The Columbia Association headquarters. (TBM / Jason Whong)

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to meet Zackary Colbert. The Vietnam War veteran works at Supreme Sports Club, arriving in the wee hours of the morning to greet early risers and run operations at the facility. When the pandemic was in full force, he had to choose between seeing his kids in person and returning to the front desk.

Zackary came back. He said he missed the members. He worried about everyone’s well-being. The space, he said, is a part of him.

Maybe you’ve run into Columbia Art Center Director Liz Henzey who provides an endless supply of sunshine wherever she goes. Perhaps you’ve been exposed to the persistent positivity and professionalism of Open Space Special Projects Foreman Rene Ordonez out in open space. Your student may experience the care and compassion of our youth programs team. Maybe you’re familiar with the expertise and ingenuity of our sustainability crew. Or perhaps you have partaken in the pickleball craze and subsequently shared in the pride of the racket sports squad. This is only scratching the surface of the vastness of the organization and excellence of the team.

It can be easy for me — for all of us — to take for granted what these people contribute not just to a workplace but to the betterment of the community. It takes collective effort, shared values and intentionality. It takes a lot of things going right.

A recent opinion piece entitled “What’s wrong with the Columbia Association?” pointed out some of the challenges CA faces and some “quick fixes” to pursue in order to move forward. Simultaneously, it was asserted that expecting the organization to change would be a “waste of time.” 

Real, meaningful change takes time and consistent effort. I would challenge the community to not only expect CA to adapt, but to be actively engaged in that evolution. 

One of the many ways to be involved is to participate in the upcoming village elections, the results of which will affect who serves on your respective village board and CA’s Board of Directors. Each of the 10 villages runs its own elections, and while CA encourages civic engagement at all levels, the organization plays no role in the process. In other words, CA does not — and cannot — recruit or endorse candidates, but we understand the mutual benefit of diverse representation that is truly reflective of our community.

CA’s Board of Directors is charged with setting high level strategic direction for the organization, which includes approving the annual budget (60% of which is funded by the annual charge residents and businesses pay each year). Additionally, the Board seated in May could lead the process for the five-year strategic plan and will have significant input into who becomes the next President/CEO. While it was implied this body has “limited power,” its influence has the potential to be lasting and impactful.

Local leadership matters. Representation at all levels matters. Understanding unique perspectives. Welcoming new people to the table matters. But again, it takes work, whether that’s filling out a survey, showing up for a webinar, conducting a national search for top talent or casting a vote.

In spite of everything the organization faces, there’s a lot right with CA. We are more than a homeowners association. CA is a true community service provider, committed to — as our mission states — improving lives here in Columbia. People like Zackary, Liz, Rene and hundreds of other CA team members embody just that.

So instead of asking, “What’s wrong with the Columbia Association?”, I’d pose a different question: What can CA be?

The answer will continue to change, but we will ask together.

Dannika Rynes is Columbia Association Sr. Manager of Communications & Media Relations.