It's not every day when a person finds a skill they love and are able to use for years to come. In Al Ladine's case, he may be described as one of the lucky ones.
At the age of 83 and a retired engineer, Ladine has taken his technical background and built a pastime that serves the residents at the Atria Woodbridge Senior Living Community, both creatively and practically.
Through the center's men's club -- affectionately dubbed the Man Cave -- residents such as Ladine have been able to use their talents by creating innovative machines.
Past projects have included radio-controlled model planes, helicopters, clocks, motorized racing yachts and the three-and-a-half-foot tall robot that goes by the name of Morty.
Morty is a robot that not only responds to simple commands, but also takes pleasure in serving the ladies of the community cocktails.
"He's made out of mostly wood and plastic pipes, so we like to call him 'blockhead,'" said Ladine.
Some of the residents, including Al Ladine, are considered legally blind. In 2007, Ladine's daughter encouraged her father to stay at Atria Woodbridge because of his loss of vision.
"'I don't really think I'm going to like it down here, but I'll stay about a month or two at the most,'" Ladine said he told his daughter. "That was four years ago and to this day she asks me, 'is the month up yet?'"
In those four years, the Man Cave has provided opportunities helping residents overcome their limitations and, in turn, earning the program recognition throughout the United States.
Recently, the International Council on Active Aging awarded the Man Cave program with an Innovators Award for 2011. The ICAA awards program was established in 2003, and the Innovators Award is presented to programs that advance active aging.
"When we received the award, Al and I just stared at the award and then our eyes filled up with tears," said Jessica Houck, director of Engage Life, the center's activities program.
Humble to the core, Ladine shares the program recognition with each member of the Man Cave. He credits the coordinators of the program for giving him the opportunity to build objects on a larger scale, the volunteers and all of the members.
Everyone in the program has limitations, which makes winning the award all the more rewarding, he said.
"It only takes one guy like Al Ladine, a leader to bring all of the men together, to help build things and get people out of their shells," said Houck.
"I wanted to do model plane building and boats and so forth, so I set up a little table up in my closet in my apartment," said Ladine.
Four years later, Ladine's love of building has built a foundation for a program supporting health, wellness and the quality of life for older adults at the senior living center.