Portland Area Villages: Making a difference

Within the city of Portland, Maine exists a small, but growing non-profit organization called Portland Area Villages. A member of the national organization Village to Village Network, its mission is to provide assistance to older people who want to age in their own homes.

I met recently with Elaine Mullin, Portland Area Villages’ Executive Director and Carol Colton, Vice President of Operations. Both women had been active in small neighborhood groups that were looking at ways to help older people “age in place.”

Elaine is a nurse who has worked in home health for much of her career. She belonged to a group on Munjoy Hill.

I’ve always loved the elderly and have gone into people’s homes and seen the struggles. Our Munjoy Hill group did exploratory types of things for several years. We visited what was the only village in Maine at the time At Home, in the Bar Harbor area. Munjoy Hill had all the right people at the table but everyone was still working full time. We realized it was too resource intensive to do only in a neighborhood. Carol already had a group started in Back Cove and there was another in the West End.

Elaine Mullin

The neighborhood groups decided to join forces and create a citywide organization. Using resources provided by the Village to Village Network, five representatives spent a year and a half creating Portland Area Villages, which they launched October 2017. It’s a membership organization open to anyone age 50+ or disabled who lives in the Greater Portland area.

To receive services you pay a $250 annual fee that entitles you to a variety of options:

  • Transportation to doctors, grocery stores, hairdressers, etc.
  • Running errands, pickups and deliveries
  • Friendly phone calls and visits
  • Light household assistance
  • Computer and communications assistance to help stay connected with community and neighbors
  • Connections to book clubs and card games
  • Group outings to local cultural and sports events
  • Light gardening & yard work
  • Snow and ice removal
  • Trash to curb for pickup

Scholarships are available to people whose annual income is below $40,000. Carol has found that most people want to pay something because then they feel like they’re not burdening anybody. She told me about one member who insists on paying even though her annual income is less than $16,000.

I could have said we’ll just pay for your membership but she wanted no part of that. She said I think I can do $5. Every other month she sends me a money order for $10. She’s kind of paying her way so she doesn’t feel so bad if she has to call and ask for help. We have somebody who takes her to do groceries and other little errands once a week. She’s also had transportation to doctor’s appointments and that’s basically all she has ever asked us for.

Carol Colton

Volunteer and member/Portland Area Villages

Everybody who works for the organization volunteers their time. Each volunteer who interacts with a member gets a full background check. Last count they had 25 volunteers for 21 members.

They could use a lot more volunteers, especially people who can drive. Volunteers who can’t drive usually do handyman type things or gardening or maybe even helping put together a jigsaw puzzle.

For 75-year-old Sara Archbald being a volunteer makes her life richer. She drives people to appointments or helps them with grocery shopping. She also fills in for Carol, who handles the day to day operations — a fulltime volunteer job.

Carol is an amazing coordinator. She keeps track of the schedules and interviews potential clients and volunteers. I help her one day a week and when she’s on vacation. I also grocery shop for a woman with MS who is in her 50s and in a wheelchair and take another woman to physical therapy once a week.

I’m very fortunate. I’m in the last quarter of my life and I want to make sure I’m doing something that matters with my time. I want to make the most of it and this is one way to do it. With any volunteer activity, you get more out of it then put into it and you meet great people.

Sara Archbald

For the most part, members receiving services can still function fairly well, but they can’t keep up with everything. They either don’t have anyone close by who could help or they don’t want to ask. Staying in their homes and remaining as independent as possible is all they want.

Surrendering your independence as you age is a huge issue. People do not like to do it and sometimes stay in unsafe positions until they don’t have a choice any longer and it’s more of a crisis situation. We want to help them avoid those crises and give them other options.

Elaine

People are so grateful, oh, my goodness. That’s the thing.

Sara

If you’d like to know more about the organization and how it’s run or if you’re interested in becoming a member and receiving services or being a volunteer and providing services, contact Portland Area Villages:

Portland Area Villages is in Portland, Maine. There are other villages throughout the United States, which you can locate on the Village to Village Network map.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.