Second Wind: Why Seniors Love Central Virginia

Senior couple on country bike ride Senior couple on country bike ride

“Growing old,” so the saying goes, “is not for wimps.” Every stage of life brings unique challenges, it’s true, but every stage offers unique opportunities as well. Central Virginia seniors know about the opportunities at their time of life—do they ever. Let’s note just a few of the things they have time to enjoy around here: the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley; Monticello, Ash-Lawn Highland, Montpelier, and an abundance of other 18th and 19th century historical sites; Mr. Jefferson’s university, and the numerous cultural offerings and exciting restaurant scene in and around Charlottesville it engenders;  top notch medical facilities when they need them; and an expanding Senior Center bustling with myriad classes, programs and activities designed by and for today’s seniors.

The country is aging. By 2030, the U.S. Census bureau predicts one out of five people in America will be over 65. Here in the Charlottesville area, seniors currently make up 14% of the population, and a University of Virginia study projects their numbers to more than double between 2005 and 2030.  As the term “senior citizen” has morphed into the wryly appreciative “seasoned citizen” and been joined by the increasingly accurate descriptive “active senior,” the Central Virginia species has been demonstrating what a rich and rewarding senior life looks like.

Senior Center
Over at the Senior Center in Charlottesville, the Lifelong Learning programs, exercise classes, volunteer opportunities and myriad other activities are designed to positively impact the community by creating opportunities for healthy aging. A recipient of both state and national awards, the Center counts 1,800 active members, but more than 8,000 people come through its doors each year. It’s 6,900 events in 2016, drew a total attendance of over 33,000 people.

Line Dancing, Chair Yoga,  and Apple/Mac are among the most popular of the Center’s approximately 100 weekly programs and classes, many of which are free and open to the public. Choreographer Sherry Zunker’s dance-fitness class, Bemoved®, incorporates a wide variety of dance styles including Rat Pack, Bollywood, Disco, Gospel, Pop and Latin. Ageless Grace has participants dancing in their chairs to hit tunes ranging from 1940s big bands to today’s stars. The monthly Senior Statesmen of Virginia forum brings in movers and shakers and provocative thinkers to speak and take questions. Fine arts and performing arts groups like Piedmont Pastelists, The Barbershop Belles & Beaux, and Grumpy Old Men Doing Shakespeare provide avenues for creative expression, while All Things Digital classes address tech issues. Travel programs range from slide shows with guest lecturers, to day trips and overseas excursions.

“More and more of today’s 50+ adults do not want to be segregated by age, or identified primarily by their age” says Peter Thompson, the Center’s Executive Director. “They want to try new things, like playing a musical instrument, learning a foreign language, a new dance step, or how to utilize new technology. They want to share their wisdom and experience through volunteering and continued paid employment.”

“Our goal is to socially and civically engage our members so that they can continue to have a healthy aging lifestyle and be able to stay—and healthily age—in place,” says Kimberly Haynes, Coodinator of Volunteer Service. Her 489 civically-engaged volunteers are highly valued in the community. Fifty-two different non-profits including the Charlottesville Free Clinic, Literacy Volunteers, Camp Holiday Trails and Big Brothers Big Sisters contacted the Center for volunteers in 2016. “Our seniors have fabulous experience that they bring to the table,” Haynes says. “They have a great work ethic, and they are on time, and they follow instructions very, very well, so our senior audience is very popular with our community.” All this volunteer effort “truly makes a difference,” Haynes says, not only to those being served but in the lives of the volunteers themselves. “Many of them state that being a part of the Senior Center has changed their lives.”

The Center expects to break ground on a new and much larger building by the end of 2018—“a place for folks to be ageless and avoid being stereotyped by their age,” Thompson calls it. “The needs of our community have changed significantly since we built our Pepsi Place facility in 1991. Today, research consistently shows the need for enhanced physical and intellectual as well as social wellness programs to help seniors remain healthy and engaged. Our new Center at Belvedere will have an equipped fitness room, group exercise and mind-body program spaces as well as a performing arts auditorium, classrooms, and Café to provide even more engagement opportunities. Importantly, the new Center will broaden our ability to serve as a community center for all area residents. With longer operating hours and the type of program spaces we will have, people of all ages will have a joyful place to celebrate community and engage with a wide variety of fellow residents. Social isolation is increasingly being seen as a major public health issue and The Center at Belvedere will be a vital resource to help address this growing concern.”

Active Adult Communities
Self-described “Yankee transplant” Karen J. Kehoe has been in Central Virginia helping seniors as a REALTOR® for 37 years. That’s because she loves it. “Charlottesville has it all,” Kehoe says. “I call it my Camelot. It’s a university town with fantastic culture, including our own art museum. The Paramount Theater and John Paul Jones arena have incredible entertainment. We have our own municipal band, and events for all seasons through UVA and Fridays After 5. Active retirees love the Downtown Mall, and also hiking the trails around town and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Medical care is paramount to most of these retirees, and we have two great hospitals and many very highly-ranked specialty clinics.”

