Home for the Holidays

A couple of years ago, I watched a three hour television special on women and change. It was segmented, starting with women who chose a career over marriage. The program focused on a 40 year old consultant in New York. With big tears in her eyes, she confessed "I made a million dollars last year but I still don't have a husband." Now, to me a million dollars would be a big consolation, but to her it wasn't.

Next the host interviewed women who were single, no prospects of a husband, and whose biological time clocks were ticking. They wanted to have a baby. Many were opting for artificial insemination, choosing to raise their offspring alone rather than remain childless.

The next segment told us that divorced mothers raising children alone were in dire straights. 85% of those children are being raised in poverty, and suffer from the "latch key kid" syndrome.

Final segments reviewed many times married Americans and how confusing it is for children to change grand-parents, aunts, uncles and father figures over and over in their youth. And last the program interviewed women growing old alone due to divorce and widowhood, and how chances were they'd be staying alone for the duration.

When the program was over, I got a really big message. There is a lot of loneliness in our society.

Add to that story the fact that we live in such a mobile society that we not only in many cases don't have a mate, we also live far from friends and loved ones! More aloneness. And when do we feel that loneliness the most? Sundays, special occasions and the holidays.

Have you ever spent your birthday alone? How about Thanksgiving or Christmas? If you have, then you can identify when I address that empty, "does anyone care?" feeling. And if you haven't, you're fortunate, but even you can identify. All of us have felt alone at one time or another.

In our industry we provide homes to millions of people. Of course we tend to focus on the "dollars and cents" part of our business. It is, after all, a business and not a charitable institution. But for the moment, let me lead you away from that concept, or at least ask you to see how the "home" we provide interacts with the bottom line of success.

Where is home anyway? For some it's a palace, inherited from their ancestors. For others it's a tent, a flea bag hotel or a subway station. But for most of us it's a place we've rented or purchased in the past few months or years. Even though we have a home in which we now live, we still refer fondly to mom's house, or the town where we grew up, as home.

So what makes where you live a home? If it's just a place to hang your hat, that's sad. A home should be your personal space, a place for privacy or company. A place that reflects your personal taste and that displays your lifestyle. Some are learning that one can live alone and still love coming home.

So what's the point? You and I deal daily with people where they live. We limit how many can live there and what colors their walls can be painted. Like it or not, we have a lot to do with whether or not their apartment feels like home.

And do we have any responsibility or concern about their aloneness? If we're smart, we do, because in a way we become their extended family, helpers, and friends. For example, your new resident from Michigan wakes up tomorrow morning and begins to dress for work. She can't quite reach those middle buttons down the back, or he finds it impossible to grasp those tiny buttons on his cuff. Who's going to button for them?

Then he or she prepares to drive to work, but finds that the car won't start. Who's going to help with that task? Then your new resident arrives at work and remembers that in the confusion the coffee pot was left plugged, and there is no family nearby to go unplug it. Who can they turn to?

Obviously, you get the job. But how do you behave when asked? How "homey" does it feel if you act bothered and perturbed? What a difference if your attitude is "we're always glad, with a smile," "to help."

This attitude has to prevail when they lock themselves out. They already feel foolish enough without unkind words and hostile looks from you. Caring when you enter their apartment home is critical. Think how violated you'd feel with strangers running in and out of your home. Furthermore, with the holidays upon us, remember those who may be unable to go "home." Plan a holiday party, perhaps a Sunday brunch and introduce those far from their original home to others. Maybe even have one or two join you and your family for the holiday. You'll be surprised how good it will feel to you, as well as to them.

Most of all, everyday, all year long remind yourself that your smile, your interest, may be the only smile and the only help they'll get each day. Everyday that they encounter you and your staff they should feel "Welcome Home".

Now, for the bottom line. We give a lot of lip service to customer service. What if we made an effort at retaining our residents through genuine care and concern? It would be really hard for them to move away and leave the place that finally has given them a real home away from home. A place where they can say "I really am home for the holidays."

by Anne Sadovsky
one of Multi-housing's foremost marketing and motivational speakers.

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