In 2016, we have seen a remarkable surge in the efforts of Maine towns and neighborhoods to advance age-friendly initiatives. About 18% of Maine’s population lives in one of the 24 communities that have joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities. In an age-friendly community, residents benefit from an environment that encourages them to remain active and socially engaged in an enjoyable setting. By adopting such features as safe, walkable streets, better housing and transportation options and more opportunities for residents to participate in community activities, cities and towns can become great places to live for people of all ages.
Sometimes age-friendly initiatives begin with just one person noticing a need. Such is the case with Shaw’s Supermarket in Augusta. When approached by a local resident who was concerned that there was no bench at the nearby bus stop, the store manager immediately responded. He recognized that for an older or physically challenged person, having to stand and wait for a bus could be quite a challenge, particularly in bad weather. The manager agreed to not only put a bench at the bus stop, but he also decided to place one at the back of the store for any shoppers needing to sit and rest.
In another example of a local age-friendly effort, residents of Bethel, Greenwood, Newry, and Woodstock have joined forces on the age-friendly efforts in their region. In November, the group launched a rides program that provides rides for people 60+ who can no longer drive or who choose not to drive. The rides are not limited to medical appointments but can be for anything from errands to a visit with a friend. The only requirement is to make a reservation so the program has plenty of time to match the need with one of their volunteers. The program would not have been possible without funding from the Maine Community Foundation and collaboration with Community Concepts.
People on the Aging Place Committee in age-friendly Cumberland noticed that older folks were struggling with raking, yard work, pet walking, and minor home repairs. Students at Greely High School wanted to make life a little easier for their older neighbors. A new program matches residents 60+ or living with a disability who need help with young people who want to make a difference in their community. It is a win-win for all generations!
In another example of a local age-friendly effort, age-friendly Bowdoinham worked with neighboring Richmond and partnered with the Village Lodge #26, the local Masonic Lodge, to form the Village Lodge Handy Brigade. The Handy Brigade provides home maintenance and simple repairs without charge to older adults who live in Richmond, Bowdoin, or Bowdoinham. The only cost is for the parts needed. For people who need expertise that is beyond the ability of the Handy Brigade, they group refers residents to trusted providers and oversees the work. All the work is done by volunteers (most of whom are Masons) who make it their mission to help people in the community—“one light bulb at a time”.
It is exciting and inspiring to share stories like these that remind us how great a role each of us can play in stimulating positive change in Maine. If you would like to start an age-friendly effort in your town or city, contact AARP Maine (email: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone: 207-776-6304).