News & Politics

Finding a New Life in “Active Adults” Retirement Communities

One woman gives lectures on cheetahs. A man is a Senior Olympian. A couple sought fellowship among neighbors. All found what they wanted in local “active adult” retirement communities.

You—or your parents—might be thinking of moving to an active-adult retirement community, a place that boasts similarly aged neighbors and lots of organized activities. But where?

Around here, it’s easy to find retirement complexes with good amenities, caring staff, and attractive areas for socializing. The main factor in a decision may be you. Do you prefer a new setting or one with a history? In the city, the suburbs, or a rural area? Large or small? To rent or to buy?

For Larry and Carol Stein, living among similarly aged people was important. After spending their lives in New York state, they moved to Germantown to be near family. But having no longtime friends and few people their own age nearby was unsatisfying. “The neighborhood, which was very nice otherwise, felt isolating,” Carol says.

“Moving here has made a world of difference,” says Larry of their two-bedroom condo in Leisure World of Virginia near Leesburg (703-581-1711; “At every turn you can get involved with other residents who are in the same stage of life. It’s a very invigorating environment.”

Carol is documenting her family’s history in scrapbooks. “Years ago, people got to our age and they sat around and didn’t do anything but wait for family to stop by,” she notes. “Instead, we have a new life.”

Dolores Rothwell is a former proofreader and three-year resident of Leisure World, where 874-to-1,720-square-foot condos range from $292,065 to $595,500 in four high-rises and three low-rises. In the past several months, not only has she attended talks on archaeology and genetic research, but she’s performed in two musicals and given lectures on cheetahs—a result of her recent visit to Namibia as part of a group assisting the animals—to fellow residents.

“Moving here was the best thing I could have done,” says Rothwell, who left a Reston townhouse after she and her husband of 45 years divorced. “I feel safe, and I’ve met people who have my same interests. What more can you ask for?”

In Fort Washington, the Chestnut Oaks (240-766-1676; retirement facility is attracting relative youngsters who still work or are only partly retired. The building—with 150 units of 700 to 1,400 square feet that cost $180,100 to $355,000—has a library, gym, hairstylist, and business center as well as regular activities such as weekly breakfasts, walking groups, prayer groups, and classes for yoga, line dancing, and belly dancing.

While smaller in scale and newer than many other active-adult facilities, the sense of community is strong at Chestnut Oaks, residents say.

Brenda Andrews, who lived in Fort Washington before moving there in October, says the new facility appealed to her because she no longer wanted the responsibility of maintaining a home. She was drawn to the warmth she sensed from the building’s residents and staff.

“There’s an awesome sense of family here,” says Andrews, who works for a government contractor. “Even though I work full-time and don’t get to participate in all the activities, I still get the sense of fellowship from my fellow residents and their families.”

Inviting relatives to visit, congregate, and celebrate in common areas, such as the game room and movie theater, is important, says Andrews, who has three sons and four grandchildren.

“I’ve gotten to meet and spend time with just about everyone who lives here,” says Shirley Butler, a technology coordinator for Trinity University who moved to Chestnut Oaks in September from a house in Waldorf. “That’s the fun part, I think. You learn about other people and their histories, their children, and their grandchildren.”

One of the misconceptions about retirement communities is that they may become, well, blah. After smashing a Ping-Pong ball past her opponent, Michiko Hansen disputes that notion. Standing in one of the well-lit exercise rooms in Riderwood Village of Silver Spring, she says, “I love it here every minute. It’s a very energetic place.”

One of the largest retirement facilities in the region, Riderwood Village (800-920-8836; offers units that range from 701 to 1,484 square feet and cost $1,527 to $2,097 a month (plus a one-time entrance fee).

In addition to regular table-tennis contests, the facility allows Hansen—a widow and former jewelry-store manager who moved from Potomac—to take part in anything from walking groups to Nintendo Wii and to do volunteer work.

The interconnected buildings have the feel of a college campus for older students. Athletic competitions and lectures are held regularly, and residents offer tutoring and mentoring and fund about 50 scholarships of up to $4,000 a year for area college students. Banks, salons, a massage room, art studios, a postal service, and a pharmacy are also on the premises.

“If you want to stay busy, you can,” Hansen says. “If you want a break or need time to yourself, you can easily get that as well.”

In another table-tennis contest, eight-year resident Jan Irish whizzes a ball past her sparring partner, two-year resident Bob Wiley. This is no small accomplishment: Wiley has competed in table tennis at the Senior Olympics, and Irish had cataract surgery recently. “It’s very congenial—we have a nice group of people and staff here,” Irish says. “To me, the most important thing has been to make the effort to be involved.”

The two facilities operated by Goodwin House Incorporated, a nonprofit affiliated with the Episcopal Church, share a focus on community. But they have some differences: One is on a bustling Alexandria street, while the other is in a subdued area of Baileys Crossroads. ➝

In Alexandria, 22 of the facility’s 27 floors are dedicated to active adults; units in the two buildings there range from 350 to 2,001 square feet and cost $1,795 to $7,526 a month for one person (plus entrance fee). The Baileys Crossroads facility, which has been renovated and will be joined in 2010 by a new tower, has a well-earned place in the hearts of residents. “My mother moved to Goodwin House in 1975,” says Ben Wilmot, a former member of its executive board who, with wife Connie, moved to an 1,180-square-foot unit almost a year ago.

“We lived in a high-rise before and met people in the elevator and at the mail room,” Connie says. “Here people will introduce themselves to you. It’s very warm and welcoming.”

Two miles away, Goodwin House in Baileys Crossroads is more secluded and slightly more formal, although pricing and apartment models are similar. Residents can tend garden plots and lounge on a terrace. On a Friday evening, a happy hour on the ground floor was attended by some 30 residents smartly dressed in suits and dresses.

Admiral Mike McCaffree and wife Lynn have enjoyed their 1,532-square-foot apartment for six years, and it’s been a welcome change from their single-family house in Annandale. “Upkeep and yard work began to own us,” says Mike, who retired from the Navy in 1988 and works part-time for think tanks.

“Being in a faith-based community meant a lot to us,” adds Lynn. “We wanted to incorporate that within activities such as volunteer work and spending time with our neighbors.”

“We are more active than we have been in years,” says Mike. “We exercise daily and socialize more than we did in Annandale.

“Plus we still have our outside lives. We haven’t regretted moving here.”