Community volunteers help seniors in Harpswell and other towns in Maine
HARPSWELL – From his reclining chair in his living room, Steve Taylor can hear the hammering of hammers and the occasional whine of a power saw.
It’s a sunny August day and his two-story washed-out green ranch, built in 1969 on a rugged road to Dyers Cove, is bustling with activity. Several of his fellow citizens came to beautify the place, free of charge. They are part of Harpswell Aging at Home, a group of volunteers established three years ago to help older residents.
At 83, Taylor couldn’t rebuild the bridge’s rickety stairs on his own, replace rotten paving, or reinforce sagging floor. A retired millwright whose wife died three years ago, Taylor is disabled by a stroke and lives on a fixed income.
He is quite happy with the renovations so far.
“It’s gorgeous,” Taylor said. “They are doing a good job.”
Harpswell Aging at Home is one of more than 100 local initiatives that have sprung up across Maine in recent years to help seniors stay in their homes and stay connected to their communities. The Harpswell Group also offers rides for the elderly and hosts bi-monthly communal meals, known as Lunch With Friends, which are hosted by various local organizations.
Harpswell residents have responded to the growing needs of a beach town that has the highest median age in Maine – 58.1 years – in a state that has the highest median age in the country – 44.7 years , according to the US census. It’s also a relatively wealthy community overall, with a median household income of $ 71,914, up from $ 50,826 statewide, in part because its coastal setting has attracted wealthy retirees “from afar.” .
But because Maine has some of the oldest housing in the country, the majority of Harpswell homes are over 25 years old. And more than a third of residents of older cities do not have the financial resources to cover basic expenses, let alone major home repairs.
“Some of the houses we are repairing should be demolished,” said Bob Bauman, 79, volunteer coordinator of Harpswell’s home improvement program. “But there’s nowhere for the owner to go, so we’re doing our best to make it safe, warm and dry for a few more years.”
YOUNG VOLUNTEER RETIREES
Maine’s new aging in place programs are often funded by donations or grants and run by volunteers, mostly young retirees with free time and a desire to help others. They offer a wide variety of aids, including home repair programs, transportation services, quick home delivered meals, community events, and volunteer opportunities, all aimed at maximizing the health and minimize social isolation.
Fifty-eight municipalities in Maine have joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities and have committed to supporting programs for seniors through their municipal budget. The process includes performing a community assessment and developing an action plan to make each town or village a better place for people of all ages.
Aging at Cumberland Place is part of the AARP network, offering rides, handyman services, exercise classes, help with gardening or snow removal, game nights at the public library and just the company. .
One of its most successful programs is Cumberland Area Rides, which helps seniors get to the bank, supermarket, drugstore, hairdresser, doctor’s appointments, and even social engagements.
“We took a woman to a play at the Portland Stage Company,” said Lisa Crowley, CAR coordinator. “She hadn’t been in years because she had no way of getting there.”
Launched in 2016, CAR has provided 690 trips and currently serves 44 passengers with 26 regular volunteer drivers, who cover their own costs. Crowley is a mother of three teenagers and a part-time speech-language pathologist who works with seniors. She volunteers for CAR because she enjoys helping the elderly.
“They are as nice as they can get and they have so much wisdom,” Crowley said. “They also have a positive outlook on life and they appreciate the help they receive so much.”
Oretta Baker relies on CAR to get to her doctor, dentist and eye appointments. 88-year-old active, she no longer drives because she has lost a large part of her vision due to macular degeneration, a disease of the retina. Family, friends and neighbors help her with other errands which can be done anytime, but it’s more difficult to find errands for scheduled weekday appointments.
“I really depend on someone else to get me where I need to go, so the CAR volunteers have been very helpful,” said Baker, a retired administrative assistant. “They are so kind and considerate. I don’t feel embarrassed to ask for a cab because they do it out of the goodness of their hearts. The way I see it, they pay it forward. I used to volunteer when I could and now I’m on the recipient side.
As a side benefit, Baker befriended one of his regular drivers, Dottie Spaulding, 76, also from Cumberland. The two women are now taking swimming and exercise classes together at the YMCA of Casco Bay in Freeport.
“I can’t follow her,” Spaulding said of Baker. “The best part about volunteering for the hiking program is that I have met so many great people and made friendships with some of them. I get a lot more out of it than I give.
‘IT MAKES ME FEEL GOOD’
This is a common sentiment among community seniors program volunteers.
Steve Inkellis, 69, is one of nine men working at Steve Taylor’s house in Harpswell. He rips off a rotten siding that was installed when local building codes did not exist.
Retired lawyer and charter pilot, Inkellis knows carpentry well, having worked in construction in his twenties. The rest of the volunteer team is made up of retirees, including a nuclear engineer, a physicist, a liquor store owner, a university president, a software engineer and a financial director.
“I’m doing it for the same reason all of these other guys are doing it,” Inkellis said during a break. “It makes me feel good.”
Taylor’s House is the 50th home renovated by Harpswell Aging at Home in the past two years. The group has formed a funding partnership with Habitat for Humanity 7 Rivers Maine in Topsham, supported by a Cumberland County Community Development Block Grant of $ 62,000.
Taylor’s home renovations include replacing light bulbs and outlets, adding smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, installing lever door handles, adding handrails in several locations and the reconstruction of unstable stairs leading to the basement. The project cost $ 1,700 for materials – far less than if Taylor had had to hire a contractor.
Some of Taylor’s children live nearby and look after him. His son Roger moved in with him a few years ago.
Roger Taylor works chopping wood and clearing snow in the winter and digging clams in the summer. On his way to the market with his morning transport, he stops at the house to see his father and assess the renovations.
“We couldn’t afford to do this job,” said Roger Taylor. “We had to take out a loan. We try to keep him in the house as long as possible, so it’s good that they do that.