Yarmouth initiative sharpens its focus on senior issues

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YARMOUTH — Focus groups will be held over the next couple of weeks as part of the town’s aging in place initiative.

The initiative, which was started by a group of residents, is working to keep seniors in town as they grow older. The focus groups are being used to learn and understand the various concerns of older residents and what they would need to be more comfortable as they “age in place.”

According to the initiative’s project manager, Leigh Kirchner, 16 percent of Yarmouth’s  more than 8,300 residents are older than 64. Of that age group, 30 percent are low to moderate income, which is down from 44 percent in 2000.

“It says that if you can’t afford to stay here, you’re leaving,” she said. “Everyone should be able to stay here.”

Kirchner said Yarmouth benefits from its older population.

“When we lose some of these long-term residents, we lose their character, their oral histories, and other intangibles that make Yarmouth unique,” she said.

The focus groups started in mid-October and will run through the next couple of weeks. The remaining sessions are scheduled for Oct. 29, Nov. 4, and Nov. 12 from 6:30-8 p.m.; Nov. 10 from 1:30-3 p.m., and Nov. 5 from 10:30 a.m.-noon. 

The groups are held at several locations around town and participants must register by calling Beth Costello at 846-1591 or Raelene Bean at 846-1409. 

Kirchner said there have been about 12 people at each session so far. She said anyone is welcome to come, including seniors, their caregivers, and their family members. People looking to contribute to the initiative are welcome, too.

“We want everyone to know that there’s a way to help with this project or benefit from it,” Kirchner said.

The initiative was originally put together by a group of residents who had been working on senior housing options and it was made possible by a planning grant from the county. A Cumberland County Community Development Block Grant of $6,000 was received, as was an additional $3,400 from the town.

The focus groups are facilitated by 14 volunteers, all of whom were trained by Lift 360 in Portland. The facilitators start by asking people to talk about the definition of aging in place. They then ask people how they feel about the aging process and what concerns them. 

The groups also discuss the seniors’ willingness to accept help, and what gets in the way of asking for help. There are also discussions about what it’s like to age in Yarmouth and where there are gaps in service.

“The issue of social isolation has come up and the ability to get to programs,” she said. “They want to be independent, but they need to be connected.”

Once the focus groups wrap up next month, Kirchner and the others behind the initiative will construct a community survey of all residents, regardless of age. Kirchner said the survey won’t go out until after the holidays.

The group will use the results of the survey to make a plan with short-, intermediate-, and long-term goals. Kirchner said the plan should be completed by next spring. She said they will also be looking for additional sources of funding throughout this process.

In the meantime, Kirchner said the Yarmouth group has been meeting with Cumberland residents working on a similar initiative to discuss ways residents can help seniors. They are finding people to do work for older residents, such as plumbing, plowing, shoveling, yard work, or anything else seniors can’t do on their own.

“What’s been really satisfying is you start talking about these topics and people are super interested,” Kirchner said. “People come out of the woodwork to help get stuff done.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.