakeland for the rest of his life, his words were, “I am here until I die.”  I thought of the impact of those words.  The strength behind them.  To make a decision that, no matter what happens; no matter what offers come from Birmingham, or anywhere else, this is where he wants to be.

Lakeland might be his calling.  But what about the rest of us? And what about those who aren’t sure where they want to be?  What will make people want to stay in Lakeland? But my questions didn’t stop there.

What makes people want to “hang out” and commiserate?

I wondered, after he finished speaking, what makes people stay anywhere?  Not just to remain in a community, but what makes them attend and then stay at events, or gatherings?  I believe this smaller question might lead us to the answer to the bigger question.  If we can understand what makes people want to be a part of different clubs or organizations, why they attend certain events, or want to reach out to help others, or simply continue talking about important issues, even if it seems like it might not make a difference, I think we might be able to better understand why people feel compelled to “establish roots” in a particular place.

I believe, in the inner core of my being, that people want to feel connected. They want to know that they matter, that they will be missed when they are gone.  Seth Godin calls this the Linchpin.  A Linchpin, by definition, is a fastener used to prevent a wheel or other part from sliding off the axle upon which it is riding. When I meet new people, I make every effort to receive them warmly, to focus on what they are saying, to ask them questions and give them an opportunity to talk about the things that matter the most to them.  Sometimes, this sparks fascinating conversations.  When the person’s face begins to light up and their gestures become animated, I know that they are passionate about the topic they are discussing.  When we find something on which we connect, and we are both engaged, and animated, that is where true connection begins.

I know when people are interested in what I have to say.  I can tell by the questions they ask, by the way that they listen, by the focus of their eyes.  When there is true connection, people want to stay. It’s my observation that it happens all the time, but many of us dismiss it because we might not have time, or we might not now what to do when we find that true connection on a topic.  Should we e-mail them?  Call them?  Request to connect on LinkedIn? Ask to schedule a meeting to continue the conversation?  Or, do we let it go, allow it to disappear as a fleeting moment, an undocumented connection, because we didn’t know how to build on that opportunity.

I am curious.  What makes you stay?

What experiences have you had that you didn’t want to end.  Have there been times that you wanted to carry on the connections you made and looked forward to the next opportunity to connect again?  What is the impact of building a community of people who stick around? I think we have to start looking at the basics, before we can climb the mountain.  Are we a connected, warm, inviting community?  Or, do you think there are places that are, and places that are not connected, warm and inviting?  I would love to hear your thoughts about this.
7 replies
  1. Erica Jordan
    Erica Jordan says:

    Aghhhhhhhh you have no idea how much Pator Tim’s comments made me think!

    I am a true Lakelander, born and raised. I have never left. Even communted to Tampa for college. NEVER left. But I have begun to struggle with “what does Lakeland have to offer my generation”? Is this where I want to stay? I LOVE Lakeland and it’s history. So much so that I HAD to buy a historic home Downtown. But how long will I stay? I had never asked myself this before until a few weeks ago.

    The more I travel, the more I want move out of Lakeland when I return. Sure, Lakeland’s great! I never thought I would want to leave, but I think I now need more out of the place I call home…

    Trust me when I say that I see the amazing changes that have happend in Lakeland the past 10+ years, but is it growing fast enough? I see DAILY a tug of war amoung groups, our local givernment, parks and rec, etc. So much so, that I question whether or not any possitive changes can take place if people are not willing to work TOGETHER!

    I have never kept it a secret that I wish I could capture the same feeling in Lakeland that I get in Hyde Park on a Saturday night or that I hope for the same experience I get when visiting Winter Park on a Saturday morning.

    I once read on the New York Times website that less than 5% of the adult residents in the Lakeland area have college degrees and that Lakeland is an area stuggling to hold on to it’s college graduates. Graduates are leaving for places that are more “creative”.

    Can Lakeland change this trend? Can Lakeland keep up?

