YARMOUTH— After her mother’s death about two years ago, Leigh Kirchner felt there was more that could be done for the seniors in her community.
“(Because of distance), I didn’t know things that were available to my mom as she grew older,” Kirchner, who is retired, said last week. “She was once such a vibrant part of her community, and when she wasn’t anymore, I thought, ‘We could’ve done better.'”
That realization led Kirchner to become Yarmouth’s Aging in Place coordinator.
Aging In Place is a nationwide effort to help older residents stay safe, healthy and happy in their homes and communities. Community needs are assessed on a state or town basis, and strategies are developed to fulfill those needs.
With advice and help from various local businesses and organizations, including Bartlett Circle, Kirchner began devising an AIP plan around 2 1/2 years ago under Yarmouth Cares About Neighbors. The plan was finished last fall with financial support from a Community Development Block Grant of $6,000 and an additional $3,400 from the town.
On the evening of June 8, about 50 residents and volunteers, and one adorable therapy dog, Mimi, gathered at the Merrill Memorial Library to acknowledge the efforts and achievements of Yarmouth’s AIP. Attendees were invited to enjoy ice cream donated by Toots Ice Cream of North Yarmouth while socializing with AIP’s team in the library’s garden.
Andrea Cooper, a Yarmouth resident and AARP Age-Friendly Team member, presented Kirchner and her team with a certificate recognizing Yarmouth as an AARP-certified Age-Friendly Community.
“The work (Kirchner and her volunteers) do for the community is truly incredible,” Cooper said. “I know I speak for everyone at AARP when I say that we are thrilled to have Yarmouth join our network of age-friendly communities.”
Following the presentation, AIP raffled off a hand-crafted planter, won by AIP volunteer Raelene Bean, and Metro Breez bus passes, won by Yarmouth resident Julie Krasne. The planter was made by Kylie Ford, who’s pursuing her master’s degree at Maine College of Art. Ford’s professor, Cooper, who had taken an interest in volunteering for AIP, took note of Ford’s knack for structural design and suggested Ford build a planter for the raffle out of refurbished wood, primarily donated by 317 Main Community Music Center.
With Maine home to one of the oldest populations in the nation, towns and communities all over the state have implemented their own aging-in-place initiatives and programs.
Yarmouth AIP volunteers work to support and improve the lives of their fellow residents under seven domains: accessibility, social participation, communication, transportation, economic security, home and health services, and housing. A few community outreach efforts on AIP’s extensive list are snow shoveling, gardening, dog walking, yard work, and now, upon request, therapy dog services.
“Basically, if someone needs something, we figure it out,” Kirchner said.
She said it is just as important to advocate for the inclusion of every member of the community, regardless of age. By highlighting various opportunities and services offered by other community organizations, as well as AIP’s, she hopes to keep all residents active and engaged in their town.
“I’ve always been a big proponent in being involved with whatever makes your heart sing,” Kirchner said. AIP’s social calendar lists events such as exercise and outreach programs, bingo nights, and knitting clubs.
Kirchner works alongside at least 100 active volunteers, with a couple hundred more on her email list. Paying homage to the familiar phrase, “It takes a village,” Kirchner said none of her efforts would be possible without the help of her community and dedicated team of volunteers.
Andrea Cooper, left, of AARP, presents Leigh Kirchner with the national group’s Age-Friendly Community certificate.
Yarmouth residents and Aging in Place volunteers congregate in the garden at Merrill Memorial Library for ice cream at an AIP event held June 8.