The Villages – A Model for the Nation

July 30, 2015 8:00 am
By DREXLER B. JAMES, Daily Sun Staff Writer

America could learn something from The Villages when it comes to volunteering.
While the rest of the country is losing volunteers, Villagers just keep finding more ways to help each other and the rest of the surrounding community. Since 2011, there has been a steady decrease overall in the number of volunteers in America. In 2011, nearly 27 percent of Americans volunteered; in 2014, a little more than 25 percent reported volunteering.

But in The Villages, new community service groups form frequently, and Villagers are always looking for new ways to get involved. John Langan swelled with pride as his son, Joey, worked to make sandwiches for Fruitland Park residents last week.
It was a new service project for the Kiwanis Aktion Club of Lady Lake, a club for special-needs adults and an example of the continued growth of volunteerism in The Villages.

“We’re always looking for things to do in the community,” said Langan, of the Village of Buttonwood.

The Aktion Club made more than 80 sandwiches through the Lunch Brigade program at New Life Presbyterian Church in Fruitland Park.
And club members will continue to find new projects to help others in the community.

“I like to see their smiling faces as they receive the items you give them,” said Aktion Club president Laura Johns, of the Village of Sanibel.

Other clubs in The Villages have expanded the amount of volunteer work and activities in which their members participate.
The Spiritual Friendship Club, a club for mentally challenged adults, started off 10 years ago helping out with vacation Bible school at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Wildwood.

But as the church and the club have grown, so have the number of volunteer opportunities members have become involved with, leader Mariagnes Moran said. They now volunteer at church events, nursing homes and the local hospital.

“I think it’s wonderful that they still feel the need to give back,” said Moran, of the Village of Lynnhaven.

Many of the organizations and programs Villagers are involved in focus on specific topics, such as education, children, hunger and homelessness.

The continued growth of Camp Villages is another example of the growth of volunteer efforts in The Villages.
Lisa Parkyn, recreation lifestyle events manager, said Villagers flood the phone lines every year, asking how they can get involved with volunteering.

Camp Villages would not be a success without the work and efforts of its volunteers, Parkyn said.
“Without volunteers … it would be difficult to pull them all together,” Parkyn said. “Some of them aren’t even involved in clubs, they just want to do it on their own.”

Some organizations have so many members dedicated to the cause that they have run out of space to gather.
Angel Snugs, a charity sewing group, has more than 100 members split between two locations: La Hacienda and Big Cypress recreation centers.

Giving Dolls, another charity sewing group, has had meetings with standing room only when gathering at Truman Recreation Center.
“It’s a good sign,” said President Jan Vandeberghe, of the Village of Duval. “We have a lot of support from this community. It’s the most giving community in the world and I think we have some of the best ladies in the world in this group.”

As The Villages continues to grow, so do the number of clubs dedicated to service projects and helping out the community.
The Hometown Civitan Club is a recent addition to the growing ranks of volunteer and service organizations.

Village of Collier resident Betty Rohan, a former member of the Uptown Civitan Club in Jacksonville, founded the club earlier this year.

“My feeling is this,” she said. “You live on this Earth by the good that you do. I feel that, at this stage of my life, it’s time to give back, and what better way to give back than through a group like this?”
Since forming the club, members have engaged in numerous activities and projects, and extending their reach into neighboring communities such as Wildwood, Leesburg and Umatilla.

Hometown Civitan provides yet another way for Villagers to impact their community.
“I have found a lot of people who want to serve, who want to give back, but they don’t know the avenue to do so,” Rohan said. “And that’s where the Civitan club comes in.”

Like many other Villagers and organizations, the organization’s goal is changing the community for the better in any and every way possible.

“That’s really what it is, making a difference, one person at a time,” Rohan said.

Drexler B. James is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9245, or drexler.james@thevillagesmedia.com.