Bethel Region Age-Friendly Community Initiative

Covers: Bethel, Woodstock, Gilead, Newry, and Greenwood, Maine

Start Date: May, 2015

Mission, Vision & Goals

Mission: Towns involved in the Age-Friendly Community Initiative (AFCI) are communities where people of all ages are welcomed, respected, encouraged to participate in civic and social life of the communities, and are able to stay in the communities and in their homes as long as they wish.

Broad Overview

Bethel joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities in September, 2015. What started out to be just one town’s effort has rapidly grown into a regional effort involving four other towns - Greenwood, Newry, Woodstock, and Gilead. This regionalization is fully supported by AARP Maine.

AARP Maine gave the town of Bethel a nearly $7000 grant to begin identifying the needs and assets of the communities. In January of 2016, the survey results were presented to a large group of interested citizens.

Transportation was the main issue driving residents’ concern about aging in the Bethel area. A substantial percentage of respondents (42.3%) said needing more accessible transportation would be a factor in their decision to move from the area as they age. Half of respondents (50.7%) said needing help with health care or household tasks would impact their decision to move. Help with household chores, home healthcare and support were of special concern to those living in surrounding areas. Other issues of importance that emerged include access to home care services, particularly in surrounding areas, a community center and affordable housing. The responses demonstrate that the time is ripe for encouraging changes to make our communities more age-friendly for all.

A one-year “Initial Action Plan” was completed in December 2016. The plan was approved by AARP National and the World Health Organization in March 2017. It was the first plan submitted by a Maine community to be approved.

How is your age-friendly initiative structured?

Each town in the Bethel Regional Age-Friendly Community Initiative appoints 1-2 people to serve on its regional Advisory Council. Additional members of the Advisory Board include representatives from partner organizations: Maine Adaptive Sports and Seniors Plus.

The following committee and task forces work with the Advisory Council on special projects and report their progress to the Council. Each includes members of the Advisory Council as well as interested community members and partner organizations who help with the work:

  • Communication Committee
  • Finance Committee
  • Transportation Task Force
  • Exercise Task Force
  • Street Safety Task Force
  • Morning Greeting Program Task Force
  • Resource Directory Task Force
  • Community Center Task Force

Describe any partnerships you have developed?

We are working closely with the Bethel Town Library to bring technology to seniors, and with Western Maine Transportation Services, Community Concepts, and four other towns to implement and sustain the volunteer transportation network created in 2016. The Town Recreation Committee has worked with us as a bridge between Gould Academy and seniors to find ways to use Gould facilities for specific recreational activities. Other partners include:

  • Western Mountains Senior College
  • Maine Adaptive Sports
  • Mahoosuc Land Trust
  • Greenwood Select Board and Town Manager
  • Newry Select Board and Town Administrator
  • Gilead Select Board and Town Clerk
  • Bethel Select Board and Town Manager
  • Woodstock Select Board and Town Manager
  • AARP Maine
  • Local churches
  • Bethel Department of Public Works
  • American Red Cross
  • Bethel Fire Department

What is the role of volunteers?

Although we work in partnership with several local organizations, this effort is entirely volunteer led and implemented.

Strategies that have contributed to your success? Barriers you have encountered?

The Age-friendly Community Initiative has capitalized on collaboration to achieve success in its several activities. Foremost in our collaboration with other organizations has been working with Community Concepts to leverage its transportation expertise and resources in fielding a successful volunteer driver network.

The things we have done so far - survey, public meetings - have been well-received, and we have gained the support of the town leadership. Keeping people informed is a big part of how far we have come.

Our biggest challenge is reaching the most isolated and those probably most in need of services. Related is the fact that there are at least two factions in the area - people who have lived here all their lives, and people “from away” who moved here for the quality of life, often in retirement.

Types of funding that your initiative has received

Funding sources include grants, municipal funding from four of the five towns that have partnered for the regional approach and private contributions.

Community Initiatives

Transportation

Soon after the Bethel Regional Age-Friendly assessment was completed, a Transportation Task Force was formed that consisted of residents and representatives from Western Maine Transportation Services, a local van service, and Maine Adaptive Sports. This task force has been meeting regularly since its formation, has received a $3000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation to pay for a transportation coordinator, and has teamed up with a non-profit organization, Community Concepts, that provides transportation services already by using volunteer drivers.We are now currently offering free transportation services to 60+ seniors for medical and non-medical purposes.

