We want to start this column with a bold statement. Every politician in this state at any level of government should be judged in great part by their knowledge and proactive engagement with senior-related and workforce issues in Maine. This is because Maine’s aging demographics … both our growing aged population, as well as our shrinking young worker population … will directly affect every single citizen, every business, our overall economy, and the resilience of the social fabric of our communities.

Our representatives and senators need to be held to account for policies that move Maine forward with clarity and purpose. We also see that it is particularly town selectmen and managers all over the state who can play crucial roles in decentralized, grassroots, community-based efforts to create age-friendly towns and cities.

Today we’re focusing on the Town of Bowdoinham, which has a demonstrated commitment over the last several years of providing the authority and leadership to create an age-friendly community. The Maine Council on Aging and the AARP have recognized Bowdoinham as an age-friendly leader, and Bowdoinham was the first Northern New England town designated as an age-friendly community by the World Health Organization in 2014.

The Town of Bowdoinham Select Board completed an assessment of the needs, supports and services for optimal aging in Bowdoinham during 2012. The assessment identified five key areas: Access to information; coordinated town leadership and advocacy for older residents; transportation; housing; and a central gathering place for seniors and community members.

The needs assessment led to the creation of a nine-member Advisory Committee on Aging to provide advocacy for all local senior-related issues, and to report back to the five elected select people and town manager on age-friendly actions to be taken.

Patricia Oh, LMSW, was appointed coordinator of older adult services to lead this committee. One measure of the brilliance of the work accomplished by the Bowdoinham Advisory Committee on Aging is that they used assessment criteria for age-friendly communities created by the World Health Organization, and specifically adapted the WHO recommendations to their local needs.
In 2014, Patricia Oh and the ACOA submitted a very thorough report to town leaders and to the World Health Organization titled, “Measuring the Age-friendliness of Bowdoinham, Maine, United States of America.”

It is the appointment of this committee with a paid leader chairing it, and then the proactive engagement and cooperation of the town manager and select board, along with hundreds of volunteer hours by the advisory committee in community projects, that has led the little town of Bowdoinham to accomplish many projects large and small.

They have done everything from improving the walkability of the village and increasing accessibility of public spaces and buildings, to organizing a variety of social activities, and organizing volunteers who contribute their unique gifts and time to make the town a better place for everybody.

Just this past week, the AARP recognized Bowdoinham with a grant for funds to purchase building supplies to make raised garden beds for those who can no longer kneel or sit on the ground to plant, but who still want to raise their own vegetables.

Of note is the winning proposal expands these age-friendly efforts beyond the Town of Bowdoinham. The grant will engage other gardeners from Bowdoinham, Bowdoin, and Richmond to form a regional garden club and will feature guest speakers from the University of Maine Co-operative Extension. The simple measures undertaken are simultaneously addressing issues of food insecurity and social isolation in an easy, simple way that generates much good.

So … Whoddathunk? Bowdoinham is a community of about 2,800 residents, and look at its amazing accomplishments. Bowdoinham demonstrates that dedicated people in the smallest towns can create and implement amazing and even revolutionary ideas.

There are 80 other communities in Maine working to make their communities more age-friendly. Harpswell, Bowdoinham and Boothbay are powerful examples right here in the Midcoast.

Communities are learning from each other. At the Maine Council on Aging Wisdom Summit last week, Patricia Oh led a panel discussion, titled “Maine’s Aging in Place Revolution.” There were town representatives from Bethel, Cumberland, Harpswell and Readfield, each describing the efforts of their towns in creating age-friendly communities.

Maybe your town managers would like to move towards a more age-friendly community, too. Ask them about it in your next town meeting. Patricia Oh tells me that she receives three to four requests for information every month from towns around Maine.

For more information about the Bowdoinham Advisory Committee on Aging, visit www.bowdoinham.com/aging-bowdoinham-committee.
For information on age-friendly communities all over the country, visit www.aarp.org/livable-communities/network-age-friendly-communities.

Jill Wallace is the owner and director of Elm Street Assisted Living in Topsham. Steve Raymond is director of community outreach at the Lincoln Home in Newcastle, and the producer and host of the television show “Spotlight on Seniors.”