- April 11, 2018
Country Club's Patrick Duggan was playing cornhole in a virtual world, sponsored by Schroeder-Manatee Ranch (SMR), that included a touch of reality.
"I'm not very good at cornhole in person, and I'm not very good virtually," he said with a laugh.
But at least he gets to play.
Duggan had been bringing his family to Ranch Nights on Wednesdays at the Sarasota Polo Club to listen to music, to enjoy the food trucks and to play cornhole as part of the social programming put together by SMR and its Director of Community Relations Monaca Onstad.
When COVID-19 shut down public gatherings, Lakewood Ranch residents might have wondered if their social calendar would be extremely limited.
But Onstad and her team at SMR brainstormed and came up with an online schedule to continue social interaction during a difficult time.
"I am genuinely appreciative of the things SMR does for our community," Duggan said. "They continue to be creative."
Creativity was the driving force behind Onstad earning the 2017 Lifestyle Director of the Year Award from the National Association of home Builders' National Sales and Marketing Council. She won the Bull by the Horns Award from the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance in 2018 for her ability take on challenges.
The current challenge has been to keep alive the more than 100 social programs she has developed during her time with SMR.
SMR CEO and President Rex Jensen has talked about the importance of selling more than just homes. He often says that lifestyle is a primary driver when people are trying to make a decision where to live and that people select a community before they pick a home.
Jensen selected Onstad to develop that programming.
But how do you keep that rich lifestyle going when everyone has to stay home?
"Oh my goodness, I've been doing this 20 years," Onstad said. "This has been the most challenging couple of weeks. Facing this horrible pandemic has been a challenge emotionally. But from a programming standpoint, we had to do our jobs, and my team had to brainstorm. It has been interesting and it has kept our minds off things."
Her SMR team had to find social events that would translate to the virtual world.
SMR went to Chris McComas, the founder of MVP Sports and Social, for suggestions. McComas had been running a cornhole league at Ranch Nights and he said he could take that activity online. He sets up the matches and the participants set up the cornhole equipment in their backyards. Each participant takes a shot that can be seen online, and then the opponents follows. Duggan said he hasn't had any success during the Wednesday program (7 p.m.), but it has been fun.
For those feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic, Mindful Moments/A Virtual Self Care Tool Kit is held each Tuesday in collaboration with the Brain Health Initiative. Meditation expert Trish Hart guides some of the proceedings, which includes meditations, readings and yoga tips. Hart also leads Keep Calm and Carry On/Virtual Community Meditation on Thursday evenings at 7 p.m.
For the kids, East County artist Kori Clark leads Create for Care/Art Projects for Kids on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Clark leads a different art project each week the kids can do at home. When the projects are finished, Lakewood Ranch Medical Center will print them and put together a collage in the hospital.
Fit Tip Fridays runs at 10 a.m. each week with Anchor Fitness owner Graham Anderson leading the fitness sessions.
On Sundays, a Virtual Community Brunch is held at 1 p.m. with gospel singer Shantel Norman doing live performances.
For a complete list of events and schedules, go to facebook.com/pg/LakewoodRanch/events.
"We have learned a lot and we still are learning," Onstad said.
Live music has been a hit. Duggan said he has enjoyed the Ranch Night music on his lanai with his family. Musician Trevor Bystrom performed April 8 on a Ranch Night and drew more than 9,000 views.
Onstad she was possibly most emotional during this time when she listened to Norman perform during a Sunday virtual brunch concert.
"It was something the community needed," she said. "We want to give them some normalcy back."
Onstad said her team is trying to be selective with the programming, which she wants to keep at a high quality level. She said feedback from the community hasn't been rating their experience as much as it has been offered to show appreciation for the effort.
"Our lives are all different now," Onstad said. "So we are doing a lot of trial and error. We are hoping we give people some time to breathe."