Down East 2013 ©
By Nancy Heiser
Photograph by Mark Fleming
Inhale, twist.” Hold . . . feel the stretch . . . “Exhale, relax.”
Carol Kraujnik speaks gently, guiding the slow, purposeful movements of exercisers spread out on foam mats in a small, mirrored fitness room. It’s Friday morning yoga at the Coastal Community Center in Damariscotta. The seven rooms occupy the entire floor of a small, commercial building along the Main Street strip. But its ordinary exterior belies what’s happening inside.
With sunlight peeking through a row of windows, the four women in this class move to soft music with different degrees of suppleness and confidence. They stretch and balance on foot and chair before settling into shavasana (full relaxation on the floor) to complete the hour.
Founded in 1972 as the Central Maine Area Agency on Aging, Spectrum Generations now operates seven such community centers across a swath of Maine reaching from the Canadian border to the coast. The centers offer fitness sessions, social activities, financial counseling, caregiver support, health screenings, and group travel opportunities abroad and within Maine. The nonprofit, which changed its name from Senior Spectrum in 2008, administers the Meals on Wheels program for homebound individuals and other programs through the Older Americans Act. In some form or another, Spectrum Generations serves one in three Mainers aged sixty or over in Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Somerset, and Waldo counties, as well as the communities of Harpswell and Brunswick in Cumberland County.
Spectrum Generations’ constituency — and that of Maine’s four other area agencies on aging — is large and growing. The Pine Tree State’s population is aging faster than any other state’s and is consistently ranked at or near the top as one of the oldest. In 2007, the statewide median age was 41.6.
Additionally, Maine is the third most rural state in the nation and becoming increasingly rural. These demographic changes challenge organizations that provide health and social services to older people, many of whom now live outside city and town centers.
From book clubs to knitting, bridge to Zumba, the activities offered at Spectrum Generations’ community centers are designed to gather people together, keep their minds and bodies active, and provide volunteer and life-long learning opportunities for Maine’s older citizens. The centers also offer practical help.
Trained volunteers facilitate a seminar series called “Living Well for Better Health,” a program for people who live with chronic conditions, at several centers. “We do a lot of problem-solving and brainstorming,” says Kathy Coughlin, who co-teaches in Damariscotta. “It’s an active class.” Information sessions on Medicare Part D, reverse mortgages, caregiver support, and other topics are regular offerings as well.
The centers provide space and resources for retirees who want to meet new people or connect with old friends, travel to cultural events near and far, or learn something new.
The coffee pot is always on, the Wi-Fi connected, the staff ready to listen to what people would like their particular center to offer.
Spectrum Generations makes a “fabulous contribution” toward camaraderie among older adults, says George Van Deventer, 74, an accomplished Maine poet who teaches poetry at the Coastal Community Center and has had students in their thirties as well as seventies in his class. “They offer a great variety of things to do.”
“It’s all about creating that sense of community,” says Marianne Pinkham, the center coordinator in Damariscotta. “And it’s for all generations, getting them together so they can rub shoulders. People learn from each other.”
The centers are anything but cookie-cutter. Each takes on the flavor of its community, says Debra Silva, vice president of Public Education and Center Operations. “In our Rockland center, art has really taken off. In another center, it might be fitness.”
The William S. Cohen Community Center in Hallowell, located off I-95 near Augusta, is a case in point. Whereas the Coastal Community Center reminds one of a comfortable house with several rooms, this facility, 11,000 square feet and built in 1996, resembles a boutique hotel. And with a professional chef, commercial kitchen, and separate catering business that supports agency operations, Cohen is food central.
People of all ages come here especially to dine. And why not? With no advance sign-up required and a suggested donation of four dollars if you’re sixty or over (five dollars for everyone else) for a three-course meal that includes salad, entrée, and dessert every weekday, lunch draws people from a fifty-mile radius.
The dining room is spacious and light, with a cathedral ceiling and a wall of windows overlooking meadow and marsh. Comfortable chairs pull up to wood tables set with cloths and silverware. The dining room seats seventy; overflow is seated in a room added on last year. When these thirty-two seats fill up, lunch extends into the equally attractive boardroom.
Because of the facility’s size and configuration, it can play host to large events, such as the monthly Swingtime Dance and Dinner, a semi-formal affair timed so that you can travel home before dark. It always sells out.
The Cohen center provides a glimpse at another essential element of the program — volunteering and outreach. Here, Meals on Wheels are prepared in a commercial kitchen, with the help of volunteers, for residents of a broad area covering southern Kennebec and Lincoln counties and the southern midcoast. The center produces four hundred to six hundred hot meals every weekday.
The lunches the organization provides — whether delivered to a homebound individual or served buffet style at Cohen to all visitors, regardless of age or income — not only ensure partakers a nutritious meal once a day but also help combat the isolation that many may feel if they live alone or outside of a neighborhood. The range of activities offered at all the community centers has the same effect, as well as provides older adults and families a chance to enrich their lives.
“Keeping people at home as long as possible and engaged in their community as long as possible — everything about Spectrum Generations revolves around that core,” says Dott Freeman, the organization’s director of development.
Ben Thompson, a regular at the Damariscotta location as program participant and volunteer extraordinaire (he delivers meals, answers the phone, and fills up deflated exercise balls with his air compressor, among other things), puts it this way: “If it weren’t for these centers, I’d be a couch potato.”