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by Anne Berleant
“I grew up in this house,” said Jan Cleveland from the comfort of her easy chair, as Miss Kitty, a nine-year-old black tabby, settles on her lap. “I’ve spent every Christmas of my life here. This will be my 86th.”
Cleveland, who lives on Ellsworth Road in Blue Hill, is one of the newest members of At Home Downeast, launched in 2011 by the Washington-Hancock Community Agency as a resource for senior citizens in the nine Peninsula towns: Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Deer Isle, Penobscot, Sedgwick, Stonington and Surry.
AHDE drives members to doctor and other appointments, delivers prescriptions and groceries and provides visits by a licensed healthcare professional who fills pill boxes, checks blood pressure and performs other routine health care the member’s initial AHDE assessment prescribes.
These are the kind of small tasks that help senior citizens live independently, in their own homes, for as long as possible.
For Cleveland, who moved from her Blue Hill family home for college and returned later in life, being able to remain at home means being surrounded by memories and personal history.
“When I was a child, Ellsworth Road was a dirt road,” she said. “My father paid $100—or maybe it was $50—to put electricity in the house.”
A few yards from her doorstep is Turkey Farm Road, where Cleveland attended a one-room schoolhouse as a child.
“I went there for six years,” she said. “The teacher would make soup on the wood stove.”
AHDE’s new program manager, Kara Janes, nodded her head as she listened to Cleveland’s story. “This is a common theme of members, wanting to stay in their homes [where] they have such a long history,” she said.
Right now, Cleveland is the only member from Blue Hill, a town where she and Janes would like to see the program grow.
“We want to see if we can get people from Blue Hill interested,” Janes said.
AHDE members pay an annual fee for services. Reduced rates are available based on income.
In return, they receive core services of an initial health and home safety assessment, four rides per month to medical appointments, twice monthly visits from a licensed healthcare professional, a weekly grocery and prescription delivery, and information on local resources.
The volunteers do the rest. In Cleveland’s case, that includes shoveling snow in winter and changing light bulbs.
While she has daughters who live in the area, they are not always free to drive her to Bangor or Ellsworth for an appointment.
“We’re the sandwich generation,” said Janes, “sandwiched between [the needs of] parents and kids.”
“As it is, I can do everything connected with staying here,” said Cleveland, who microwaves her meals and, since a stroke six years ago, has settled into her home’s first floor, where she uses a walker to move around. The mail carrier leaves the mail inside the door, and her newspaper is delivered inside her screen door. Before her stroke, “I drove everywhere,” Cleveland said. “The biggest thing for me at this point is transportation.”
“That’s huge, especially in rural areas,” said Janes.
But AHDE is more than a transportation and health-check service.
Volunteers, who are vetted and background checked, are on call for rides to community events, to provide companionship through a visit or phone call, and to help with errands and home maintenance and repair.
“I see it as being a team effort to let members have their independence as long as possible,” said Janes.
“Medical is high priority,” Cleveland said. “But the social piece is important, especially during the long winter.”
Janes said she encourages members to call when they need an outing. “You don’t have to have a medical appointment to call us,” she said.
“In the future we’d like to have the members get together for social events,” said Janes, such as “getting the van full of members and go to The Grand.”
“That’s something I’d like to do,” said Cleveland.
TradeWinds Market Place owner Chuck Lawrence donated the AHDE van; using it to bring members together is one of Janes’ goals.
“I like people. The more people I meet the better. I’m someone who has a very positive attitude,” Cleveland said. “I think that’s why I’ve lived so long.