Lori Milner was the first volunteer involved in the Reading Connection, a program created by Age-Friendly Chelsea. The group coordinates volunteers who read monthly to Chelsea Elementary School students, then donates the book to the library. Credit: Courtesy of Dot Grady

CHELSEA, Maine — When Joyce Acheson moved from Eagle Lake, a small town in Aroostook County, to Chelsea in 2004, she had a tough time meeting people. Residents weren’t as social as her neighbors up north, and there were fewer gatherings for seniors, which took some adjusting, she said.

Acheson, who has lived alone since her husband passed in 2006, now attends a luncheon at Chelsea Grange Hall once a month. Age-Friendly Chelsea, a group that formed in August 2021, hosts the luncheon, providing a free home-cooked meal to residents older than 50 and bringing in a new speaker each time.

“It’s an antidepressant,” Acheson, 85, said. “I don’t have children, so I don’t get much company. It’s the highlight of the month for me, and I never miss it.”

Age-Friendly Chelsea is one of more than 80 groups around the state that works diligently to shape Maine into a place where seniors can access the relationships and resources they need to remain healthy as they grow older. The groups have benefitted about 12,000 Mainers, according to a 2023 snapshot.

In a state with the oldest population in the country, this work matters because it gives seniors tangible ways to remain active and engaged in their communities. The groups, known as Maine’s lifelong communities for their AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities designation, leverage local assets to tackle challenges such as food security, home repairs, transportation and social connection, which are especially pronounced in small, rural towns.

From left, Age-Friendly Millinocket members Sarah Jandreau, Barbara Riddle-Dvorak and Nicole Brennan. Jandreau and Riddle-Dvorak are AmeriCorps volunteers who lead the group’s major projects, and although their service ends in August, they will likely continue staying involved because the work is meaningful, Jandreau said. Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Jandreau

“We do this work so that they [seniors] feel comfortable and safe in their homes and know they can reach out to a neighbor if they are in need or don’t have family around,” said Dot Grady, Age-Friendly Chelsea co-chairperson. “Social inclusion is a huge part of it. If they can’t get to an event, we offer rides.”

The idea is to keep healthy seniors in their homes longer, which tends to appeal to those in small towns where they grew up or have long lived, as opposed to moving to a care facility in a city, advocates said.

Some groups bring services to seniors that they can’t access because of mobility issues, transportation or other barriers, such as groceries and buckets of sand to deal with winter conditions.

A committee of six people oversees Age-Friendly Chelsea, organizing efforts like a walking group that meets at the nearby Togus VA Medical Center campus three times a week. Acheson used to participate, but she opts for the luncheon because it has become difficult to keep up during walks, she said.

During this month’s luncheon, MaineGeneral Health’s resident chef Ben Ramsdell talked about the importance of healthy eating and how food is medicine.

The group also recently launched the Reading Connection, a monthly program where area volunteers read to Chelsea Elementary School students. Age-Friendly Chelsea coordinates and buys a book the school doesn’t have, then donates it to the school’s library.

Grady was one of 54 participants in UMaine Center on Aging’s first master class on aging last September and October, which drew enough interest to host another in 2024. The seven-week virtual course, sponsored by AARP Maine, focused on equipping participants with the skills they need to expand their reach, Patricia Oh, the center’s program manager, said.

People can be reticent about stepping up because they worry about lacking expertise, but networking and hearing how other groups operate can be empowering, she said. Participants discussed and learned from speakers about recruiting new members and avoiding burnout, growing their social media presence, fundraising and more.

Some groups have placed an emphasis on involving young people and families. Oh pointed to Georgetown, in Sagadahoc County, where people of varying ages formed the Georgetown Trekkers to encourage outdoor exploration. People recorded their hikes in a passport, and at the end of the season, celebrated with drawings for prizes, Oh said.

From left, Patti Fredette, Wilma Ware and Dot Grady. Fredette and Grady are Age-Friendly Chelsea co-chairs, and Ware is the treasurer. Credit: Courtesy of Dot Grady

“What I took from the master class was many connections with other age-friendly communities,” Grady said.

Age-Friendly Chelsea used that inspiration to put a designated page on the town website to raise awareness about its work and compile a community cookbook. The cookbook with local recipes is one way the group raises funds to sustain its work, which is also supported with donations, grant funding and some town funds, Grady said.

The group plans to launch Chelsea Community Check-in this week, a service where members call residents who are 60 and older and those with disabilities. The hope is to develop a rapport with people who may be isolated and ask if they need help with anything, and to remind them that their neighbors are looking out for them.


Age-Friendly Millinocket wants to start a program helping seniors with basic home repairs, such as putting in a window air conditioner or replacing a smoke alarm. Sarah Jandreau, one of two AmeriCorps volunteers working with the group, said the master class solidified that this was a good idea because it’s challenging to find carpenters, electricians and other workers in town.

Jandreau led a garden project behind the Millinocket Memorial Library, where raised beds were built at varying heights for children, adults and those who rely on wheelchairs. The “model garden” was meant to demonstrate that anyone can grow produce, and as Mainers grow older, raised beds are a more accessible option, she said.

The project also allowed various organizations to share gardening practices, such as the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, which offered food preservation classes. Local children read books about gardening, then got to dig in the dirt. Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness labeled plants with markers in the Wabanaki languages, plus English translations.

“I feel that this work in Maine has taken off,” Jandreau said. “It’s not unusual because Maine has led the nation in so many initiatives, but we’ve really gotten a hold of this age-friendly idea.”