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Age-Friendly Communities on Maine Calling Monday

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Tune in to MPBN Maine Calling on Monday, January 25th at noon for a conversation about Age Friendly Communities in Maine.

The concept of building age-friendly communities is spreading quickly in Maine and the U.S. In cities and towns across Maine, local residents and local leaders want to ensure they are prepared for the state’s growing aging population. More than a dozen Maine towns have age-friendly planning efforts of one kind or another, including six who are members of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities.

 
Maine Public Radio’s Maine Calling program will be dedicated to the age-friendly community movement in Maine, this Monday, January 25, at 12 noon. AARP State Director Lori Parham and community leaders will talk about the initiatives which involve volunteers and community leaders working together to make towns more livable.

 
MPBN’s Morning Edition has broadcast a series report on the age-friendly efforts over the past few weeks.

 
In 2013, Dr. Parham began introducing towns and cities to the age-friendly approach. In cooperation with the Maine Association of Area Agencies and with assistance from the John T. Gorman Foundation, Dr. Parham was able to pursue the publication in September 2013 of Building a Collaborative Response to Aging in Place: A Guide to Creating an Age-Friendly Maine, One Community at a Time.

 
A second early milestone occurred in June 2014 when the Town of Bowdoinham (population 2889) joined the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities. The age-friendly planning initiative there grew out of the town’s comprehensive planning process and its Advisory Committee on Aging, which leads the program. The group quickly identified Patricia Oh, of nearby Bowdoin, as a project leader. She has shared age-friendly Bowdoinham’s experience widely in Maine and internationally. She will be part of the discussion on Monday.

 
Bowdoinham is the only small Maine town which has begun implementation of its plan. Its plan identified five ways the town could become more age-friendly: (1) provide readily-available information about community events and access to services; (2) develop transportation alternatives; (3) improve access to public buildings and community-wide events; (4) create a central gathering place for older residents to meet for life-long learning, social, and recreational opportunities; and (5) help residents to find affordable home repair and modification.

 

Linda Weare, Portland’s Director of Elder Affairs, will also be in studio to describe the City’s age-friendly efforts. The City recently organized a volunteer snow shoveling initiative.

 

Issues and solutions vary across the state and by the size of the community. Transportation is an example of a livability issue where solutions are almost always different in smaller communities as compared to urban centers. In most of the rural and isolated communities in Maine there has never been and will never be scheduled public transportation. While systems exist for medical rides, trips for groceries and personal services are almost always by personal vehicle. Door through door volunteer ride programs are often the solution in smaller towns. A volunteer driver program called Rides INC- Rides In Neighbors’ Cars, is beginning to provide that kind of service in Bowdoinham.

 
In Paris (pop. 5187) the committee behind the Strategic Plan For Market Square decided that improving the community for local seniors should be part of its economic development strategy. It heard about the AARP age-friendly network, sought town approval, and conducted a Paris age-friendly survey of residents to start the process.

 
In Bethel (pop. 2607), a volunteer committee emerged from senior college sessions on aging issues. A group of a dozen capable volunteers has been endorsed by the town, but functions quite independently. The committee realizes the importance of contributing to town policy-making and a key member has joined in the town’s comprehensive planning process. Bethel, with a health clinic, schools, and supermarket, is recognized as a service center for even smaller towns.

 

Next door, Newry, with a population of 330, has an interest in the age-friendly initiative, and its select board has expressed support. A completely independent effort makes little sense, so AARP is working with a Newry to incorporate Newry into the Bethel effort, which may become regional.

 
Many of the recommendations have been implemented in Bowdoinham, including accessibility improvements to the Town Office and to a waterfront park, where many town-wide events are held. The volunteers have created the Shipmates Senior Center, a space for older residents to gather, in space donated by a church. The aging committee now sponsors many lifelong learning, social and recreational opportunities for residents and distributes a monthly calendar of activities, events and information about services

 

If Bowdoinham’s early success is matched by other communities in Maine, aging in place will be easier in the coming decades.

 
For more information on the age-friendly network, contact Peter Morelli, Pmorelli@aarp.org , 712-7105

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