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Most dictionaries sum up the definition of the word “dude” quite succinctly: “a guy.” Some might use the definition of “a man.” Others might elaborate further, going so far as to suggest that a dude is a man from the city with little knowledge of rural life. Regardless of which of these definitions you choose, the Dudes of Canyon Hills wear the name proudly.

Cottonwood Canyon Hills in Lake Elsinore, California is one of the larger HOAs in the state, yet year after year, they manage to make their community function more like a small town where neighbors truly care about neighbors. The Dudes are made up of over 600 men who each play a small part in shaping the neighborhood. While still an informal group, the goals are somewhat defined.

By using social media, the Dudes are determined to create situations where people meet people. Whether it’s through their helping-hand group where homeowners can post requests for help with home improvement projects, free community-wide events and BBQs, or neighborhood watch, or it’s through a community outreach event where large groups work together for a common cause, meaningful connections are continuously made.

The Community Events Board (CEB) is at the heart of much of what the Dudes do. Drew Jaime, Manny Rosales, Daniel McKee, and Scott Meredith get together every year starting around July, to start hashing out the logistics of the annual Christmas parade. As Christmas closes in, the number of Dudes in the ranks of volunteers swells to attack the different projects needing to be finished by the start of the parade.  At first, it was a simple event. A couple of cars and a makeshift float would travel around the community extending holiday greetings to neighbors. As the event gained in popularity, the need for more and more planning emerged. Today the scale of this event is massive and extends well beyond the boundaries of the association.

Now city leaders and officials, police and fire departments, school choir programs, community businesses, and even the local minor league baseball team play integral roles in the parade. The county transit system participates by decorating its old-fashioned style trolley bus. Because of the size of both the parade and the community, the whole event takes two nights to completely traverse the route through the neighborhood and culminates with Santa Claus mingling and posing for pictures with the kids. In keeping with the Christmas spirit, free hot chocolate and treats are provided for everyone.

While this parade takes place completely within the boundaries of Cottonwood Canyon Hills, the entire city looks forward to the annual tradition, yet no one from the city government is nearly as involved in putting it all together as the team of volunteer Dudes and their families.

No matter the activity, the primary purpose of the Dudes is simple. They exist to help neighbors live as true neighbors.

Just in case that wasn’t enough, in recent years, the Dudes have gotten involved in coordinating a local toy drive for children that coincides with the Christmas parade. At the end of the parade, members of the United States Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program receive the collected toys from Santa. Two days after that, the Dudes turn it all around as they distribute these gifts to less fortunate children in the city and surrounding areas. Because of the huge response they received last year, this year’s toy distribution event will take place at the minor league baseball stadium where the Lake Elsinore Storm play a vital role in community events.

Last year the Dudes provided gifts for around 800 children, and this year they hope to double or triple that number. Because the city of Lake Elsinore is bisected by a lake, the Dudes are working with the local school district to get bussing to the stadium so kids on the other side of the lake can also have access to the toy drive.

Future Dudes’ plans include fundraisers for the Ronald McDonald House and CHOC (Children’s Hospital of Orange County). The Ronald McDonald House is an organization dedicated to providing housing for families of hospitalized children so parents never have to be far from their sick kids.

All of this community involvement was launched by the group’s leader, Drew Jaime, and it continues with the help of the four Dudes on the Community Events Board. With a cowboy hat clamped firmly on his head, Drew separates himself from the stereotypical definition of a dude by simultaneously resonating with his rural upbringing as he dives into the suburban needs of his local community. Having lived in both a rural small town and a suburban HOA, Drew has a unique perspective that allows him to merge two opposing lifestyles into one cohesive community.

In addition to his full-time job, he and the Dudes board recently launched a non-profit organization called The DOCH Foundation to serve their community. Drew’s vision is endless and his passion for his community shows in his efforts.

While the Dudes of Canyon Hills is made up of men in the community, its goal is to provide opportunities for the whole family. Spouses and significant others regularly participate in community events by simply attending or lending a helping hand.

No matter the activity, the primary purpose of the Dudes is simple. They exist to help neighbors live as true neighbors. The big events often grab the spotlight, but plenty more happens on a smaller scale. Some Dudes are content just connecting on social media. Others prefer to lend a tool or join a work party. Once the chores are done and the sweat starts to dry, some will grab a beer and hang out with other Dudes in the neighborhood while enjoying a ball game.

When social media is combined with personal connections, a large community suddenly becomes a small town — a place where neighbors not only know your name, but actually care. The Dudes of Canyon Hills understand that being a neighbor takes time and commitment, and it’s a commitment they are willing to make.