Retiring in Maine: Healthy Spirit
Nurture your spirit by volunteering your expertise.
Illustration by Molly Obourn Fedarko
EMBRACING WHATEVER COMES The wave of Baby Boomers will bring a spirit of selflessness to Maine. By Joshua F. Moore
FROM MAINE TO THE WORLD Young-at-heart Maine retirees are finding new ways to volunteer that take them around the globe. By Jeff Clark
Embracing Whatever Comes
The wave of Baby Boomers will bring a spirit of selflessness to Maine. By Joshua F. Moore
There’s a wave coming to Maine. But experts say that this wave, which will be a flood of retiring Baby Boomers moving to the Pine Tree State in the next couple of decades, is not one that should be ducked but instead should be ridden for all it’s worth. “The elders of tomorrow will be a unique breed of adults. They’ll be more mobile, more educated, and they’re going to be healthier. They won’t appear to be retirees,” declares Lenard W. Kaye, director of the UMaine Center on Aging. “They’re coming to us with expertise that remains current, they’re coming with energy, and they’re coming with enthusiasm. It is incumbent on us to utilize them to their full potential.”
If the track record left behind by the earliest of this new generation of retirees is any indication, Maine will have no problem putting these new residents to good use. Volunteer groups operating in Maine and even abroad are seeing impressive attendance numbers. Applications for serving on boards of directors are being received practically daily. A recent study by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire that examined fourteen areas of the country found older people moving to a new area quickly became involved in their communities, even matching or exceeding the connections of locals in service groups, social clubs, and volunteer activities. This was especially true in Boothbay Harbor, Edgecomb, and Damariscotta, the Maine communities used in the study. “In Lincoln County, Maine, [new retirees] were very active in arts and cultural organizations,” said Nina Glasgow, one of the authors of the study, in an interview on Maine Things Considered. “They had also been very proactive in helping to expand the health care services in that county, and they were involved in theater. They weren’t volunteering at the senior center, I’ll put it that way. They were real movers and shakers.”
The greatest obstacle to Maine’s capitalizing on these new retirees, Kaye says, may be the preconceived notions that people have about them. “It’ll be unfortunate if we view them with the same inclinations that their parents brought with them,” he says. “They’re going to expect to carry a lot of responsibility, and we have the potential to benefit greatly from them.”
From Maine to the World
Young-at-heart Maine retirees are finding new ways to volunteer that take them around the globe.
By Jeff Clark
The remote highlands of Guatemala, the rugged mountains of the Dominican Republic, the teeming streets of Nairobi, Kenya — Maine retirees are finding their expertise is needed in all sorts of exotic locations. While there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer inside the Pine Tree State, folks with a well-aged wanderlust or a yen to keep their passports active have a number of choices that will take them well beyond the shores of the Piscataqua River.
Kim Matthews, of Westbrook, closed her Portland law office more than two years ago. Matthews, 63, had specialized in civil rights and family law cases in Maine, and a few months later found herself in Nairobi, Kenya, working with local attorneys on civil rights litigation through the International Senior Lawyers Project, a New York-based volunteer organization that’s particularly popular with Maine attorneys. “It’s basically the legal version of Doctors Without Borders,” Matthews explains. “I’d read about another attorney in Portland who had done it and thought it was interesting.”
Eighteen months ago she and a group of friends traveled to New Orleans to work rebuilding a musician’s village in one of the worst-hit areas of that hurricane-blighted city. “We stayed in a former school that still showed the waterline twelve feet up the walls from where that entire area had flooded during Katrina,” she recalls. “It was an amazing experience.”
The experience so impressed her that last year she contacted the Portland chapter of Habitat for Humanity. A few days later she was hammering and sawing with a mostly female group of retirement-age volunteers every Wednesday. “We put up insulation, build walls, put on roofs, whatever needs doing,” she says. “I like the physical aspects of it, and it’s a great way to get my head out of being a lawyer.”
Habitat is active throughout the United States, and Maine volunteers frequently have experience with the organization elsewhere. “We often get e-mails or phone calls from people who were involved in Habitat for Humanity elsewhere and have moved to Maine for retirement or a new job,” explains Kate Callahan, volunteer manager for the Portland branch of Habitat for Humanity. Maine has seven local Habitat chapters — the Portland branch is currently working on four homes — and volunteers can also sign up for Habitat projects all over the world, from Mongolia to Argentina.
