A Celebration of Friends wrapped up another weekend in Fort Lauderdale. The non-profit convened at the Ramada Inn, July 20-23. President Tom, aka Tomcat, Pence reported it was “one of the smoothest ever.”

Just over 200 men registered for the celebration, held at the Ramada’s Fort Lauderdale–Oakland Park location on North Federal Hwy. Contests were held, prizes raffled and food delivered all weekend.

SFGN interviewed John Partridge and Dan Wenham in the Ramada’s “Tiki Hut.”

The men were visiting from Georgia. Wenham, 47, calls Savannah home, while Partridge, 64, hails from Augusta. They got engaged last weekend in Fort Lauderdale. The city’s openness to gays is one of the reasons they came.

“We feel comfortable here and that’s important,” said Wenham, a large muscular bald headed man who wore a tank top over his hairy chest. “Fort Lauderdale has always been a place where you can feel free to be yourself and not be judged.”

The couple, who have been dating for five years, said they were members of Prime Timers Worldwide. Wenham described his involvement in ACOF as an “appreciation of older men without regard to a certain body type.” He compared the community in Fort Lauderdale to that of Palm Springs, California.

Peter Cowan sells real estate in Fort Lauderdale. Cowan and Simon, his partner of 20 years, sat under a tent poolside chatting with ACOF attendees. Cowan said Fort Lauderdale is a popular retirement spot for gay men. Hoping to lure more gay men to the area Cowan displayed pictures of properties ranging from multimillion-dollar new construction townhomes in Victoria Park to condos west of Interstate 95 going for $40,000.

“I’ve met people in all kinds of stages in their life,” Cowan said of his ACOF experiences, adding he “can sell any priced homes to fit anyone’s needs.”

Like Cowan, Andrew Carron occupied vending space by the pool. Carron represented Broward House, a local HIV/AIDS service organization. Carron said he was with Broward House’s “mega program.”

“This is outreach,” he said. “Our program is focused on mental health and substance abuse among gay men.”

When asked if he felt the agency’s open presence at an afternoon pool party was a buzzkill, Carron said no.

“It’s all about personal responsibility,” Carron said. “We do have strategies for people who want to reduce their addictions.”

Affordable housing remains a concern, Carron said. Broward House serves as a medical respite for those living with HIV/AIDS and the disabled. There is a waiting list for housing programs, Carron said.

Sam Bernard was also poolside representing the PAR (Preparation, Assessment, and Response) Foundation. Bernard is a Tennessee based crisis response expert. He was a vendor at last year’s celebration in Orlando, offering tips to cope in the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre and his foundation is ready to take the next step and offer “peer focused psychological crisis intervention that will address both individuals and groups.”

As far as ACOF is concerned, Pence said he was glad to be back in Fort Lauderdale.

“This city is phenomenal,” Pence said. “We had over 25 sponsors and gave away $2,500 worth of discount coupons, dinners, gift baskets and certificates.”

For more information, visit www.CelebrationOfFriends.org