SUN CITY CENTER
Ask many residents why they choose to live in Sun City Center and the answer is often the same: the clubs and activities.
From woodcarving to clog dancing to dinner parties, the retirement community resembles summer camp for senior citizens.
But these retirees aren't about all fun all the time. In 2008, the community logged more than 400,000 volunteer hours. It's an impact nonprofit organizations in the area can feel.
And it's what keeps this neighborhood alive.
"Without the clubs and volunteering, this community would not survive," said Al Alderman, who is on the board of directors for the Sun City Center Community Association.
In a community where free time is often at a surplus, almost everything is run by volunteers.
"All board members get high salaries. It starts with a zero, ends with a zero and there's no numbers in between," Alderman quipped.
The same goes for the emergency squad, 24-hour security patrol and the Good Samaritans, a free shuttle service.
Even within the clubs, members are expected to share their knowledge by teaching a class or supervising others.
In turn, residents share that generosity with those outside the community.
Ruth Anderson, 89, devoted 20 years of her retirement to Lifepath Hospice. It was her pleasure, she says.
"It's been rewarding, very touching and, at times, sad," she said. "But I have made a lot of good friends along the way."
For Lifepath, it has been a blessing.
"I can't imagine what we would be like without people like her," said Luanne Lane, a volunteer coordinator for Lifepath Hospice.
To receive Medicaid funding, 5 percent of Lifepath's workforce must be volunteers. In 2010, more than 1,000 volunteers across Hillsborough County provided $1,556,261 worth of work for the organization. Many of them come from Sun City Center.
At Good Samaritan Mission in Wimauma, volunteers are vital.
"We would probably have to shut down if they weren't here," said Theresa Cruz, who runs the mission with her husband, the Rev. William Cruz.
About 15 Sun City Center residents come in each week to help with everything from the food pantry to the garden to sewing classes.
Shirley Bucci, 62, is one of them.
"I'm retired, and I just want to give back," Bucci said this week as she handed out bags of rice, bread and other pantry staples to families lined up outside.
More than 1,000 people are registered with the Good Samaritan Mission to receive food and clothing once a week. While mission employees run the day care, chapel and social services center, volunteers help hand out the food.
"We don't have the manpower we need to feed the community," Cruz said. "They make it possible."
Many organizations and churches in Sun City Center also help the mission by conducting food drives and making donations.
That generosity is at the heart of many of the community's recreational clubs.
The Sawdust Engineers, which has more than 300 members, builds educational toys for elementary students and donates them to teachers nationwide.
From dollhouses filled with miniature furniture to wooden dominoes, the toys are all made by hand with donated materials.
"This is what the club was started for," member Dean Elbert said.
The spirit of giving is spread throughout the community as well.
Louie Salmoiraghi, 77, never put much thought into stained glass before he moved to Sun City Center in 2002.
Now, in between creating gifts for his family, Salmoiraghi teaches the art for the Stained Glass Club.
"It keeps me busy," he said on a recent afternoon as he put some final touches on a pond and water lily glass panel for his daughter.
When a resident pops up with a skill no one else has, he or she is usually put right to work teaching, said Elsie Diel, the secretary of the Ceramics Club.
Many organizations benefit from volunteers and donations from Sun City Center residents.
"We can do it now because we're retired and have the time," said mission volunteer Bucci. "When there's a need in our community, we try to meet that need."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2442.