Older participants also make up a significant proportion of the sixty or so volunteers who are traveling to the Dominican Republic this month under the Partners in Rural Health program. “They bring their professional skills, of course, but they also serve as mentors and role models,” says Dr. Cynthia Robertson, of the Bingham Area Health Center, who has been involved with the program for seven years. The project was founded twelve years ago by the University of Southern Maine’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, and the trips serve not just as volunteer opportunities but also as training missions for the school’s nursing students.
“Once I retired I wanted to see the cultures and lifestyles of the people I had worked with for so many years,” explains Partners in Rural Health volunteer Marcia Chaffee. She and her husband moved to Portland almost two years ago after she retired from the International Institute of Boston, where she worked with refugees and immigrants. “I didn’t want to go as a tourist, but as a participant,” she adds. “This [program] had a direct connection to my work and my interest in human rights.”
Partners in Rural Health “gives me the opportunity to combine both my professional and volunteer interests,” notes Priscilla Doell, of Vassalboro. She has taught Spanish and Portuguese at Colby College in Waterville since 1965 and began making the trips to the Dominican Republic ten years ago as a translator. “It’s about helping people. The nursing students mostly don’t know Spanish, and I’m very committed to helping people communicate with each other. In health care we’re dealing with situations where people are very vulnerable. You want to make sure the messages are clear.”
The group splits up into two teams of thirty people each to trek into the island nation’s interior. “After going back year after year, you get to know the people in these little villages way up in the mountains,” Doell says. “The importance of what we do really hits home when you see the long-term effects like that.”
Doell also operates her own nonprofit, MaineSafe (www.mainesafe.org) that is focused on helping Maine’s migrant and immigrant populations. She and a friend recently finished translating Maine’s driver’s license manual into Spanish, for example.
Stu Silverstein, 69, a Waterville artist and one of the founders of Railroad Square Cinema, had never built an outdoor oven in his life when he found himself in Guatemala City several years ago. He has since returned twice, working with Masons on a Mission, founded by J. Patrick Manley III, a mason in the Knox County town of Washington.
“I got involved because I was familiar with Safe Passage,” he explains, referring to the nonprofit founded by the late Hanley Denning, of Yarmouth, that works with the children who survive by picking over the dump in Guatemala City. “I did a fund-raiser for her at my restaurant in Waterville. As soon as she saw my brick bake oven, she said she needed one in Guatemala.”
Denning brought in Manley, whose Masons on a Mission has been organizing volunteers to travel to Guatemala for ten years. Manley, Silverstein, and other volunteers built Denning two large bake ovens capable of producing fifty loaves of bread at a time.
This month fifteen masons, helpers, and general volunteers are leaving for a month-long visit to build simple masonry stoves for villagers in some of the most remote areas of the country. “You don’t need to be a mason,” says Manley. “You just need to have an interest in the project.” This year’s group includes half a dozen people from the University of Maine at Augusta. One participant is bringing his twelve-year-old granddaughter, Manley says.
The project for Denning was one of the few that Masons on a Mission has undertaken in an urban area. “We mostly work in very rural regions up in the highlands,” he notes. “Some places are accessible only on horseback or on foot.” The 1,500 stoves he and his volunteers have built so far replace the open-hearth “three-stone fires” that are common in rural homes.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Silverstein warns. “Guatemala can be a dangerous country . . . But in spite of that it’s an incredible place. The people are extremely gracious and friendly. It’s a very different culture.”
Silverstein doesn’t claim any particular talent as a bricklayer — “I’m an artist, not a mason” — although he’s currently designing an outdoor bread oven that can be built without mortar. “I like doing humanitarian work,” he offers. “I still remember working with the kids at the dump. That dump is the most horrifying place on earth. The fumes from it actually etched my glasses. But it was about the most satisfying work I’ve ever done.”
For more information
Partners in Rural Health in the Dominican Republic
www.prhdr.org, P.O. Box 1742, Portland, ME 04104, 207-321-9566.
www.safepassage.org, P.O. Box 663, Yarmouth, ME 04096, 207-846-1188.
Masons on a Mission
www.midcoast.com/masonsonamission, J. Patrick Manley III, 15 Nelson Ridge South, Washington, ME 04574, 207-845-2440.
International Senior Lawyers Project
www.islp.org, c/o Clifford Chance, 31 W. 52nd Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
Habitat for Humanity, Portland
www.habitatportlandme.org, 83A Bell St., Portland, ME 04103, 207-772-2151.