For the last nine years, Page Austin has made a career of welcoming newcomers to Harvest, a master-planned community of thousands of homes in Denton County.
“This is actually the first community where we put lifestyle on the map,” she told The Dallas Express. “Hillwood wanted a community where people know each other and have a sense of belonging. To us, neighbors aren’t just neighbors. They become your family.”
And it’s Austin’s job to make sure Harvest residents have that opportunity.
“Nine years ago, this idea didn’t really exist,” she said. “Properties are trying to do lifestyle like we can, but they haven’t hit the mark with it. It’s really hard to change the culture if you wait until you have a bunch of homes on the ground. It takes an investment.”
“It costs money upfront from the developer for my salary and the event budget,” Austin said. “Once we get homes on the ground, HOA dues are going to cover all of those expenses. When the developer leaves this community, people can still enjoy the program that brought them here. They wanted someone like me on the ground on day one.”
As lifestyle manager, Austin, 45, is responsible for planning regular events, large and small, for community residents. But connecting neighbors begins well before they meet for social gatherings.
“I’m involved in the local community, with our local schools and superintendents,” she said. “Our schools are on site. I go to kids’ soccer games and football games. I know the mayor. I know the police chief. If you come to the events — not just the big ones — you stay active, and you continue to know people.”
When prospective residents visit Harvest, Austin explains what makes it different from other master-planned communities. That conversation, of course, includes how she can help enrich their lives.
“When you have a culture where people do things and gather — that’s what this community does,” she told The Dallas Express. “It makes a huge difference. I’m the host of the party. If you move in and have a boy who is 7, I’m going to say, ‘Hey, here’s this family, and they have a boy the same age and he plays ball.’ I make those introductions, and they become friends.”
When Austin started her work with Hillwood, about 100 homes had been built at Harvest.
“We had no events on the calendar,” she said. “We didn’t have a website or anything. During my first 90 days, I had 25 events on the calendar. We had social media going. We do stuff for men only and women only and for teens and tweens. Everyone in every season of life feels like they belong here. This place feels like home.”
In that way, Harvest is unlike other communities, Austin said.
“Most of them don’t bring in someone like me on day one. They just make it look like a fun community. But when the developers leave and the fancy events go away, the HOA has a social event that’s very small — typically run by homeowners. To have someone like me on-site doing something every week is a fairly new concept. My small events get 200 people. My large events get over 2,000.”
A graduate of Mississippi State University, Austin worked on Capitol Hill and was at the White House on 9/11.
“I was a political science major and had an internship at the Senate majority leader’s office,” she said. “I also worked for Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s campaign as a college Republican. A staffer got me an internship at Karl Rove’s office the next year.”
When Austin graduated in 2002, she worked as a staffer for former First Lady Laura Bush.
“Mrs. Bush would tell us that she wanted to go to Africa, and I would figure out how to get her there,” she said. “I worked with the Department of State and determined what programs are doing really well that Mrs. Bush could spotlight. I would plan the trip, visit all the places, determine where she needed to go, and brief her. I did all of her events for seven years.”
Austin described the former first lady as an introvert who loves to read. Rove, former President George W. Bush’s senior advisor and deputy chief of staff, was “very demanding and very intelligent,” she said.
“Interns were basically like staffers,” she said. “President Bush is so funny and so kind. He is very personable and just loves people. But when I worked for Mrs. Bush, when you briefed them for events, they were two totally different people. She wanted to read everything, but the amount of information President Bush could absorb by people just telling him was just impressive.”
The Bush family lives in the Preston Hollow area of Dallas. Austin said she and other former staffers meet them every few years for private events.
“When they chose to put the presidential library at SMU, they also chose to put roots here,” she said. “I have a dog, George, and I named him after President Bush. He has more Instagram followers than I do.”
Austin said she met the president right after 9/11 at the White House. He had just returned to the capital and was shaking hands when she wanted to get a look at him.
“He was standing at the doorway of the cafeteria,” she said. “He wanted to thank everyone for their service, for coming back to the White House. I had to go the long way to my office because the press was blocking the stairwell. The president was already up there, and I went in again to shake his hand.”
That’s when he recognized Austin, and his reaction surprised her.
“He said, ‘I’ve already met you down there, didn’t I?’ My eyes got big. He said, ‘It’s okay. I’m just the president! I’m just the president!’ Secretary [Condoleezza] Rice was with him, and she laughed.”
Austin is from Mandeville, Louisiana, a city on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans.