Many creative and vibrant citizens live in rural communities. They connect in schools, churches, town halls, and coffee shops. The ongoing exchange of ideas at these gatherings is where the fabric of a community is woven. Distances to and between these physical sites tend to be greater if the community is rural—often much greater. Access to a social, educational, or service program may require a long, costly drive, very often in hazardous winter weather. As a result, staying involved may be impractical or impossible for many of Somerset County’s older residents.
Older residents may be left out of the conversations and interactions that are important for healthy living and healthy aging. According to the John T. Gorman Foundation, more than half of Maine seniors live in rural areas and half of low-income Maine seniors live alone. The Maine Health Access Foundation states that isolation and loneliness put older adults at a higher risk for poor health and mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety. These outcomes increase the burden on families, care givers, and community resources. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 31 percent of Maine’s population will be 60 and older by the year 2030. Now is an excellent time to support local efforts geared toward meeting older residents’ needs. “Mug Up! A Senior Gathering Place” hopes to do just that.
“Mug Up! A Senior Gathering Place” is a new initiative by Somerset Public Health (SPH) to help community organizations from Skowhegan to Moscow reach out to their older adults. A “Mug Up!” event can be something as small as a get-together for coffee to discuss issues of interest. Former SPH Project Director Bill Primmerman stated, “This is a collaborative effort with communities and their citizens; a ‘Mug Up!’ site is a community location which is organized by and for local seniors to socialize, increase their knowledge or skills, and access services and supports to live a healthy life in their community.” SPH has three goals for this new project:
- Assist communities to organize new or expand existing social events of interest to older residents – Planning will be based on an assessment of local needs and resources and will be used to tailor programs to the needs and interests of the individual community. An SPH AmeriCorps member will help with this assessment.
- Encourage sites to provide a variety of stimulating and informational programs, including healthy living education – SPH AmeriCorps members, trained in delivering evidence-based programs such as the National Diabetes Prevention Program and Living Well for Better Health, with chronic conditions program, will be available to provide local workshops.
- Support and link older residents with service resources – SPH AmeriCorps members with Community Health Worker or similar training are familiar with service resources, many free or low cost. An example of a service might be helping an older resident find a primary care provider, connect with a transportation support, identify volunteer opportunities, or fill out important paperwork including online applications.
Two “Mug Up!” sites have been established with financial support from the Betterment Fund. The Social Citizens of Smithfield offers Coffee Talk on the first and third Fridays of each month, plus special events. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Somerset County and the Somerset Grange have partnered to offer a Skowhegan “Mug Up!,” which kicks off January 2017 with ongoing coffee socials on the second and fourth Wednesdays. There is funding to start up to six more sites.
“Mug Up! A Senior Gathering Place” offers communities in Somerset County the tools to become more age-friendly and to work both independently and collaboratively to build a self-sustaining web of social, educational, and service-oriented supports for Somerset County’s older adults—supports to access resources and to help craft local solutions to aging-related challenges in their daily lives. Reducing a senior’s risk for poor physical and mental health is a move that benefits people of all ages. The community as a whole benefits if older adults are empowered to remain active and involved in their communities. For more information about “Mug Up!” sites, contact Deb Casey at Somerset Public Health at 207-858-8458 or firstname.lastname@example.org.