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A Summer Camp for Adults

Saturday, December 20, 2008
By Rachel Sauer

Special to The Palm Beach Post

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Before this can go any further, a distinction must be made: Retirement is one thing. Active adult is another thing entirely.

Say "retirement community" and billowing clouds of blue hair spring immediately to mind. That's followed by images of creaky knees and early-bird specials - the usual stereotypes of being older than 55 and living in Florida. Which isn't to say that image doesn't have a certain charm, but that's not Valencia Pointe. At all.

"This is not a retirement community," emphasized Billie Cohen, who moved to Valencia Pointe in June with her husband, Gerry. "It's active adult. There's a big difference."

The difference, perhaps, is that while the Boynton Beach community is 55 and up, not everyone who lives here is retired. And of the ones who are, it's more of a "retirement" in quotation marks. An alleged retirement, because wow, are they busy - and thrilled to be. That's one of the main reasons people live here.

A GL Homes community begun in mid-2006, Valencia Pointe is as much about the lifestyle as it is the homes, said Jill DiDonna, a division president of GL Homes.

"It's like summer camp for adults," she said. "People are retiring younger and they're embracing retirement. The idea of an active adult community is a concept that didn't really exist 10 years ago, but we're seeing a real shift in the sort of lifestyle people are looking for."

At build-out, the community on Woolbright Road west of Jog Road will have 690 homes; 570 currently are sold, DiDonna said. "And even with the housing market crunch, we're still closing, still selling, still building," she said, adding that 150 Valencia Pointe homes have sold this year alone.

Currently, there are 16 different home plans available, ranging in price from $309,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home with 1,773 square feet to $617,900 for a 3-bedroom, 4 1/2 -bath home with 4,434 square feet. GL Homes manages the community, and maintenance fees are $330 per month, which includes landscaping, exterior maintenance, basic cable, alarm monitoring, some community activities and the clubhouse.

Oh, yes, the clubhouse: 35,000 square feet of everything residents want and need. There's a fitness center that's open 24 hours, six tennis courts, a grand ballroom with a professional stage, an Internet cafe, a poker room, card rooms, a catering kitchen, a lap pool, resistance pool and regular pool, an art studio with a kiln, a half-basketball court, a nine-hole putting green, classrooms, a billiards room and... well, you get the picture.

"This whole program is resident-driven," said Amber Castonguay, lifestyle director at Valencia Pointe. "Every resident, when they come in, I try to meet with them individually and ask them to fill out a four-page questionnaire so we can specialize and target their needs. We're not coming in and saying, 'This is what it should be.' The residents are telling us what it should be."

In fact, Castonguay said, residents only have to approach her with an interest and a club is born. That's why there currently are 74 clubs in Valencia Pointe, with new ones starting all the time. There's a travel club and a wine club, men's golf and women's golf, pinochle and poker, a fishing club and a motorcycle club, photography and several book clubs, a singles club, a gay and lesbian club, boating, cooking, bridge, crafts and art. Plus, there are social service groups like Hadassah and the Papanicolaou Corps for Cancer Research, as well as performing arts groups and the Rockodiles rock 'n' roll club.

To name just a few.

"There's always something going on here," Castonguay said, and a stroll through the clubhouse is evidence. At any given time, there could be people having a sandwich in the cafe, women playing mah-jongg, couples lounging on the pool deck, people doing yoga or pilates or Zumba, new artists creating watercolors and ceramics in the art studio and doting grandparents watching their grandchildren play on the jungle gym outside the clubhouse.

There are Broadway-style shows in the ballroom, dances, dinners, cocktail hours and parties, and each club has its own activities, "so you can be as busy as you want, or, if you feel like it, you can do nothing at all," Castonguay said.

"You always have something to do here, if you want," said resident Dave Orkin, who recently became president of the 160-member Men's Club at Valencia Pointe. "And the people here are so dynamic, so active. This place has young older people. There's just something in the air, in the atmosphere. We have people who have come from every facet of life molding together. People are just happy to be together.

"And I think part of it is what GL (Homes) has done for us. In these bad times right now, they make us feel like we made the smart choice moving here."

THEIR HOME: A 4-bedroom, 212 -bath, 2,758-square-foot home with a gourmet kitchen, formal dining room, separate living and family rooms, covered patio, master suite and lake views.


WHEN THEY MOVED IN: November 2006

WHAT THEY PAID: $650,471

CURRENT VALUES (from Zillow.com): Home too new, no value listed.

WHY THEY LOVE IT: In a way, Dave and Arlene Orkin are Valencia Pointe pioneers, one of the first residents of the community.

That's always a risk, of course, taking a chance on a place in which you could live for the rest of your life. Will the house feel like home? Will the community be everything it's promised? Will the neighbors be nice? Will we be happy?

To their delight, the answer to each question has been yes.

Before moving in, they looked at most of the home models available, finally settling on a model that just felt right. It has enough space for their two children and their granddaughter to visit, and is a showcase for the art and mementos they've collected in their world travels. They even decorated it themselves, a labor of love that felt, at times, "like a full-time job," Dave joked.

But more than just their home, they are thrilled with their community.

