Unity Gardens community a canvas for resident artist

Sharon Cleaves has made her mark on Unity Gardens. The hallways of the Windham building are lined with her work, mostly pastoral scenes and coastal settings: lighthouses on grassy or rocky coasts; chickadees on moonlit birch trees; and rustic farmhouses, like the one she used to own on the Presumpscot River in Falmouth. She even paints the occasional cowboy.

Upwards of 100 of Sharon’s paintings hang in Unity Gardens, as well as several other Avesta properties in the Windham area. She made sure her favorites were hung on the second-floor hallway outside her apartment, with little cards tucked into the frame that read “not for sale.”

“I love to keep busy,” she says. “I’ve been painting all my life, almost 70 years.”

Sharon’s work now adorns one more spot in Unity Gardens: the elevator door. She recently completed an intricate garden scene that greets residents and visitors alike when they arrive at the elevator.

The painting features a blossom-covered trellis opening to a flower-filled garden, where ladies in pastel-hued dresses and hats — and one dapper fellow in the background — stroll. The detail on the painting is remarkable, from the tiny pink and white blossoms to the bows and lace on the ladies’ dresses and parasols.

The idea to turn the elevator door into a work of art was a “joint effort,” says Sharon. Senior Maintenance Technician Larry Sawyer first suggested it. “He said, ‘The elevator door needs to be repainted – do you know where I’m going from here?’” Sharon recalls. Kim Munro, the Resident Services Coordinator, came up with the subject matter. Sharon was more than willing to lend her talent to the project. “I don’t mind at all, I love doing it.”

She sketched the scene on a piece of paper before getting to work on the door. It took her five days to finish the painting, working from morning to mid-afternoon. The piece was so large she had to work on it in the building’s electrical room, where neighbors would stop by to see her progress as they took out their trash. When the painting was finished, Larry sealed it to keep it safe from scratches and scuffmarks.

The door has been a hit with residents. ‘Everyone has been very kind and complimentary,” says Sharon. “It gives them something to talk about and enjoy.”

Since finishing the elevator door, Sharon — who was the first person to move into Unity Gardens when it opened in 2006 — has already finished another piece for the property, an idyllic scene of horses running through the waves. The painting will hang in the community room.

“Painting is a gift. What good is it if you can’t spread it around and share it with people?”

By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

How housing and education go hand-in-hand

AmeriCorps Week

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, I’m sharing the words of Kemper Tell, a State and National AmeriCorps member who’s been working with Avesta since September to launch a number of programs for children in several of our properties, with a focus on children of immigrant families. As Kemper explains, education is a vital component of creating a safe, stable home.

Collaboration to Meet Needs

By Kemper Tell

Kemper is serving with Goodwill’s Multilingual Leadership Corps, an AmeriCorps program funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service through the Maine Commission for Community Service. A version of this blog post originally appeared on the Volunteer Maine blog, From the Field.

The need for safe and quality housing is a key to academic success for all children. This is especially true for new immigrants to the United States who face more barriers in becoming productive in society. Some barriers are learning a new language, facing a new culture, and activities as simple as knowing how to shop in a grocery store. As a State and National AmeriCorps member, I am serving with the affordable housing nonprofit Avesta Housing in Portland that is addressing both of these needs by combining quality housing and academic resources.

At Avesta, I am creating and executing an after-school program at several properties throughout Portland and Westbrook. I am providing homework assistance and constructive play for residents, many of whom are immigrants who came to the United States because of various conflicts around the world.

 

The accessibility of having academic assistance located where students live allows for many children to participate in outside-of-school-time activities they would not be able to access if they were located elsewhere. It also creates a greater sense of community for the residents when they have a common meeting space every week where they know they can get homework help and play.

As humans, we all require basic needs to be met in order to be successful, and one is shelter. Avesta Housing is working to meet that need, and in partnership with AmeriCorps, working to create a successful academic environment for its residents.

Kemper has other programs in the works, including an art program and a summer camp program focused on arts and sciences. We’re excited to have her as part of our team!

By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

 

Community gives back to Five Graham Street resident

Robert Desjardins is known throughout Biddeford as the city’s number one sports fan, and when you step into his apartment at Avesta’s Five Graham Street community, it’s easy to see why.

