I often hear older people and mothers with children say they have a hard time crossing the street in downtown Waterville because the traffic moves so quickly.

The traffic lights don’t allow enough time to cross a street and the effort can be frightening, they say.

Waterville would benefit from a transportation system — not that KV Transit isn’t doing a good job — but more public transportation is needed, according to many.

For old and young people alike, affordable housing and health care needs are a priority, as is the need for better access to public places, being part of a social network and feeling like part of the community.

Behind the scenes, a group of volunteers is working to address these issues. The group, Aging Well in Waterville, meets at 11 a.m. the first Tuesday of every month at the REM center on Temple Street downtown to discuss and develop ways to help people of all ages be more comfortable, have opportunities and connect with others so they are not living in isolation.

Sanctioned by AARP, the group was formed as an REM initiative and is one of more than 50 in Maine working to ensure communities are “aging friendly.”

Members in 2017 conducted a survey, funded by AARP, that asked people what is needed in the city to help make it more vibrant, welcoming and safe. Answers included better public transportation and parking, safety, improved access to sidewalks — as they do not have ramps — and more benches on which to sit. They also developed a resource guide that was published on the city’s website, and printed copies were distributed to housing complexes for the elderly.

“What we’re finding is that what was more defined as something a mature adult needs, all ages need,” said Kim Lane, who teaches mental health and addiction classes at University of Maine at Augusta, the University of Maine at Farmington and University of Maine at Augusta in Bangor. Lane co-chairs the group with John Nale, an attorney who specializes in issues involving the elderly.

Faye Nicholson, co-director of the community group, REM, which stands for Revitalizing the Energy in Maine, also is a member. She said the group is taking action after identifying what people need. For instance, she hopes to start a valet service and ask for volunteers to drive people who do not drive themselves to and from events such as Waterville Opera House shows.

She and others want to launch a program whereby neighbors look out for each other and call on an elderly person daily, for instance, to make sure she or he has enough food and fuel. The volunteer also might go to the grocery store, if needed. Social isolation can be devastating to older people, according to Nale.

“It’s the isolation that can lead to financial elder abuse and depression,” he said. “It’s the isolation that leads to a faster decline in health.”

The same issues the group is addressing are being discussed in the Legislature, they said. Transportation, health care costs, homemaker services and the need for increasing the pay for such workers are just a few. Nale initiated a bill to help prevent financial abuse of the elderly. The bill would require banks to ask elders when adding other names to their bank accounts for convenience purposes if they intend that those people own the bank account once he or she dies.

“I was seeing clients adding children or other people’s names to their bank accounts for the sole purpose of having that person help, not inherit,” Nale said. “But the law is, if you add someone to the account, when you die, they inherit it. It doesn’t matter what the will says. After seeing the turmoil and heartache that that caused in families, I thought banks should ask the question, ‘Do you intend for the person whose name is added to the account to inherit that account when you die?'”

The bill received unanimous support in committees and will be written into the Maine probate code, according to Nale.

“It’s just little things like that. There are all kinds of ways for an elder to be abused financially, so if you can plug the mini-holes that lead to financial elder abuse and preserve family harmony, that’s the purpose of this,” he said.

Nicholson said Maine is the oldest state in terms of median age. Nale said 1,800 people a month in Maine turn 65. Lane noted that aging well in Waterville is particularly important to address, as a third of the population — about 6,000 people out of the city’s 15,000 or so residents — are over 50.

“So we really do need to start paying attention to this,” she said. “It’s not like age reverses here.”

Group member Ann Lindeman, branch manager for Bangor Savings Bank in Winslow, said having access to transportation is critical and everyone must get on board to help with that effort.

“KVCAP can’t be the only solution to this massive problem,” she said.

Many people feel disengaged, and helping them to be involved is important, according to Lindeman.

“You have to grab the passion in each person,” she said.

Lindeman, 53, Lane, 60, Nale, 68, and Nicholson, 72, emphasize that everyone ages and we must focus on how we want to be when we grow older. Do we want to be engaged, active, healthy and living a vibrant life? If so, we should work toward ensuring everyone has that opportunity.

“Father Time and Mother Nature — they’re not going to spare any of us,” Nale said.

It is important to spread the word about what people’s needs are in the community so that volunteers can help meet those needs, according to the group. Anyone looking for a volunteer opportunity is encouraged to join the Aging Well in Waterville effort, members said.

“This is about getting people involved and helping the person next door,” Nicholson said. “Bring the spirit back. It’s there. I see it every day.”

She and the others hope people will join by showing up at REM at 11 a.m. the first Tuesday of the month or by calling REM at 873-4444 or emailing [email protected] Nicholson said she can mail people information before they attend.

Since both Nale and Lane work full time, they hope someone with passion and interest will take over leadership of the group.

“We don’t have any legal or financial might behind us. All we have is the energy we have as a group to bring to the table,” Nale said. Lane concurred.

“It’s a way of filling a gap that’s going to make other people’s lives easier, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” she said.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 30 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

filed under: