There’s a hidden treasure tucked away in the basement of Azalea Trace.

Roughly 10,000 square feet – practically the entire lower floor of the Pensacola retirement community – is a creative playground for residents dedicated to their hobbies.

There’s a room for every interest: woodwork and carving, stained glass and metal projects, picture frame assembly, clock repairs, electronics and sewing. In this special “village” under their homes, seniors can indulge in their art or learn new talents.

About four days of the week, DeWayne Robideaux putters around the wood shop, where he expertly crafts beautifully detailed wooden bowls. He discovered this passion after moving to Azalea Trace.

“I moved here 14 years ago. I came down to the shop and a guy was making bowls,” DeWayne said. “He showed me the angles and I went from there.”

The Hobby Shop has 143 resident members. There are ten specialty departments headed by a shop supervisor like DeWayne. Along with personal projects, Hobby Shop members use their talents to help fellow residents in their community. They build or repair furniture and small home alliances.

“We process about 200 work orders,” said Jerry Walker, president of the Hobby Shop. “There probably isn’t a space in all of Azalea Trace that the Hobby Shop hasn’t done something for.” 

The shop designed bookcases and cabinets for the library, several glass-encased bulletin boards for the main lobby, a stunning wooden tribute to veterans and the hostess stand in its dining venue.

“We also get a lot of furniture to fix,” said resident Ed Riby said. “Residents will also buy furniture and we put it together for them. We repair electric laps – a little bit of everything, really.”

The Hobby Shop doesn’t charge any fees for labor; only the cost of parts. Residents are welcome to make donations, whether monetary or tools. Many resident members choose to donate their own woodshop tools when they move in; excess tools no longer needed are donated to Habitat for Humanity.

There is also a massive recycling section of the Hobby Shop. Large compactors are used to recycle cardboard boxes and metal cans to fund the Hobby Shop’s additional needs.

The entire operation is run by the residents for the residents.

“I have to stay busy,” Rigby added. “I enjoy it.”

It’s a social hub too. Building a table or a cabinet often helps build close friendships.

“We take a water break every morning by the break room,” DeWayne Robideaux said. “We sit and talk about all the world problems. We joke. There’s a lot of camaraderie down here.”