His walls are adorned with photos of Biddeford sports teams, some signed by the players, and snapshots of him posing with coaches and athletes. An orange-and-black blanket — Biddeford’s colors — is draped over his couch, next to a seat cushion that screams, “Biddeford Tigers, GO!”

When I visited him recently, even Desi — as he’s known around town — was wearing an orange T-shirt as he pointed out his Biddeford sports keepsakes: a varsity letter framed on his wall, decorated with pins for each sport and a sign proclaiming “#1 Fan”; a collection of more than 100 scrapbooks stacked in his closet filled with newspaper clippings of game write-ups and honor roll mentions, dating back to 1966. I heard about Desi’s story from our maintenance technician, Richard Hodgdon, whose work allows him to get to know our residents well.

Desi, who’s 70, played basketball and ran cross country for Biddeford High School. He’s lived in Biddeford all his life, and at Five Graham Street for six years. He goes to as many home games as he can, no matter the sport, boys or girls. His connection to the community, the athletes and their parents, runs deep.

“I’ve always known the people here,” he says. “The kids are great, the parents are great too.”

The feeling is mutual among the parents of Biddeford athletes.

“The community just adores him,” says Julie Maloy, who first met Desi a decade ago when her son was in Little League. “He gives so much by just his love for our kids.”

Now the community is giving back to him. In November, Desi underwent a five-bypass heart surgery and spent more than three weeks recovering. While he was in rehab, Julie and other parents took the opportunity to do something special for him. The group bought Desi new living room and bedroom furniture, dishes, microwave, and televisions — one for the living room, one for the bedroom. Julie says as many as 100 people volunteered or gave money. The athletes made Get Well signs that now hang in Desi’s apartment.

“I was pretty surprised, pretty touched,” says Desi. “Those parents are amazing, they really are.”

While Desi is still getting back his strength, the parents take turns cleaning his apartment on weekends, taking him shopping or to appointments, and making him meals. The weekly meal schedule started Dec. 3 and already extends through May, with no family repeating a week.

And, of course, no one goes to a sporting event without picking up Desi first. And Desi says he’ll be in the stands no matter what.

“I try to be positive even if things aren’t going well,” he says. “You’re not always going to win. I’ve been there when they win the state championships and there when they haven’t won a game.”

By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

Seniors enjoy a chance to eat and socialize at Community Cafe

The residents of Park Street School, a community for seniors in Kennebunk, admit to being a social bunch. They hold daily card games in the building’s large community space and convene regular cribbage games.

Starting in January, Park Street School also began hosting monthly Community Cafes, a program of Southern Maine Agency on Aging that provides people ages 60 and over a regular chance to meet, talk and enjoy a healthy lunch. The program is offered in Kennebunk the first Friday of every month and is open to all seniors in the area.

In February, about 35 people filled the tables decorated for Valentine’s Day to enjoy a meal of meatloaf, vegetables, rolls and Boston cream pie. Guests chatted about their families, books they’ve read and their favorite restaurants in Kennebunk. Guests that day included a woman who worked as a secretary at the school for seven years and was excited to be back in the building. Park Street School resident Joan entertained the group with songs by Patsy Cline and Neil Diamond.

Ann MacAusland, an assessor specialist for SMAA, runs the program but relies on the help of volunteer Park Street School residents like Barbara, herself a recipient of SMAA’s Meal on Wheels program. “I couldn’t help in the kitchen or set up” because she uses a wheelchair, she said, “but I could be at the door helping people fill out paperwork.” Barbara and neighbor Jackie signed up new cafe-goers, handed out raffle tickets and took the $5 donation from each attendee.

Before moving to Park Street School last fall, Barbara was living with her son in Arundel. “Since I’ve moved in here, I’ve met so many beautiful people,” she said.

And the food? “Oh gosh, it’s delicious.”

Avesta staff also help set up for the event and serve food. “It’s a good event,” said Resident Service Coordinator Angie Littlefield. “People seem to really enjoy it.”

The next cafe happens Friday, March 1, and rumor has it the menu is shrimp scampi. Contact SMAA at 1-800-400-6325 for more information.

Our Unity Gardens community in Windham also hosts meals for seniors on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with catered meals the second Thursday of the month.

By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager