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  • Writer's pictureJules Arata

a week in paradise

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

The Villages, FL

this week felt like a movie.

location? florida, sunny & hot & foggy in february

community? the villages, a 55+ retirement community

now i don't think i truly understood what that meant. a "retirement community". i had heard of and seen retirement homes and complexes before. but this was another level.

it is an entire town where every person is over 55 years old. the only kids are the ones visiting their grandparents. there are three different town squares where there are shops and restaurants and live music every night. each with a theme and each full to the brim with life and activity.

it feels like a movie.

you drive up and you see a church that looks like this:

you kinda just know that everything is going to be okay. you know you will be taken care of.

you meet the host team and man its like they are professionals at loving others. grandparents have that way of loving you, no strings attached. like my grandma used to say, "being a grandma is my favorite, it is all the perks with none of the responsibilities." meaning she got to do all the fun stuff and go home when she got tired of all of us.

(okay not all of them were grandparents, but empty nesters and/or snow birds fits the majority of the bill)

you meet over 700 volunteers who are more lively and willing to serve than a lot you have met. ones who pack so fast, we put on multiple dance breaks just to try a slow them down. people who sing along and dance in a way that is so unabashed that it inspires you.

a team that makes you angel food cake and banana cake from scratch, that goes out to the berry farm and hand picks strawberries for us. ones that invite you to play pickle ball and to sit with them at lunch bc they want to tell you the story of how they fell in love.

goodbyes that were hard, but full of laughter bc of the moments we had shared. running towards you in slow motion just like the movies.

a week in paradise.

468 kids will now get a meal a day for a year.

and i got to witness some of the purest laughter and joyful service

what i learned

1. criticism is meant to be helpful, not hurtful

2. that no-strings-attached kind of love is something to cherish

3. being greeted with kind eyes every morning is refreshing

how i grew

i tend to like to fill silence. but the more i work this job, the more i understand the different needs of the group.

favorite parts

sitting on the floor of the kitchen with these two ladies hiding from the volunteers before the session and giggling and laughing and telling stories

the conga line

getting a hug from my boss after my second closing announcements and her saying that she was so proud of me

to live oaks community church

thank you for inviting us in. for serving alongside us so willingly and excitedly. for giving us energy when we had none. for showing me that age does not dictate how you can serve the Kingdom. for dancing with me. for trying to get me to laugh being goofy in the back of the crowd while i am in front on the mic. for seeking me out and not being afraid to ask a question. i miss you already.

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