This is the first of three Marketing Matters that will focus on building community in your school. “Community” is defined by as “A social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.”

What it doesn’t say is that community is a living system. People enter and exit from time to time. Each entrance and each exit can have a profound impact on the community and the community’s image.

Look at your neighborhood, for instance. A long-time neighbor gets a job in a new city and relocates. The community has changed, since this person was the unofficial “watchdog” for the area. Then, a new family moves in with 5 children. If the community had just a few small children before, the activity level on the street will certainly increase.

Time is not only the greatest healer – it is a major force of change. We age. Children grow up.

Personally, the street where we used to live (a double cul-de-sac) had 22 children under the age of 18 when we moved in 23 years ago.

Fifteen years ago, there were 10;  ten years ago, there were 6.  Seven years ago, most of the residents were receiving mail beckoning them to join AARP.  Today, there are 11 children, since most of the residents who were empty-nesters have moved and younger families have moved in.

Since your school changes from year to year (as the highest class graduates and a new group of students enter, and every other child advances one grade level), your first week of school is a great time to have a “Back to School” picnic during the week.

It’s also a great time to get parents to sign up to volunteer for the different activities you have. Ask your PTG president to get involved – everyone brings a dish, and, perhaps, the school provides hot dogs and burgers. Hopefully there’s a dad who loves to grill and someone with a pickup truck to bring the grill to the event.

A family or two might even be able to bring a tent.

Your cafeteria has tables and chairs, and could be a convenient rain location. As for recouping the cost of the burgers and hot dogs, ask parents pay to $5, children pay $2. Collect it when the pick up their plate.

When my children were little, a new school opened in the area, and, as an officer of the new Parent-Teacher Organization, we decided that a back to school picnic would be a fun way to get everyone together to meet one another, tour the school, and sign-up for committees.

We budgeted a couple hundred dollars for the burgers, hot dogs and buns, and recouped the cost as described above.

Guess what?

Families said, “Here’s a 20 – keep the change. This is great! Can we do this every year?”

First year out, we made $500 on something that was just a “break-even” event.  The event became a huge “signature event,” until the pandemic, but it’s being considered once again as we begin to enter our “new normal.”

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner is haunted by a voice that urges him to build a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield: “If you build it, they will come.”

After this first picnic’s success, it made me realize, “If you cook it, they will come.”

Nothing builds community like food – not just for the body, but for the mind…and, for the soul as well.  Gathering around the table always is a time of blessing – whether it’s the kitchen table, the dining room table, the picnic table, or the table where we worship and give thanks for all the blessings we’ve been given!

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2007-2022 (Original Publication Date: 20070813)