All these big city amenities and lifestyle options in a small city surrounded by such gorgeous countryside are suppressing Florida’s senior population numbers. “Young retirees are moving here in large numbers, many from northern Virginia and New England,” Kehoe says, adding that 21st century Southern hospitality is an additional attraction: “Most remark that they love the friendliness of Charlottesville, where strangers smile and say hello to others.”

While many retirees settle in established, mixed-age neighborhoods, others seek out developments built specifically for the 55-and-not-old-yet crowd. Like traditional retirement homes—continuing care communities where residents can first live independently and then move to assisted living and health care facilities when necessary—the new “age in place” communities offer “universal design,” (barrier-free architectural features) that allows residents to stay in their homes.

Typical universal design features include “zero threshold” (no steps) entries and three-foot wide hallways and doorways. Bathrooms come with high toilet seats, walk-in showers, non-slip floors, grab bars and a five-foot turning radius. Pot fillers over stoves eliminate the need to carry heavy pots of waters from sink to stove. Doors with lever handles and lights with rocker switches require less hand strength. All these design elements make one-story homes safe and comfortable for active but less than agile occupants, especially those in wheelchairs.

Along with these practical architectural features, developments built for seniors feature “maintenance free living,” in which all necessary work on a home’s exterior and grounds is paid for through home association dues. These new model villages, virtual resorts for boomers entering not their second childhoods, but their second, carefree years of being a youth, offer amenities like pool and fitness centers and bocce and tennis courts, which facilitate community and make for luxury living.

The Villages at Nahor sits close by Lake Monticello in Fluvanna County. Named for the intersection of Routes 53 and 636, which has been called Nahor since the 1700s, each of the Villages’ Patio Homes offers one level living with a master suite, sunrooms, two bathrooms, and an extra bedroom for visitors. Kitchens feature custom cabinetry and eat-in bars. Unfinished space upstairs can accommodate two more bedrooms, a bathroom, and storage. Each home has a large two-car, paved driveway and landscaped and irrigated front and back yards. The Villages’ extensive grounds include sidewalk lined streets, a pool and pool house, a fitness center with a quarter-mile fitness track, a newly redesigned clubhouse, tennis and bocce courts, a playground and Tot-Lot for grandkids, community gardens, and a picnic pavilion with an outdoor fireplace.

The 18 villas at RoseWood Village in the Stoney Creek area of Wintergreen sit next to the 27-hole Rees Jones-designed Stoney Creek Golf Course. Villagers enjoy landscaped common areas, and walking and hiking paths as well as lawn care, snow and trash removal and building maintenance. At its completion, RoseWood will total 22 villas, approximately 50 independent living condominiums/apartments, and a 42-unit assisted living facility with an indoor “Main Street” featuring amenities such as a library, beauty salon and barber shop.

Four Seasons at Charlottesville is actually located 30 miles north of town in Ruckersville in Greene County, where it affords wonderful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The development’s fewer than 200 homes feature first floor master suites, two-car garages, and “land-design inspired by Thomas Jefferson.” Amenities include indoor and outdoor pools, a 2,100-foot clubhouse with a full-time activities director, a fitness center, cyber café, card tables, billiards room, library, sports TV area, bocce court and croquet lawn, tennis courts, a lake, a putting green and walking trails.

Just down the road from the University of Virginia, on Ivy Road, is University Village, a 94-unit condo community designed for independent living. Large glassed-in atriums on either side of each of the two village buildings offer great views of the city and countryside. The two-level Village Club features a bocce court, game room, library and arts and crafts studio, plus public and private dining rooms, kitchen facilities, and an outdoor patio. Dinner is served five nights a week. The lower level of the Club includes a 75-foot swimming pool, whirlpool, fitness center, showers, and another patio. University Village also offers underground parking, chauffeured car service, and four well-appointed overnight guest rooms for friends and family. Most Village residents own their homes, and help run the Village, electing its Board of Directors.

The Lodge at Old Trail in Crozet offers independent living, assisted living and memory care residences at the heart of Old Trail Village, a planned community of over 400 families in Crozet. The Lodge is only a short walk from the shops, restaurants, healthcare providers and more in the Village Center. It is also in walking distance of a community pool, community garden, fitness center, soccer field, golf course, and six miles of walking trails.

Our region’s thoughtfully designed senior housing developments and their carpe diem residents make it one of the best places in the nation to retire to, as magazines like Money, Black Enterprise, Golf Digest and AARP The Magazine have noted in recent years. “Central Virginia,” says Kehoe, “is the place to be for seniors. We’re noted for this. We welcome them.”

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