  2. Irma Cole
    Irma Cole says:

    Most people do not get to choose where they are going to live, work, and play like we did. We did not move to Lakeland because we knew someone here already. We knew absolutely not one person. We started with a book and a magazine about places to retire to. We made a list of things we wanted in an area. We searched online for places that met our requirements. Then we came to Lakeland and liked what we found. Within a week we had bought a house and we haven’t looked back. We love our choice. We can’t believe how many people we have met that do not take advantage of all that Lakeland has to offer….both young and old. Lakeland and our life here is wonderful! We have jobs, friends, and activities that keep us busy. There is a vibrant downtown, nearby airports, theme parks, and beaches. We have restaurants, movies, libraries, ballparks, healthcare, plays, concerts, etc. all in Lakeland. It is a real city, not an over 55 community. There are young families, college students, and snowbirds. What a mix! It all adds up to make Lakeland a diverse and interesting place to be.

  3. Brad Lunz
    Brad Lunz says:

    Just a quick note on the educational background of our community: based on the latest census, the % of people with a Bachelor’s degree or higher was 23.5% in Lakeland and 18.0% for Polk County, while the state average was 26.0% and the US average was 28.2%. Lakeland was slightly less than 5% lower than the national average, not the 5% of the population. For High School Education Lakeland was HIGHER than the national average, 86.4% versus 85.5%.

    Erica your points about cooperation to achieve attraction of talent and retention are very accurate. And Lakeland will keep up/ change only if you, myself, Chrissanne, and other lead, engage and support each other and the community as a whole.

  4. Beth Geohagan
    Beth Geohagan says:

    Thanks for sharing your notes and thoughts from the meeting, I really wanted to go. I have found that when I take the time to follow up with a visit it makes the initial contact much more memorable. I like it when people remember me as the “bike lady!” And, same goes for Terisa from The General Store, or Julian from NewTro Designs. Taking a minute to go visit the owners of local businesses has made all the difference in the world in social connections. It is the people that I meet that make me want to stay in Lakeland. If it weren’t for the local business owners and their passion for the services/products that they provide, then I wouldn’t have anywhere to take people on bicycle tours. I wouldn’t have anyone to talk about, stories to share!

  5. Mark Parker
    Mark Parker says:

    As Irma pointed out in her post most of us were not given the choice to decide on our own to move to this area. I was drug to this quaint little village by force at the age of 4 and not allowed to leave until I was 18 and fresh out of school(LHS 1980). We didn’t have many toy’s so we were forced to play on the shores of lake Hollingsworth. Without supervision! Believe it or not, Lee, Walt, Howard and some of the other local ruffians would ride our skateboards catamaran style, down Eunice and across Lake Hollingsworth road and try to air jump the newly installed walking path. (We all thought that the city leaders , our parents friends, were lame for spending money on a blacktop sidewalk. I mean really, who in their right mind is gonna walk all the way around the lake.) So I ran. I ran as far as I could to make it on my own. I got one of them there degrees from a school of higher learning. Got married, moved to a big city, made some babies and then thought to myself, where can I raise these youngin’s where I won’t have to worry about leaving the door unlocked and they could roam the streets of the neighborhood with their pals and not worry about them. Well I found that there is no place like home. And let me tell you why! Lakeland is the core of the diamond known as central Florida. We are lucky enough to live in a part of the country that the majority of people in the rest of the U.S.A., dream and save their money for 50 weeks, just so they can come and visit this great piece of real estate. (yup, they usually try and stay with us, their relatives). I was tantalized by stories of men named Walt and George who built their kingdoms here in this area. They both knew how to dream big. Ok here comes the hook. I too was impressed with other places like Hyde Park and Winter Park and other cool places that seemed to have “it”. But going there on a Saturday nite is like when your dating somebody but you only get to see them once or twice a month. It’s magical. And then you start seeing them everyday and you don’t understand what changed. You start to see the flaws. There are tug of wars and struggles over so many different things that you begin to wonder if it is worth staying. I have been here long enough to see the struggles and tribulations of Lakeland just like those that were here before me. I remember a downtown that housed vagrants, empty buildings and long lost dreams. But because of the energy’s of local leaders like Brad’s dad, Jim Studiale and many many others we once again hang out and socialize in our favorite downtown spot. Look at the group of local churches that have joined together to bring our unchurched and underserved people much needed services. Tim rice and other local religious leaders are trying to ensure that everyone is getting a seat at the table. I think that my reason to stay is because I know that the majority of Lakelanders won’t judge me for who I sleep with or who I pray to. They just care that I give. Lakeland, or anyplace for that matter is only as warm and inviting as the people that YOU choose to associate with. Fortunately lakeland is filled with warm and inviting people.
    I can’t say that I will stay in Lakeland for the rest of my life, but I will always be a member of the local community wherever I am.

