Harpswell Aging at Home volunteer John Ferraro highlights the efforts of the Home Repairs Team.

Volunteer opportunities allow us to utilize our past experiences and skills. Over the years, Harpswell Aging at Home has benefited from the talents of many volunteers and has, in turn, provided those volunteers with an outlet to pursue their interests and passions.

A conversation at a meditation class brought Dave Brown and Jess Maurer together to start Harpswell Aging at Home. Brown, a retired college professor and organizational development consultant, and Maurer, the executive director of Maine’s Council on Aging, saw an unmet need in Harpswell. They wanted to provide our neighbors with ways to successfully age in their own homes, and they started building the blocks seven years ago.

Drawing on their own outreach skills, “We started recruiting others who we thought might be interested and helpful,” said Brown. Through surveys and focus groups, they identified concerns that included food, transportation and home repairs. HAH grew from there. “It was about neighbors helping neighbors,” Brown added.

Retired teacher and school administrator Surrey Hardcastle joined the group and became chair of the Food Committee. “My husband does the cooking!” Hardcastle said, laughing. “I’m not a foodie. But food is very social – it was perfect.”

Hardcastle uses her leadership and organizational skills to oversee a team of hundreds of cooks and make sure programs like Meals in a Pinch, Lunch with Friends and Snacks with Friends run smoothly. HAH also played a role in connecting with the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, which now offers a mobile food pantry behind the Town Office each Thursday morning.

After starting her career planning programs with the Red Cross for American GIs in Korea, Karin Soderberg spent 14 years as a program director for membership at Mystic Seaport. “It was fun,” remembered Soderberg. “I got to call up people from all over the world and ask them to speak to our members and plan trips as well.”

Soderberg now lends her talents to help organize cooking workshops and demonstrations with Cooking at 43° North, which recently offered a Thai cooking class, a cookie swap, and a Feast of the Seven Fishes demonstration. The program will hold an oyster-focused event in February.

Soderberg’s experience working with presenters has helped HAH’s guest speakers feel supported and comfortable. “I’m not really a good cook,” she said. “I can, however, bring organizational skills to planning events up front.”

Kathy D’Agostino, who originally volunteered as a cook with HAH, turned her curiosity into a monthly column in the Harpswell Anchor that focuses on recipes and the stories behind them. “I’m reserved, but I’ll talk to anyone,” said D’Agostino, who brings life to favorite recipes from Harpswell neighbors and local restaurants. She loves meeting people and getting the “scoop” from everyone about their dishes.

As the leader of the Home Repairs Team, John Ferraro brought his extensive experience as an engineer with a power company, along with construction skills learned from his father. “When I retired, I was looking for something to do with my time,” said Ferraro. “I’m a hands-on person.”

The group that performs repairs each week includes four project coordinators, assisted by members who develop materials lists. Ferraro helps with individual projects and serves as a liaison to Habitat for Humanity and the HAH Steering Committee. “I’m organized by nature,” he said. “I enjoy working with the crew and helping them set up for the next week’s work.”

Volunteers who sought to meet people and contribute to their community have been encouraged and supported to bring new ideas to HAH in an effort to lend a hand. “All skills are welcome,” noted Soderberg. “The more diversity of skills and ideas, the better the programs will be.”

If you are interested in putting your background and experience to great use, please visit HAH’s website at hah.community to explore possibilities.