Bess Auer is a third generation central Florida resident who proudly gives back to her home state with her passion for community building. She is a graduate of the University of Florida, author of Unio, The Art of Intentional Community Building, a former classroom teacher, and was the Founder of Florida Blogger & Social Media Conference and Florida Swim Network.
I met up with Bess at her home just north of downtown Orlando where she and her husband Joe have transformed their property into a beautiful, eclectic paradise.
As a former English teacher, Bess encouraged her students to try and get published in their writing because she felt writing for a real audience was much better than simply writing for a teacher. After discovering blogging years later, she shifted her students' attention to publishing their own work through blogs. This led her into the blogging world.
Bess loves to learn and isn’t afraid to fail in her pursuit of original creativity. She dives head first into everything she does, and rather than mimicking what others do, she finds joy in creating things in her own way.
One of the things that stands out about Bess is that she learns by taking action. When she fell head long into the blogging world, she wanted to know more about it so she started the Florida Blogger & Social Media Conference. She brought together her passions for blogging and for Florida to create a conference by Florida bloggers, for Florida bloggers.
Bess and her husband Joe also launched the Florida Swim Network during this time. Bess was spending hours at swim meets and found herself going stir crazy since the actual competitions would last hours, but her son’s swim time would only last a couple minutes. This led both her and Joe in 2009 to come up with the idea to webcast the swim meets. Their platform was in the top 3 swimming websites in the nation and they were soon hired by ESPN to broadcast college swim meets. For them this was their chance to be innovative, learn something and invest back into their Florida community.
By leaning into things that give us joy, we’re able to relax and survive.
I asked Bess what pushes her to pursue community building. What is it that drives her in that direction? She reflected on something she read, called glimmers. Glimmers are the little things that give you sparks of joy in your life. For her it can be watching her Koi fish swim, or the meaning behind the pictures of family hanging in her home. But it’s also her community. She said, “It’s by leaning into things that give us joy, we’re able to relax and survive.” Seeing her community actively growing, and for herself, playing a part in it, is the glimmer for Bess.
Throughout Orlando there are a lot of community builders. People bringing together dads, game developers, whiskey lovers, and more. These are the people who give their time, money and passions to bring connection to those who are looking for like-minded people. These leaders often sacrifice their personal time to accomplish these things and burnout is a real thing. Passion and joy can only go so far, and as Bess puts it, “Joy doesn’t pay the mortgage.”
So what is the best approach to effectively build community? Here are three points she shared in our conversation if you want to be a community builder and turn it into a business:
When you think of the community you’re building, ask yourself, is it online or is it in person? Are you creating a space where the community wants to be? How much time are you spending creating it and how can you compensate yourself for it? And lastly, is what you’re doing creating value for the community?
Bess recalls her dad taking the time to make small talk with everyone he met. He wanted to make everyone feel valued. Whether it was holding up a line at a drive through to inquire about the person behind the window or talking to the mattress salesman for an hour, he engaged with everyone from all walks of life. As a child, Bess would get embarrassed that he’d do this with everyone, everywhere they went. She now cherishes those memories as they were the example that she now follows when it comes to intentional community building and finding the glimmer in her own journey.
For Bess, the Orlando life is a wonderful mixture of experiences that involve all generations. When I asked how she defines it, she reflected on her family history here, her upbringing, her son now being engaged in the community. She sees Orlando as this young, vibrant, family oriented place that offers a number of different experiences for different people.