Shining a spotlight on inspirational leaders who rose to the challenge of caring for other Mainers during the COVID-19 outbreak in Maine, the Maine Council on Aging has announced its 2020 award honorees who will be highlighted at the council’s upcoming virtual Wisdom Summit — Aging Well Through COVID, on Wednesdays, Sept. 16 and. 23, according to a news release from Jess Maurer, executive director, Maine Council on Aging.

For years, the council has honored the outstanding work of aging services leaders, legislators and advocates with a series of annual awards. With the exception of the Lasting Legacy Award, this year, all of the awards have been re-imagined to match the times we’re experiencing.

“2020 has been a year that has challenged us all to be our best selves, to be agile, compassionate, and resilient,” said Maurer in the release. “During this year of unrelenting change, we have been inspired by so many Mainers who have risen to this challenge with innovative spirits and genuine kindness. Our 2020 awards honor leaders who stepped up in remarkable ways to ensure older adults were able to get what they needed while they were staying safe at home.”

The Lasting Legacy Award recognizes the sustained leadership of people whose commitment, ideals, and actions throughout their careers have brought about lasting and positive change to the lives of older Mainers. This year’s Lasting Legacy honoree, Don Harden of Portland, is an icon in the human services world and truly embodies the purpose of this award.

At Catholic Charities Maine, Harden has spent more than 40 years working to improve the lives of Mainers. For the last two decades, he has been a tireless advocate for quality home care services and care workers, and his efforts have made it possible for us all to age well at home with the supports we need. His wisdom, generosity, and collaborative spirit have also left a lasting mark on his colleagues. While his response to COVID-19 was impressive, we wish to honor him for his inspiring leadership over time, rather than to focus on his work this year.

The Legislator of the Year Award recognizes the efforts of a legislative leader who worked through the COVID-19 crisis collaboratively with communities, institutions, governments, and businesses to develop and implement solutions that have improved the health and safety of older Mainers. The 2020 Legislator of the Year Award honors Rep. Chloe Maxmin of Nobleboro, a freshman legislator with an outspoken passion for her older constituents. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Maxmin quickly organized more than 200 volunteers to contact and triage the needs of more than 3,000 older people in her district, making more than 10,000 calls over several months and coordinating with multiple service providers to ensure their needs were met.

The council’s Trailblazing Advocate Award recognizes the contributions of community members who, in the face of COVID-19, have responded through actions in incredible and innovative ways to make Maine a safer place for us all to age with dignity, health, purpose and security. Two women receive the award this year: Surrey Hardcastle of Harpswell and Lynn Steed of Saco.

For four years, Hardcastle has chaired the Food Team of Harpswell Aging at Home, a grassroots volunteer organization. When COVID-19 hit, she had been leading Lunch With Friends, a free weekly lunch program that serves thousands of volunteer-cooked meals yearly. Undeterred by COVID, she and her team, following all CDC protocols, quickly shifted gears to a take-out lunch format called Meals-To-Go. Every Tuesday, from mid-March through the end of June, Hardcastle and her team of 100 volunteers prepared meals that were dropped off at a central location and then picked up by LWF regulars or distributed to homebound people. During this time, they served 5,555 meals to 2,208 people, remarkable in a town of 5000.

Steed is a member of Age Friendly Saco and a volunteer with the Saco Food Pantry. When COVID hit and many older people did not feel comfortable going out to get groceries, she developed a network of volunteers to deliver food. She went to the pantry many times to fulfill food requests for others, and was able to serve hundreds of older people seeking food assistance from a pantry for the first time. Not content to serve just those in her own community, Lynn reached out to serve the needs of older people in neighboring communities as well, often involving the local police department to assist in a food delivery for a family in need.

The council’s Business Excellence Award recognizes the efforts of a Maine employer that pivoted to implement creative practices during COVID-19 to support the health and social health needs of older Mainers and/or the providers who serve them. This year’s award honors the Green Ladle, a Lewiston-based culinary education program that partners with local high schools to employ junior and senior students. The students typically save their collective tips to go on a senior trip, but in response to COVID-19, this year’s class and instructors decided to use their savings to provide more than 500 meals for at-risk older adults, veterans, and first responders. Students prepared the meals and organized volunteers to deliver it, with local restaurants donating the food. Dan Caron and Rob Callahan will receive the awards.

Each honoree will be highlighted in one of four segments over the MCOA’s two-day virtual Wisdom Summit – Aging Well Through COVID on Sept. 16 and Sept. 23. Registration information can be found at mainecouncilonaging.org/the-maine-summit-on-aging/. Further information about the honorees can be found at files.constantcontact.com/674996b4701/01ab2c1f-0f7d-44d6-a0d9-b48d1727d151.pdf.

The Maine Council on Aging is a broad, multi-disciplinary network of more than 100 organizations, businesses, municipalities, and older Mainers working to ensure we can all live healthy, engaged, and secure lives in our homes and community settings. MCOA policy priorities focus on healthy aging, including safe, affordable housing, access to supports, services and care in the right setting at the right time, safe, reliable transportation, and food and income security. For more information, visit  mainecouncilonaging.org.

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