Presenters discuss how to make Fort Kent an age-friendly community
FORT KENT, Maine — Many people living in the St. John Valley embrace the values of working hard and working together. Above all else, they value family. For these reasons, Valley towns may find success in adopting measures to improve the lives of older residents, according to presenters who shared information about age-friendly communities at the Fort Kent Senior Center on Wednesday.
Representatives from the Aroostook Agency on Aging and AARP Maine visited the center to discuss with interested members of the public why local towns should take action to become age-friendly.
“We are all aging, nobody has discovered the fountain of youth,” said Japhet Els, community outreach director for AARP Maine.
Patricia Oh, age friendly team leader for AARP Maine, said there are currently 47 communities in Maine designated as age-friendly, but none north of Jackman. With only 214 age-friendly communities nationwide, Oh said Maine is well ahead of other states in terms of age-friendly communities.
“Maine rocks,” Oh said. “It’s because of communities like this one where people are actively engaged and want to make the community a better place to live.”
AARP has outlined eight areas of livability that influence the health and quality of life of older people. Among them are access to safe and affordable housing, social participation and civic participation and employment.
Social participation has a significant bearing on the health and wellness of older people, according to Oh, who said that loneliness is worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Reggie Deschaine, who attended the event at the senior center, said he has been contacted by older people who are in need of basic housing maintenance such as mowing their lawns and shoveling their driveways.
Oh asked if there was a community service component required of students at the local high-school. Told that there is, Oh suggested that perhaps the students could help older folks with such chores, and achieve their academic requirements in the process.
Oh asked those attending the presentation to describe some of Fort Kent’s strengths. Attendees were quick to point out the close-knit family ties of those living in the town, as well as the work ethic of Fort Kent residents.
Joseph Davis, who moved to Fort Kent 11 years ago, said there is “great community spirit” here.
Prior to moving to town, Davis said he lived in an apartment building in Chicago where “you hardly knew the person on the other side of the wall.
“Here in Fort Kent, people are friendly, social and willing to help you,” he said.
Oh said these values and community spirit could benefit the town if residents should choose to take steps toward designating Fort Kent as an age-friendly community.
The first step to developing an age-friendly community is gathering a team of people interested in improving the lives of older people in Fort Kent, she said. They must then secure support from the Fort Kent Town Council to fill out an application for membership into the AARP network of age-friendly communities.
The application, Oh said, is simple and consists of only a few questions.
If Fort Kent becomes an age-friendly community, the town will be eligible for small planning and implementation grants for projects to improve the lives of older people living in the area. Examples of such projects could include adding safety railings to the middle of wide stairways at public places, or locating park benches along walking trails to provide older folks a place to stop and rest while out enjoying nature.
Other benefits of becoming an age-friendly community through AARP would involve a sharing of ideas from other member communities and the mentoring and peer-learning that entails. AARP staff would also provide technical support and assistance in implementing improvements for the lives of the community’s older citizens.
Els pointed out that turning Fort Kent into an age-friendly community is something any group of dedicated citizens can help make happen.
“Small communities function because you all make them go,” he said.
For more information about adopting age-friendly communities in Aroostook County, contact Joy Barresi Saucier at (207) 764-3396 or firstname.lastname@example.org.