The Eastern Area Agency on Aging opened a new community center for older adults, caregivers and adults with disabilities in Brewer on Wednesday, named for a former Bangor City Council chair and advocate for seniors who died in 2020.
The Durgin Center offers activities, classes, meals and opportunities to socialize for hundreds of seniors in the agency’s four-county service area. Its opening marks the first time since 2015, when the former Hammond Street Senior Center closed, that the Bangor area has had a community gathering spot for seniors.
“We’re looking for teachers, leaders, people to attend classes, and hosts for events — all of those things that could make life, love, happiness and joy happen here,” said Rebecca Kirk, the Eastern Area Agency on Aging’s executive director.
The center opened in December 2021 with limited capacity, and more than 100 people have participated in programs since then, said Dan Frye, the agency’s development director. The nonprofit will expand its offerings following Wednesday’s grand opening, Frye said.
Aside from activity spaces, the center also has a large kitchen where volunteers sort and package meals for the nonprofit’s Meals on Wheels Program, which serves thousands in Penobscot, Piscataquis, Hancock and Washington counties. The agency went from delivering about 68,000 meals in 2017 to roughly 188,900 meals in 2020.
The center will also have hot meals available for people in the cafe, with a suggested $7 donation but no set fee.
The nonprofit expects the center will serve between 600-700 people and serve 4,500 meals in the community cafe in the first year.
The center is located at 274 State St. in Brewer’s Twin City Plaza in the space that the former Twin Super Buffet occupied until 2013. The agency’s headquarters are housed nearby in the same shopping complex.
The nonprofit hopes the new community center will help stave off social isolation, physical inactivity and food insecurity in the area’s population of older adults, caregivers and adults with disabilities. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that loneliness and social isolation raise a person’s risk of premature death.
People ages 65 and older range from 18.5 percent to 26.4 percent of the population within Penobscot, Piscataquis, Hancock and Washington counties, according to the U.S. Census.
The new center will also help fill a void in the region’s offerings for seniors after the Hammond Street Senior Center in downtown Bangor closed its doors in October 2015 for financial reasons.
“When the Bangor Senior Center closed in 2015 there was a huge need in the community for a place like this,” said Ellen Angel, president of Eastern Area Agency on Aging’s board. “We wanted to have a place where everyone could come together. We need that opportunity to socialize, and this center is for that. Since the pandemic, we need that more than ever, but it’s even less available.”
The agency launched a campaign to fund the construction of the center in June 2021 with a $533,000 goal. Frye said the nonprofit reached about 80 percent of its fundraising goal, solely from donations from individuals, businesses and foundations.
The center is named for Maj. Gen. Nelson Durgin, a former Bangor City Council chair and advocate for Maine veterans, early childhood education and the elderly. A former Maine adjutant general, Durgin served on the Eastern Area Agency on Aging board for 14 years. He died in September 2020 at age 83.
Kirk said the center, “Nelson’s space,” represents “everything he stood for.”
“He represented such service to the community,” Angel said. “If he saw a need, he found a way to fill that need. He brought people in and inspired us to serve the public in any way we could.”
Michael Durgin, Nelson Durgin’s son, said his father would often drive by the new center before it was completed after he knew it would be named for him.
“I remember him speaking about when the facility in downtown Bangor closed,” Durgin said. “That affected him as much as it affected the community. To have a facility like this bear his name is incredible.”