HARPSWELL — From his living room recliner, Steve Taylor can hear the pounding of hammers and the occasional whine of an electric saw.

It’s a sunny August day and his faded green split-level ranch, built in 1969 on a rough road leading to Dyers Cove, is humming with activity. Several of his fellow townsmen have come by to spruce up the place, free of charge. They’re with Harpswell Aging at Home, a volunteer group started three years ago to help older town residents.

At 83, Taylor couldn’t rebuild the rickety deck stairs himself, or replace rotted siding, or reinforce a sagging floor. A retired millwright whose wife died three years ago, Taylor is disabled by a stroke and lives on a fixed income.

Steve Ingram, a volunteer with Harpswell Aging at Home, cuts boards for new exterior stairs at the home of Steve Taylor, 83.

He’s pretty pleased with the renovations so far.

“It’s beautiful,” Taylor said. “They do good work.”

Harpswell Aging at Home is one of about 100 grassroots initiatives that have cropped up across Maine in the last few years to help seniors remain in their homes and stay connected to their communities. The Harpswell group also provides rides for seniors and organizes twice-monthly communal meals, known as Lunch With Friends, which are hosted by various local organizations.


Harpswell residents responded to growing needs in a seaside town that has the highest median age in Maine – 58.1 years – in a state that has the highest median age in the nation – 44.7 years, according to the U.S. Census. It’s also a relatively wealthy community overall, with a median household income of $71,914, compared to $50,826 statewide, in part because its coastal setting has attracted wealthy retirees “from away.”

But because Maine has some of the oldest housing in the nation, a majority of homes in Harpswell are more than 25 years old. And more than one-third of older town residents don’t have the financial resources to cover basic expenses, let alone keep up with major home repairs.

“Some of the houses we patch should be torn down,” said Bob Bauman, 79, volunteer coordinator of Harpswell’s home renovation program. “But there’s no place for the homeowner to go, so we do our best to make it safe and warm and dry for a few more years.”


Maine’s new aging-in-place programs are often funded by donations or grants and staffed by volunteers, most of them younger retirees who have time on their hands and a desire to help others. They offer a wide variety of assistance, including home repair programs, transportation services, home-delivered meals in a pinch, community events and volunteer opportunities – all geared toward maximizing health and minimizing social isolation.

Fifty-eight Maine municipalities have joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities and committed to supporting senior programs through their city or town budget. The process includes conducting a community assessment and developing an action plan to make each city or town a better place for people of all ages.


Aging in Place Cumberland is part of the AARP network, offering rides, handyman services, exercise classes, help with yard work or snow shoveling, game nights at the public library and simple companionship.

Peter Lieberwirth, a volunteer with Harpswell Aging at Home, works on siding.

One of its most successful programs is Cumberland Area Rides, which helps seniors get to the bank, supermarket, pharmacy, hairdresser, medical appointments and even social engagements.

“We took one woman to see a play at the Portland Stage Company,” said CAR coordinator Lisa Crowley. “She hadn’t been to one in years because she had no way to get there.”

Started in 2016, CAR has provided 690 rides and currently serves 44 riders with 26 regular volunteer drivers, who cover their own costs. Crowley is a mother of three teenagers and a part-time speech pathologist who works with seniors. She volunteers for CAR because she enjoys helping older people.

Retired physicist Bruce Brandt wires exterior lights.

“They’re sweet as can be and they have so much wisdom,” Crowley said. “They also have a positive perspective on life and they’re so appreciative of the help they receive.”

Oretta Baker counts on CAR to get to doctor, dental and eye appointments. An active 88-year-old, she no longer drives because she has lost much of her vision to macular degeneration, a disease of the retina. Family, friends and neighbors help her with other errands that can be done anytime, but it’s tougher to find rides for scheduled weekday appointments.


“I’m really dependent on somebody else getting me where I need to go, so the volunteers with CAR have been so helpful,” said Baker, a retired administrative assistant. “They’re so kind and considerate. I don’t feel embarrassed asking for a ride because they’re doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. The way I see it, they’re paying it forward. I used to volunteer when I could and now I’m on the receiving end.”

As a side benefit, Baker became friends with one of her regular drivers, Dottie Spaulding, 76, also of Cumberland. The two women now take swimming and exercise classes together at the Casco Bay YMCA in Freeport.

“I can’t keep up with her,” Spaulding said of Baker. “The best part about volunteering for the ride program is I’ve met so many nice people and formed friendships with some of them. I get a lot more out of it than I give.”


That’s a common sentiment among volunteers in the community-based senior programs.

Steve Inkellis, 69, is one of nine men working on Steve Taylor’s house in Harpswell. He’s ripping off rotted siding that was installed when local building codes were nonexistent.


A retired lawyer and charter pilot, Inkellis is familiar with carpentry, having worked construction in his 20s. The rest of the volunteer crew is made up of retirees, including a nuclear engineer, a physicist, a liquor store owner, a college president, a software engineer and a chief financial officer.

“I do this for the same reason all these other guys do it,” Inkellis said during a break. “It makes me feel good.”

Taylor’s house is the 50th home renovated by Harpswell Aging at Home in the last two years. The group has formed a funding partnership with Habitat for Humanity 7 Rivers Maine in Topsham, backed by a $62,000 Cumberland County Community Development Block Grant.

Renovations at Taylor’s house include replacing light bulbs and electrical outlets, adding smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, installing lever-style door handles, adding handrails at several locations and rebuilding unstable stairs to the basement. The project cost $1,700 for materials – much less than if Taylor had to hire a contractor.

Some of Taylor’s children live nearby and look after him. His son Roger moved in with him a few years ago.

Roger Taylor works cutting wood and plowing snow in the winter and digging clams in the summer. On his way to market with his morning haul, he stops by the house to check on his father and scope out the renovations.

“We couldn’t afford to do this work,” Roger Taylor said. “We’d have to take out a loan. We’re trying to keep him home as long as possible, so it’s nice that they do this.”


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