FARMINGTON — After finishing a short exercise routine Friday morning with a room full of residents at the Pierce House, Abbie Hartford faced a barrage of polite but endless questions.

What shoes will she wear to her college graduation? What is she going to do now that she’s graduating? If she were to come for lunch on Saturday, would she want a cheeseburger or salmon? And most importantly, will she come back?

The exercise routine — and the small talk that follows — is a twice-per-week occurrence for Hartford and the elderly residents she visits at the Pierce House, including those who call themselves her “grannies.”

Abbie Hartford hugs Doris Weeks after morning exercises Friday at the Pierce House in Farmington. The University of Maine at Farmington graduating senior started the UMF Senior Buddy program to address the problem of loneliness among the elderly and to get students to visit them in group homes. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The relationships started through a program Hartford founded called the UMF Senior Buddy program, which places students in four Farmington group homes in an effort to address loneliness and encourage more young people to spend time with the elderly.

“I just loved my time here,” said Hartford, who started out as an intern at the Pierce House before introducing the Senior Buddy program. “I didn’t expect to be here for so long, but during my internship I just really fell in love with everyone here.”

The graduating senior, who plans to attend the University of Maine, in Orono, in the fall to earn a master’s degree in social work, said an undergraduate class called Adulthood and Aging was what inspired her to want to work with older people.

After an internship in the fall of her junior year, she also completed a practicum at Pinewood Terrace, an assisted living community.

“Both those experiences really made me aware of how much loneliness some of the residents have,” said Hartford, 22, and originally from Jay. “A lot of them would say how they don’t get many visitors and they get kind of bored and lonely and how much they really love just talking or having someone to listen to them. Those different comments from residents made me realize there was a need for volunteers to come to the different facilities regularly.”

Abbie Hartford leads a group of senior citizens in morning exercises Friday at the Pierce House in Farmington. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

After starting the program earlier this school year, Hartford said she is surprised how many students were interested in participating.

Currently, about 50 students volunteer for at least an hour per week at four sites in Farmington: the Pierce House, Pinewood Terrace, Orchard Park Rehabilitation & Living Center and the Sandy River Center.

“It really was so insightful because what she wanted was for her work to carry on,” said Darlene Mooar, administrator at the Pierce House. “She wanted to show (other students) and introduce them to the wonder and delight of working with older people.”

On Saturday, Hartford will be one of about 360 undergraduate and graduate students to march in a commencement ceremony at UMF.

After a three-week trip to Peru — where Hartford assured residents she’ll be getting in her exercise by walking — she’ll continue her volunteer work through August.

Abbie Hartford offers a glass of water to Audrey Gensel after morning exercises Friday at the Pierve House in Farmington on Friday. The University of Maine at Farmington graduating senior started the UMF Senior Buddy program to address the problem of loneliness among the elderly and to get students to visit them in group homes. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

She also plans to run the Senior Buddy program in Farmington from Orono next year.

She said she has had offers to help from organizations such as the United Way and Franklin Memorial Hospital, and professors on UMF’s campus.

The program has been beneficial for the residents at Pierce House, said Mooar, who added she also would like to see it continue.

“They’re so warm and so willing to talk with these young people about their life experiences,” she said. “They really love to have the young people around and in their presence.”

“I think it’s very beneficial,” said Jerry Edgar, 88. “We exercise our feet, legs and hands. Abbie is a great leader and a great teacher. We’ve enjoyed having her here.”

“She is terrific and not only in training as far as our exercises,” said another resident, Nancy Barnes, 81. “She has a wonderful personality. We’re going to miss her. I feel like we’re her grannies. We want to know everything she does.”

Hartford said she’ll still come back to visit at the Pierce House. She’s also been instructed by residents to hand-write letters and address them to TPHG.

“I asked them what that stands for, and they said, ‘The Pierce House grannies,'” she said with a smile.

 


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