Before moving into Lima Estates, Len Orlando shot a couple of videos of his grandkids, but did no editing or anything else too complex.
But now, as a member of the Lima Estates Channel 11 television team, he has produced a step-by-step video record of the $4 million construction occurring at the 42-acre Lima Estates campus in Middletown Township, as well as DVDs of classical music concerts, volunteer luncheons and other special events.
He plans to add about 25 minutes of footage to a walking tour he created of the retirement community. The goal of the original video was to convince relatives in Florida that he was living in a fun place.
"I can be as creative as I want to be," said Orlando, 88, originally from Drexel Hill. " . . . What I like about it is, you can think up goofy things like this, and if you want to do it, you do it."
The 24-hour television station is run by residents of Lima Estates, and the 19 crew members combine to put in the work of two full-time employees, according to Mary Jane Davis, who was recruited to head the project a few months after she moved into the retirement community in 1999.
"They really have a great team where they break everything down. Everyone has jobs," said Donna Hall, director of resident services.
Channel 11 provides live videos of Sunday church services to about 450 residents, as well as other programs and information throughout the day. The group's biggest impact is "keeping people aware of all the different activities that are going on," Hall said. "Because that's the key to keeping people involved."
And Hall considers that the key to staying, or at least feeling, young.
Lima Estates' large-scale construction and renovation project, which began in December 2006, includes the addition of a pool, a spa, adjacent locker rooms, a large fitness center and a chapel.
And for the television crew, it means the group will soon get to move into what's now the billiards and card room and out of its current home, a three-foot-deep, renovated closet.
"Right now, the equipment's all backed up against the wall and you have to stand on a ladder, a chair or something and crane your neck over like a giraffe to see what's unplugged," said Davis, a 70-year-old former Chester Heights resident and retired first- and third-grade teacher in the Radnor Township School District. Her 86-year-old husband, Bill, also lives at Lima Estates.
The ACTS Retirement Life Communities management, which operates Lima Estates and 17 other retirement centers, pushed to set up in-house television stations in each of its communities in 1999.
Over the years, Lima Estates has provided about $25,000 in funding to the program. The residents' association and fund-raisers also helped them acquire about five monitors, about eight VCRs and DVD players, and additional equipment.
Crew membership has grown "gradually, gradually, gradually," Davis said, and she has continued to focus on filling up the ranks.
"One of the important things that I have learned is if you don't keep getting new and younger people in, it'll die," Davis said.
In 2004, she picked up an experienced recruit. She married Bill that year, and when he moved in, he brought with him decades of experience setting up audio equipment for sales meetings and presentations.
"His job is to provide what's needed for every activity that takes place in the auditorium," Orlando said. "It takes a lot of time."
Other members find ways to contribute.
"I just like playing with the computers," joked Bob Bowlby, 76, originally of Springfield. He transfers programming from one computer to another.
For the first years of the station, the television broadcast was interrupted while program adjustments were taking place. But not anymore.
"The residents don't know you've done anything, which is very nice," Bowlby said.
Rosa-Ann Tripler, 72, formerly of Concordville, arranges programming spreadsheets, helps ensure that pictures of new residents appear on the station, and sets up the Saturday night movie.
Jim Pericles, 82, from Wilmington, selects the music to play in the background during hours when community announcements appear on the screen.
Residents donate music by Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Glenn Miller, Harry James and others. There are whole sections for Irish, Christmas and patriotic music.
"We have one person . . . every time I turn around, she's got more for me," Pericles said.
Crew members say their reward is receiving feedback from people in the hallways or cards from school children and others who come in for a performance, and receive a complimentary DVD.
At a recent volunteer luncheon, Orlando tried to make sure everyone had a brief moment in the limelight.
"If there's 140 people here, I try to get 140 faces on the video," Orlando said. "Everybody likes to see themselves on TV."