"We never had neighbors who were also our friends before," Arlene said. "Here, everyone overlooks things. We're here, and we're probably here for the rest of our lives, so everyone makes an effort to get along. You're building friendships and you're watching one another's backs. This particular community has the most incredible group of people."

"This is like a honeymoon all over again," Dave added.

While Arlene still works as a financial planner, Dave is fully enjoying retirement, though not the stereotypical kind. He's busy. He recently became president of the men's club, which has gone from 17 to 160 members in less than two years. The club has a full roster of events and activities (and makes a point of inviting women to all of them), which he organizes and oversees.

Also, he and Arlene go to shows in the clubhouse, play poker, and have a tight-knit group of friends who live on their street and with whom they have frequent dinners and parties.

"It's fun," Dave said. "It doesn't matter what kind of function it is, we close the place down."



THEIR HOME: A 2-bedroom, 212 -bath, 2,744-square-foot open design home with a gourmet kitchen, covered patio, master retreat and home office.


WHAT THEY PAID: $686,733

CURRENT VALUES (from Zillow.com): Home too new, no value listed.

WHY THEY LOVE IT: Before they retired, back when they were building their careers, Gerry and Billie Cohen moved around a bit - from New York to Florida to Connecticut to Illinois and, finally, back to Florida. They were on the go and busy, so retirement six years ago came as something of a deep breath.

But then, well, how still can one really sit? And for how long? They were used to going and doing, the very embodiment of the new retirement. So when they started thinking about where they really wanted to settle in, "we looked for a community that had a more active adult lifestyle," Billie explained.

A Realtor friend recommended they look at Valencia Pointe, and they were sold on the homes and the community.

"My husband and I had lived in a house with an open floor plan in Chicago," Billie said. "We like the flow of it. We love the casual, open feel. It's just the three of us - Casey and us - so it fits our lifestyle, where the space is not broken up. And we don't have kids, so we didn't need a lot of space for guests."

If they were so inclined, they could spend hours lounging in their airy living room or kitchen, gazing at the lake view behind their home. And they certainly do appreciate what they see, but they don't have a lot of time for sitting around. They're busy.

Billie is in the women's golf club, in Hadassah and the Papanicolaou Corps for Cancer Research, plus she's heading the Valencia Pointe team for the multiple sclerosis walk March 1. She plays mah-jongg and canasta, mentors young business women, does water aerobics and the 20/20/20 fitness class. Jerry is in the point-and-shoot camera club, and he and Casey, a therapy dog, are involved with the Pawprints on Your Heart Club.

The couple also go to all the shows at the clubhouse, of which there are many, and enjoy the usual round of dinners and evenings with friends.

"You meet so many nice people here," Billie said. "It's not only a lifestyle- and age-appropriate community, it's a strong community. Your neighbors become your friends. It really is a very warm, welcoming community."


THEIR HOME: A 3-bedroom,

212 -bathroom, 2,480-square-foot home with a two-story foyer and living room, separate family room, gourmet kitchen and covered patio.

WHEN THEY MOVED IN: October 2006

WHAT THEY PAID: $549,781

CURRENT VALUES (from Zillow.com): Home too new, no value listed.

WHY THEY LOVE IT: Lesley and Jerry Schneider laugh a lot. Ask them a serious question about why and how they decided to live in Valencia Pointe, and they'll make a few jokes and play off each other like a seasoned comedy team.

So that's a good sign. They're happy - not just with each other, but with where they are. It's easy to laugh when you love the place in which you're sitting. And the Schneiders love their home and their community.

In fact, with great effort, they can be serious for a little while and explain themselves.

For years they lived in Washington, D.C., where Jerry was an attorney and Lesley owned a design firm and several other businesses. They came seasonally to Florida, living in a home in Valencia Isles, a nearby GL Homes community. Lesley stayed here longer than Jerry, who flew back and forth between Florida and Washington, D.C.

Finally, they got tired of that arrangement and decided to make Florida their full-time home. They would need more space, though, so they started looking around. And they ended up across the street at Valencia Pointe.

They found the home they wanted, with space for entertaining and for hosting their two children and four grandchildren, but more importantly they found a real community.

"We don't think of this as a retirement community," Jerry explained. And in fact, he still practices law full-time with Akerman Senterfitt.

"It's not treated like a senior community," Lesley added. "It's called active adult, and it's like active young age. With the (real estate) boom, people up North sold their homes and retired earlier, so this community has a lot of people in their late 50s and early 60s. This particular community is so much younger than what you'd find in other places."

Jerry is vice president of the men's club, they're both in the Rockodiles social club, Lesley plays tennis and is involved with Hadassah and the women's club, they play poker and canasta, and go to shows, movies and other activities at the clubhouse. And this is to say nothing of the good friends they've made in their neighborhood, with whom they have cocktail parties and beach outings.

Plus, when the grandkids come, Lesley signs them up for art classes in the clubhouse and takes them to pool parties and cookie decorating parties.

"There's something for everyone - every kind of club, every kind of activities, special events for kids when they visit for the holidays, everything,'' says Lesley. ''It's just a very open, friendly, warm place. You really feel like you belong here."

- Rachel Sauer