Last summer, Sherry Gilbert and Chuck Pare were frustrated with a lack of gathering space and activities for people over the age of 60 in Oakland.

Southward in Richmond, the two observed with a touch of envy a robust schedule of programming for the area’s aging population, including weekly cribbage and game days, monthly bowling outings and even the occasional trip out of state.

“Year after year, I’d say: ‘What are we doing for the seniors?'” said Gilbert, recalling her time on Oakland’s Budget Advisory Committee. “Rather than run again, I decided to do something.”

Gilbert and Pare knew they were not alone in their desire to expand seniors’ social offerings in the Oakland area. Individuals aged 60 and older made up 27.5 percent of the town’s population in 2017, according to an estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s 1,712 people in Oakland.

Things took off quickly. By autumn, a board of seven formed, voting to call themselves the Snow Pond Seniors. On Jan. 16, they struck a deal with the town and Regional School Unit 18 to use the main floor of the old superintendent’s office at 47 Heath St. as a home base.

The Snow Pond Seniors will host a soft opening of their new facility with an open house Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon. Starting May 7, the center will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“Right now, we’re open to anyone 60 and older, but we’re gearing ourselves to Oakland citizens,” Gilbert said. “We’re not gonna kick people out.”

A sign near the entrance denotes one of the group’s only policies: “No politics, no religion, no gossip.” The rule was a suggestion from the leader of Richmond’s Golden Oldies Senior Center, Laurie Saunders, who has run the program for 14 years.

“Those (things) can be so conflicting,” Gilbert said. “We (have this) so there are no sparks flying.”

The Snow Pond Seniors plan to brainstorm programming ideas with visitors on Tuesday. Though Gilbert, Pare and board members like Pauline Mathieu have some ideas of their own — health and wellness workshops, yoga and tai chi sessions, craft classes focused on quilting and fiber arts and long-distance trips to Amish country — they want to hear from the community.

“We don’t want to direct them,” Pare said. “We want them to direct us.”

The Heath Street building features five rooms, which the Snow Pond Seniors already envision as a puzzle room, game and hobby room, library, kitchen and multi-purpose space. RSU 18 Superintendent Carl Gartley and other members of the community such as Kelly Roderick have donated items to get the group going, from chairs and tables to board games and even a card shuffler.

Sherri Gilbert puts away donated games Tuesday at the Oakland Senior Center. The new center at 46 Heath St. in Oakland will host an open house from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Gilbert said the Town Council, RSU 18 School Board and residents of Oakland and nearby towns have been overwhelmingly supportive.

“I can’t tell you how many emails and phone calls I’ve received so far,” she said.

Mathieu said the senior center will fill a major need in the community and help older citizens not spend as much time alone.

“You go crazy,” she said of spending too much time cooped up.

According to research from the National Council on Aging, “older adults who participate in senior center programs can learn to manage and delay the onset of chronic disease and experience measurable improvements in their physical, social, spiritual, emotional, mental, and economic well-being.”

The town of Oakland has paid RSU 18 $300 a month since Jan. 16 to rent the old superintendent’s office for the Snow Pond Seniors, an agreement that will be re-evaluated before June 30. The group plans to pursue grant funding to expand its offerings in the future and take over part of the rental expenses.

“We’re hoping to raise enough money not to be a burden to the taxpayers,” Gilbert said. “We want to provide something good for the community and not cost them.”

 

FAIRFIELD CENTER

A similar renaissance is happening in Fairfield Center. At the Victor Grange Fairfield, where senior circle potluck dinners have been held monthly for 17 years, Barbara Bailey has begun a push for more programming.

On April 18, close to a dozen people attended the area’s first diabetes management and balance classes, hosted at the grange by educators from MaineHealth.

“Fairfield has over 56 square miles,” Bailey said. “People don’t want to drive to the Muskie Center (in Waterville). They said, ‘Can’t we just (have activities) at the Grange Hall?’ That’s how it started. They asked, and we said, ‘OK.'”

Sherri Gilbert, left, laughs with Pauline Mathieu, right, as they move games into the new Oakland Senior Center on Heath Street. The center at 47 Heath St. in Oakland will host an open house from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Master of the Grange Becky Potter said she would like to see the building used more, especially with a recent $16,000 investment in two furnaces to heat the space.

“There’s not much to do (in Fairfield),” Potter said. “For a while, a lot of seniors didn’t get out except to come here.”

“We do a lot, but we want to do more,” added Bailey, who has put up surveys all over town asking for feedback and suggestions to encourage people to attend senior-oriented events and activities. The unofficial senior center, which is funded separately from the grange according to Bailey and Potter, recently received a $1,996 grant from Somerset Public Health.

In the near future, Bailey hopes to offer a chronic pain management course.

The grange is located between Route 23 and Route 129.

John Verrier, a 69-year-old from Fairfield Center, gave the first balance class a positive review. The course focuses on helping to alleviate anxiety about falling and progresses over eight weeks from classroom-style learning to physical exercises.

“The introductory class today was promising,” he said on April 18. “I think the senior center is an unfound gem. A lot of people don’t like fighting traffic in Waterville since Colby-ville moved in.”

Sabrina Williamson, 50, said the class is “excellent for anyone to hear — it’s not just for seniors. Younger people with disabilities can go too so that they can learn to not be afraid to fall.” Williamson said that she has a “bad leg” that has been surgically operated on three times.

“I live in pain every day,” she said, adding that she was excited to attend Bailey’s proposed chronic pain management class in the future.

But mostly, Williamson said of the expanded programming, it’s a great thing “to get senior citizens out of their houses.”

Bailey said almost all of the wellness courses will be free, with the exception of tai chi and specific fitness classes. Based on the survey results she receives, there will be classes on knitting, quilting and designated times for playing various games.

“I’m hoping to make a splash,” she said. “A whole bunch of people have signed up for a whole bunch of stuff.”

 

Meg Robbins — 861-9239
[email protected]
Twitter: @megrobbins


Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.