If you don’t yet know Lourdes Valdes, you might want to saunter up to her and say, “Hi,” should you find yourself mingling with the same crowd.
Lourdes, a Realtor and property manager in the Lake Nona area, and her husband, Ed Herrera, run a computer software company called Coded—which operates in the same building as the Tavistock Group, which has turned Orlando’s cow pastures into the ambitious Lake Nona community.
For example, if you didn’t know that Lake Nona was getting its very own movie theater, you do now. Lourdes says the theater and a massive bowling alley are soon going to anchor a giant retail mall in Lake Nona Town Center.
“When we look out the window at work, we can still see the cows, but that’s where the mall’s going to be,” she says.
When Lourdes, Ed, and their three children moved to East Park years ago, they felt like they’d moved into the epicenter of a major development that somehow still left their relatively sleepy East Park neighborhood of single-family homes untouched by new construction. And even with that mall on the way, Lourdes says it still feels that way.
“There’s a lake at the back of the neighborhood with a public park, and no one really knows about it,” she says. And despite its open-to-the-public fishing dock and sand volleyball pit, it can sometimes feel like you have the place all to yourself. (Lourdes says it’s where she, Ed and their children celebrate their birthdays each year.)
“Our day generally starts by dropping off our 12-year-old daughter at the bus stop,” Lourdes says. “I don’t have to worry about her because everyone knows everyone and everyone’s looking out for one another and their children. There are so many boys in our neighborhood and they all know each other and play on the soccer team together. All of this is part of what we love about this community.”
Ilene Marmolejo echoes this sentiment. She, her husband José and their three daughters were one of the first families to move to the area back in 2004 when José was offered a position with Osceola County Fire Rescue.
Ilene, a JetBlue Airways stay-at-home customer service representative and a Sun Blaze Elementary School PTA volunteer, says it’s the kind of neighborhood where she doesn’t have to worry about letting her girls explore the neighborhood by bike or walk the dog down to the lake as dusk approaches.
This close-knit community really showed its colors when Hurricane Irma blew in. Knowing that José would be aiding in relief efforts, neighbor after neighbor checked in on her to see if she and her daughters were prepared to shelter in place. And once the storm passed, everyone offered help to anyone who needed it—even the neighborhood newcomers who had just began to put down roots.
“I know I can always count on my neighbors in a time of need,” Ilene says. “Everyone came together before and after the storm.”
And while East Park’s strong sense of community defines it, there’s more to it than that. Because of its location, fun can be had by taking a short drive in just about any direction.
The Herrera and Marmolejo households both like to drive around Orlando. The Marmolejos are a “Disney family,” while the Herreras hold season passes to Universal Studios and take frequent trips to watch their beloved Orlando City Lions on the soccer pitch. (They’re season ticket holders for that, too. “We go to absolutely every game,” Lourdes says.)
Of course, the drive to the Orlando International Airport is a short one, which makes traveling a breeze for the Herreras, especially now that they’ve purchased a second summer home in Ed’s native Costa Rica. And don’t think that Ilene doesn’t take advantage of her JetBlue connection. They like to visit her niece in San Diego and vacation in New York City, where they take in musicals and the metropolis’ grandiose architecture and dazzling lights.
And on weekends, Lourdes’ family does what a lot of her friends and neighbors do: make the short drive south to brunch at Nona Blue.
It’s seeing those friends and neighbors on a regular basis—whether at brunch, work or the local Publix—that Lourdes likes most about her neighborhood.
This article has been updated from its original print version to reflect the following changes: Ed’s last name is Herrera, his business is located in the same building as the Tavistock Group, and he is from Costa Rica. Most importantly, the bowling alley and theater will be located in Lake Nona Town Center.
This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Central Florida Monthly Magazine. The free publication is distributed in Lake Nona, Lee Vista, Harmony, Conway, St. Cloud, and Kissimmee via direct mail (30 thousand copies), email (20 thousand subscribers), social media (thousands of followers) and the Social, CFM’s signature networking event. Download the digital issue here.