If the sun was shy on a recent chilly Saturday morning in Suitland, the participants in Capital Crossing Community Planting Day were not: They plowed right in, planting about 1,000 tulip bulbs throughout the 359-unit low-rise rental complex, which sits just across the District border in Prince George's County. The event brought together about 30 residents, their children and the complex's staff.

Far from being a faceless apartment complex where residents come and go without knowing their neighbors, Capital Crossing considers itself a community. And Community Planting Day, now in its second year, is only one activity that brings residents together. Another feature of the complex, the Make a Difference Learning Center, is arguably the very heart of the place. The center offers a free after-school program that serves 25 children, ages 7 to 13, all Capital Crossing residents.

The Make a Difference Learning Center is sponsored by Capital Crossing's management company, William C. Smith & Co. Inc., and the Bank of America. "It is a hands-on program," coordinator Jacqueline McKinnon said.

From 3 to 6:30 p.m., children do their homework, have snacks, participate in arts and crafts workshops, and learn everything from computer skills to the basics of home economy, all supervised by McKinnon, an intern and a volunteer resident.

The center certainly made the difference for Linda Lee, an administrative assistant who moved to Capital Crossing less than a month ago. It was the deciding factor in choosing a new home for herself and her 9-year-old son, Michael.

"It gives Michael an opportunity to interact with other children," she said. "He loves it. If it were open 24 hours a day, he would be there."

Nonetheless, the after-school program was not the only thing that swayed Lee when she was apartment hunting. She liked the quietness of the place and the spacious two-bedroom apartment she found, much bigger than her old apartment at Shipley Park in Anacostia.

"I loved it from the front door to the back of the bedroom," she said. The dishwasher, which most units in the complex offer, also was a plus for her: "I'm happy there are no more dishes to wash."

The planting day was Lee's first time gardening, and she was curious to know if she would like the experience. She gave the event a thumbs-up afterward. 1/4I enjoyed very much, 3/8 she said, adding that she was happy to feel that the community was very family-oriented.

Dorothy Rhone helped on planting day too. She also volunteers at least three days a week at the Make a Difference Learning Center. "It helps the kids tremendously," she said.

Rhone, who is retired, has lived at Capital Crossing for 27 years and raised her only daughter, Penelope, now in her thirties, there. "I wish they'd had [an after-school center] when she was here," she said.

Over the years, the place has changed, Rhone said. The previous management did not take much of an interest in the community, but now things seem to be looking up again, she said. The William C. Smith Co., a real estate firm based in the District, took over management of the complex in 1997.

Two other William C. Smith communities, Washington View in Southeast Washington and Capital Courts in Capitol Heights, have Make a Difference centers as well. Overall, 125 children attend them.

The company has also offered a summer camp that included swimming lessons and, for teenagers, the Youth Summer Program, an initiative that since 1991 has offered entry-level summer jobs at the rental properties and also provides several workshops and other activities. This year, four Capital Crossing residents participated in the Youth Summer Program.

All the programs help to create strong community bonds at Capital Crossing. But more aesthetic aspects also attract prospective residents.

Well-kept grounds are high on the list, leasing consultant Tonya Owen said. It's a case of appearances counting: People see the landscaping and want to take a look at the model apartment, she said. Next spring the residents will enjoy the red and yellow tulips they just planted, and the community is already surrounded by mature trees.

In addition, all units offer either a balcony or a patio and lots of closet space. Tenants also are allowed to install an alarm system in their apartment, Owen said. All buildings have controlled access and the management will fence the community within the next few months.

The complex is right next door to the District, another plus for many tenants. "The location is great," said Cassandra Smallwood, a resident of four years. "It's very convenient for me." The bus stop right outside the complex's entrance serves her well, she said.

The turnover at Capital Crossing is low, community manager Sandra Walker said. And "when they move out," she added, "it's to buy a house."

Capital Crossing is 95 percent occupied and there is a short waiting list for three-bedroom apartments.

CAPITAL CROSSING

3930 Suitland Rd.

Suitland, Md. 20746

301-420-4800

* Application fee: $25

* Security deposit: From $200 up to one month's rent; refundable

* Lease term: 10 to 18 months; short-term options available

* Utilities: Gas and water included

* Amenities: Basketball court; fitness center; 24-hour maintenance; copier and fax service in the rental office; on-site day-care center

* Parking: Free outdoor lot

* Pet policy: No pets allowed

APARTMENT SIZE QUANTITY SQUARE FEET MONTHLY RENTAL

EFFICIENCY 1 605 $495

1BR/1BA 156 705 $510 to $595

2 BR/1BA 199 895 $585 to $695

3 BR/2 BA 3 1,015 $825