Steve Ingram leads a tai chi class during a Friends Together session at the Town Office. (PHOTO COURTESY HARPSWELL AGING AT HOME)
One of the biggest issues facing older Americans is isolation. As Harpswell Aging at Home looked at its goals, one of the priorities was to offer more programming that would allow residents to safely gather with others — so Friends Together was born.
“What people missed most was socializing,” said Lili Ott, co-chair of HAH’s Steering Committee and one of the organizers of Friends Together. “We wanted to offer something where people could get together and be a little more spread out.”
The pilot program, which ran for eight weeks, was offered in partnership with the Harpswell Department of Recreation and Community Services. “In discussing options with members of HAH, we were able to partner with them in offering Friends Together at town hall, which supported one of our goals — bringing more programming to adults and seniors,” said Gina Caldwell, the town’s recreation director and community services coordinator.
Meeting on Thursday mornings at town hall, residents were offered sessions on health and exercise, a hands-on craft, and a presentation germane to aging. Community members taught classes in yoga and tai chi; led participants in making felt lobster buoys, earrings, Thanksgiving centerpieces and other crafts; and shared valuable information about subjects ranging from home safety to estate planning and changes in Medicare. Participants were able to take advantage of one or all of the segments offered on a given morning, at a level comfortable for them.
“It was such a well-constructed program,” participant Karin Soderberg said. “HAH is doing such a good job shifting gears and trying to ease back into getting people together again. Also, the topics discussed were really pertinent as we get older and want to stay in our home.”
In addition to the socialization component, the programming helps to address issues HAH sees among the neighbors it serves. With Harpswell having the highest fall rate in the state, tai chi and yoga offerings will help residents with balance. An information session by Harpswell Fire Administrator Art Howe led to a call seeking further information.
“Not only was he informative, he then came to my home and did a fire safety inspection at no charge. He needs to be praised for all he is doing. I was bowled over and he couldn’t have been nicer,” Soderberg said.
Organizers hope to build on the success of the pilot program, which was provided to participants free of charge.
“We would like to get the community’s feedback about programming and what time works best for people,” Ott said. Suggestions and comments are requested from both participants and possible presenters. HAH’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I think it was a lot of fun,” said resident Hope Tanguay. “I have plenty to do at home, but it makes you feel better to get out and see people.”