    Ok, it has stopped raining so I am taking the dog out to play in the puddles. Thanks Lakeland!!!!!!!

  6. Erica Jordan
    Erica Jordan says:

    Woooooooooooooooooooooow! I am a true believer in the idea that the universe will give you what you need when you need it! And I am so encouraged right now!

    I didn’t shy away from the fact that I was feeling a little blue about Lakeland the past few weeks. As I mentioned, I was born and raised here, I have NEVER left, AND I was confident in being here for a while that I even decided to buy my fist home here. But I admitted to questioning myself as to whether or not I would stay FOREVER or even a while.

    Within ONE day so many people have come to me and shared their thoughts after reading my comments here. While they seem to understand why I feel what I feel, they also have reconfirmed why I have always wanted to stay here in Lakeland… Because there ARE people that love it just as much as I do!

    I was so discouraged with the struggles I have seen groups/people have lately in improving Lakeland. I have seen so many good ideas shut down and other ideas struggling to grow due to “cost”. I questioned whether or not Lakeland could move forward, grow, come together, retain graduates and young professionals, etc. BUT I feeeeeel as though this is possible! All these wonderful people are pushing through the “problems” and are determined to make Lakeland better than ever. Makes me happy! Makes me excited!

    To all those continuously fighting for a better community, I thank you and keep up the amazing work. I love my hometown and pledge to work with you for the long haul! Thank you so much for coming up to me and sharing your good news!

  7. Ekho
    Ekho says:

    The feeling that they are accepted, connected and supported by the community is what attracts and will keep attracting entrepreneurs and young artists to Lakeland and keep them here. I’ve been asking a few people this question since I read your article Chrisanne, and here’s what a few people have said:

    From the young artist community:
    What I was told would help is:
    A consistent/monthly (not semi-annually) way for them to display AND SELL their photography, sculptures, paintings, etc similar to the programs nearby cities like Orlando & Tampa have. This will encourage the steady flow of new creations and artist growth.

    From the young professional:
    A recent female attendee to a city wide entrepreneurial meeting said she looked around and asked everyone: “What’s with the boys club?… Are you sure I was invited?” Encouraging women in business would be a good place to start. When we talked later about the apparent imbalance in the male to female entrepreneurial ratio, we couldn’t figure out why there wasn’t a strong representation of women at the meeting. We could only figure out 3 explanations: 1. There aren’t many women in business here in Lakeland. 2. They aren’t being informed of meetings like the one my acquaintance was at or 3: They are too busy running things to encourage other women in the same boat they used to be in. Either way: I believe this upcoming young professional raised an interesting question.

    And finally, from my own observation, fill their needs here:
    You sell while they are there. Once they leave, the lead is as good as dead. So if someone walks into a car dealership and says they are shopping around, the salesman knows that the second they walk off that lot they have essentially lost that sale.
    My suggestion: Don’t give people here a reason to leave the lot.
    The Civic Center is a venue and consistently has music that is attractive to the older generation, but nowhere is a small Standing-close-to-the-stage youth oriented venue. They have to drive to Orlando or the Ritz in Ybor to hear the music they love… And music is a powerful way for people to feel like a community “gets them.”

    Also, there is nowhere downtown where people can hang out past 2 AM for food & conversation. Here are a few statistics: People today sleep 20% less than they did 100 years ago. Also, one in three people suffer from some form of insomnia in their life. There’s a reason why NY being “the city that never sleeps” appeals to so many. Lakeland would benefit from a non-Denny’s spot that stayed over later at night for Night Owls, after-party weekend snacks and sleepless young professionals.

    Thank you so much for this well written article.

    I’m convinced I’ve moved to the right town. It’s not perfect, but it’s good (like you) at asking all the right questions.


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