Bricks and mortar aren’t the only signs of increasing lifestyle opportunities in The Villages.
Take, for instance, the number of resident-coordinated art clubs in the community, as reported last week in the Daily Sun.
Today, these lifestyle clubs number more than 100, up from just a couple a decade or so ago.
It takes just one motivated Villager to enhance those numbers, like Mary Tougas, of the Village of Fenney.
A year ago this March, Tougas took on the role of coordinator of the Fenney Colored Pencil Painters, a workshop of The Villages Colored Pencil Painters Guild.
The workshop now attracts an average of two dozen artists to the monthly gatherings at Fenney Recreation Center, Tougas said. That’s up from the few members who attended the first meeting in her home garage.
“We have new people all the time,” she said. “I get great satisfaction from it. The people I’ve met because of it are phenomenal. We’re creating lasting friends down here. It’s fantastic.”
The growth at the Fenney club mirrors what happened with the parent organization, said Renee Conboy, president of the Colored Pencil Painters Guild.
“It has surprised me,” she said.
Only a small number of artists practiced colored pencil art in The Villages when Conboy moved to the Village of Glenbrook 13 years ago with her husband, Mark.
Now, the guild has 209 members, with nearly every one of them preparing for the guild’s seventh annual art show, the Jubilee, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 16 at Colony Cottage Recreation Center.
“When the group first started, colored pencil was not really recognized as an art medium in The Villages,” Conboy said. “What people think about is what we used to do in school, crayons and colored pencils. But this is original artwork. We’re creating artwork using our own photos and using them as reference. This is a hobby for me. I never even imagined I could do anything when it came to art. I never did.”
Also: Lifestyle opportunity applies to the increasing number of assisted-living communities serving residents in and around The Villages. There are now around 1,367 state-licensed assisted-living beds in the area, according to Daily Sun research published last week. It wasn’t that way a decade ago. In fact, the only available assisted-living facilities then in The Villages became a part of what now is the Freedom Pointe continuing care community on El Camino Real just west of Morse Boulevard. The assisted-living community at this Brookdale Senior Living property expanded in April 2015 to add 105 units. Around the same time, the Sumter Place assisted-living community, on County Road 466A east of Buena Vista Boulevard, opened with around 168 units. The availability of assisted-living units only has grown since then.
Also: Old friends returning for the winter season account for the increased number of residents currently in the community, according to research the Daily Sun published last week. Every year, Sumter County and The Villages welcome around 14,000 seasonal residents, Rich Doty, a research demographer with the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida, told the Daily Sun. Lake County attracts an average 22,000 seasonal residents this time of year; Marion County, 18,000. “We estimate about 12,000 snowbirds currently (live in The Villages), and we expect that to grow,” Doty said.
Also: Only two weeks ago, Voyage Auto took a historic trip in The Villages. It gave Sally Moss, of the Village of Virginia Trace, the first ride in its self-driving taxi. She and three other Virginia Trace residents were selected to participate in this pilot program that still relies on a safety driver and a data technician as the technology company prepares to expand the autonomous taxi service throughout The Villages. Each of the four will provide critical feedback for the company’s goal of expanding the service neighborhood by neighborhood until it is safely capable of traversing The Villages, said Tom Hauburger, Voyage Auto director of product.. Safety remains the No. 1 priority, he said, but comfort and quality customer service rank high on the list. “One of Voyage Auto’s many goals is to deliver a ride that’s so uneventful that you forget you’re in a self-driving vehicle because it feels so normal.” In the coming months, the company will announce the location of free “try-ride” events throughout The Villages for all residents, he said. Residents are welcome to apply for the program via ridevoyage.com or by calling 352-268-1495.
David R. Corder is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or email@example.com.