Our expectation is to expand in 2017 the Community Concepts-based volunteer driver network to a neighbor-to-neighbor transportation capability that will provide local transportation within the five-town area.

In addition to developing an on-demand volunteer transportation program, we are expanding existing scheduled transportation services that are currently provided by public transportation services, such as Western Maine Transportation Services (WMTS)

Health & Wellness

The Bethel Regional Age-Friendly Community Initiative has just completed an indoor winter exercise program. The goal is to provide Seniors with an opportunity to do gentle exercise in a safe place, focusing on improving mobility, flexibility and strength.

Gould Academy, a private school located in Bethel is making one of its gymnasium spaces available at specific times and at no cost to seniors in the area for this purpose. The Town of Bethel Recreation Program will support the project by providing its insurance umbrella and handling registration. One member of the AFCI is joining the Recreation Committee to add the voice of Seniors in the community.

During the first year of this project, we offered at least two hour-long periods each week for guided exercise. As people become familiar with the space and become aware of other possible activities, the program will be expanded.

Outreach & Resource Information

The Bethel Regional Age-Friendly Community Initiative has started a morning check-in/telephone reassurance program that is offered by community volunteers.

An “Age Friendly Community” column has appeared weekly in The Bethel Citizen, the weekly local newspaper, since October 2015. Content is varied, designed to address all domains: reminders of community activities, tips for senior living and health and safety, support for caregivers, links to research and useful information, and the like. A compilation of these columns has been published tri-weekly and disseminated via e-mail list and hard copy in local locations, such as the Bethel Family Health Center and local supermarket.

The AFCI is developing a web-based resource guide that will be available soon. Stay tuned!

Social, Educational & Recreational

There is no lack of programs and activities being sponsored by other organizations in our area. The goal of the Bethel Regional Age-Friendly Community Initiative is to provide such support as we can to other organizations. This could take the form of advertising their programs in our newsletters and bulletins, and by offering suggestions and help in preparing age-friendly-focused programs. One such program already begun is offering technical support for use of electronic devices and computers through the Bethel Library and Telstar HS.

Fraud, Abuse & Exploitation

The Initiative is partnering with AARP Maine to host a shredding event for the Bethel region. The purpose of the event is to raise awareness of how to prevent identity theft and fraud.

Accessibility & Walkability

Accessibility
The Bethel Age-Friendly Community Initiative is working to create universal trail access to encourage all ages and abilities to get outdoors, have an opportunity to exercise more and to appreciate nature. The Mahoosuc Land Trust is the leader in this endeavor, which will be located at their new home - the Valentine Farm Conservation Center.

The specific objective is to build a two-mile handicapped-accessible nature trail on the property. This new trail, due to be constructed in the summer of 2017, is relatively level and so it is feasible to make it accessible to all from its inception. Many of MLT properties are difficult, steep and not handicapped-accessible, so this location offers great possibilities for reaching a sometimes-neglected constituency. The time frame is dependent on funding, with plans to construct the trail during the summer of 2017.

Walkability
The goal of the pedestrian safety project is simply to make motorists within the village of Bethel more aware of crosswalks. The Village of Bethel’s Main Street gradually goes uphill and also curves slightly, so an inattentive motorist may well not notice a pedestrian ready to cross. To improve visibility on heavily-used stretches of Main Street, several crosswalk stanchions have been put in place by Bethel’s Department of Public Works with the encouragement of the Initiative.

Home Safety
In collaboration with the American Red Cross and local fire departments, the Initiative is working to offer for residential use free smoke detectors provided by the Red Cross and installed by fire departments.

Tools for Everyday Living
Modeled after Bowdoinham’s “Tools for Everyday Living” program, plans are currently underway to institute a similar program in the Bethel area

Communication

Press releases relative to various activities, such as the Volunteer Driver Program, have been published in local media. Special Age-Friendly Community Initiative articles about the Bethel area have been published in local and statewide media.

Social media, such as Senior College blogs and Facebook, have been utilized extensively to communicate with the public. To promote special events such as public meetings, flyers and posters have been published and distributed widely within the four-town region.

The Communications Committee chair is serving as a clearing house for age-friendly related questions and new ideas.

Region

Documents

Contact

Al Cressy
Chair, Bethel Region Age-Friendly Advisory Committee
PO Box 74, Bethel, ME 04217
ajcressy@megalink.net
207-824-0508