The Nicest Place in Florida: The Villages
NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2019 FINALIST
"Florida's Friendliest Hometown"
A community of senior citizens remember the young men and women serving overseas by sending them goody bags chock-full of treats.
A lot of people think of Florida as a place for retirees, although the truth is that this state of some 21.6 million people has all kinds of folks living there. But there is a place in Florida that is, indeed, for retirees. It’s a land of golf carts decked out like Rolls-Royces, dances with classic tunes, and, of course, shuffleboard: The Villages, a 55+ community about 90 minutes from Orlando that some 125,000 retirees call home.
It’s also home to one of the biggest volunteer operations in the country, focused solely on bringing joy to people who put their lives at risk for America’s freedom every day.
Every week, up to 400 residents volunteer at the local American Legion, the largest chapter in the country. They run a factory of sorts for Operation Shoebox, a nonprofit that sends care packages to soldiers deployed overseas. Villagers make and stuff hand-sewn “ditty bags” filled with treats, magazines, and toiletries.
“People are very generous,” says coordinator Camille Gieck. “It’s very gratifying to know that we are providing active-duty servicemen and -women with a little piece of home.”
One soldier, 19, hadn’t gotten anything from home at all before receiving a package from Operation Shoebox, according to Gieck. The soldier’s captain wrote a letter of thanks.
“The smile on that kid’s face just lit up the room,” the captain wrote. The very next day, that soldier was killed on patrol.
“It’s so important for them to know that someone back home cares about them, appreciates them,” says Gieck.
Villagers also attend to needs closer to home. As soon as a new household moves in, the neighbors spring into action, bringing brownies and casseroles and pointing the newcomers to the many clubs and activities. Residents look out for each other and take care of each other. If someone gets sick, their new friends will call their children and arrange hospital visits.
“They call this place Disney for retirees,” says resident Laura Vien. “When my kids come to visit me, they say, ‘Oh, I’m going to live here when I’m old enough.’”
We are a 55+ active adult community with all the health care, retail, commercial services accessible by golf cart. Beautiful flowers, and shrubbery and pristine gorgeous golf courses line all the roads. A simple, safe and healthy community.
There are dozens of examples of kindness. Recently we helped a man who passed out at the mailbox. We and another neighbor found his name and address. We brought his dog home and explained the situation to his wife who got to her husband.
On the way home from the pool, there was a serious accident—a woman was thrown from her golf cart—and couldn’t speak. Neighbors cleared the road, made sure she was as comfortable as possible and found her phone to figure out how to notify her family members. Neighbors step right up to offer residents their home to stay after fire destroyed their homes. Lost a golf club? A wallet? A sweater? Money? Not to worry—the lost item is turned in and the owner found. Need at ride? People volunteer at no charge.
Speaking of volunteering, Operation Shoebox ships food to military. We have the largest American Legion in the country. Hundreds of residents volunteer at the local hospital and hospice. There are nearly 3,000 clubs in The Villages all led by volunteers—cards, exercise, yoga, quilting, woodworking, pottery, jazz band, orchestra, booster club for High School, computer clubs, language clubs. Plus, every single night of the year, there is free entertainment, music in our three town squares. People gather to dance, listen to the music and enjoy the beautiful environment. Our community designed to encourage healthy living: tennis, golf, pickleball, volleyball, bocce, adult pools, family pools, sports pools, 80 recreation centers, cycling, running and more.
The Best Neighbors During My Toughest Time
My mother-in-law was ill back home in Michigan. She soon died. Then I had to have surgery and then my husband died shortly after. We were new here and the last thing I wanted was to be alone. I’ve been surrounded by the best neighbors anyone could hope for. They took care of my house when I was in Michigan; they fed us; they told me to leave my door open so they could fill my refrigerator for family to eat. A neighbor who owns an escape room tried to keep everyone distracted after the funeral. I couldn’t have gotten through this tough year without them. I’ve found my family here.
This nomination came through ourpartnership with Nextdoor, the world’s largest social network for neighborhoods.