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Residents’ collections are inspiration for Maine College of Art students

Update: The artwork created through this partnership will be featured as part of Portland’s First Friday Art Walk on Feb. 7 at Oak Street Lofts! Bayside East residents will be at Oak Street Lofts to share the special objects that inspired the artwork created by the students. We hope to see you at 72 Oak Street from 5-8 p.m.!


Behind each piece of artwork hanging in the community room at Bayside East is a story. There’s the story of the treasures brought home by a young man stationed overseas, or the story of a cultural tradition transplanted in a new community. And there’s the simple story of preserving a community’s history through newspaper clippings.

Looking at the 11 prints on the walls, the stories might not be apparent. But for the residents of the Portland senior community, the artwork represents memories of cherished items collected over the years, as seen through the eyes of local art students.

A Bayside East resident shows Maine College of Art students an item he’s collected

From September to December, a class of Maine College of Art students spent several hours talking with a group of residents of Bayside East and seeing first-hand the objects that hold special meaning for them. Residents brought odds and ends gathered over the years, like collections of old newspaper clippings, gifts given to them by loved ones, and even colorful traditional African clothing made by hand.

Through stories and questions, the students learned why these objects were so important to their owners. Then, they created original prints using the objects and stories as influence.

The semester-long project wrapped up in December with a potluck party at the property. The students unveiled their art to the residents and talked about their process. Each student made multiple prints so that the residents could also hang one in their apartment.

One of the residents, Bill, had showed students a geisha doll he’s had for over four decades, purchased overseas when he was serving in the Navy. The doll became a source of inspiration for one student, who made a black-and-white print of its likeness that now hangs in the community room kitchen.

“My 45-year-old gal – it’s nice to see her out,” said Bill.

This partnership is just one way Avesta has been exploring community partnerships to help enhance our residents’ sense of home through art. The importance of art goes beyond aesthetics – it’s a vital part of creating a sense of community and making our residents feel at home.

Partnerships with other organizations also strengthen relationships between our residents and members of the larger community, creating connections that can have a lasting impact. The residents visited the students in their studio to see first-hand how printmaking is done. They also got a personalized tour of the college’s facilities on Congress Street, which was especially meaningful for one resident, who used to work in the building back when it was the Porteous department store.

“It’s community development for both, for us and for (Maine College of Art),” said Bill of the project. “What it brings to the room is what we were looking for. This is extremely nice to have.”

Kate, a student, said they were all initially nervous about leaving the classroom and “stepping out of our comfort zone,” but those feelings quickly dissipated as they spent more time with the residents. “We had a really fun time, they were interested people we wouldn’t normally interact with,” she said. “They were fun to talk with – they always had something interesting to say.

“Every time you have students get out somewhere else, it’s beneficial to your art,” she added.

Rod, one of the residents, said the opportunity to interact with young people held more meaning for him now that he’s getting older and most of his own children have moved away. “Getting to know them has been really great. They’re obviously a really great bunch of kids,” he said. “I think programs like this are really great — this way, you don’t just house older people and forget about them.”

The connection that developed between the residents and the students was great to see, and I’d like to thank Professor Pilar Nadal and her students for enhancing the lives of our residents through art. And a big thank-you to Bill, Phil, Doug, Rod and the other residents who participated in this project and shared their time, energy and hospitality.

Avesta looks forward to working with the Maine College of Art to repeat the program with another group of residents next fall.

* Thank you to Pilar and her students for providing some of the photos for this blog post.


By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

‘We’re becoming family’: Event celebrates growing Stonecrest community

It was a perfect fall day last Friday to celebrate the opening of 25 new apartments for seniors and the disabled in Standish. While the apartments at Stonecrest II were completed in March, we like to hold off on a celebration until they are full or nearly full, so the residents can be part of the event as well.

This grand opening was much different than other grand openings we’ve had in the past. First, we didn’t even call it a grand opening, but rather a Harvest Luncheon and Community Celebration. We asked residents of Stonecrest I and Stonecrest II to invite their families and to provide their feedback on what kind of event they wanted to have. We invited local officials like Sen. Gary Plummer and Town Councilor Lynn Olson to join us and get to know the residents. We deepened our connection to the Standish community by inviting the Bonny Eagle High School Jazz Combo and Select Chorus to perform.

We didn’t want the focus of this event to be on Avesta or the development of the project, but rather the residents and their community. One of the residents, Norman, served as the MC and kept everyone smiling with his jokes and heartfelt words about his community. Two of his neighbors stood up to talk about why living at Stonecrest was important to them. Other residents shared their stories in writing, describing what the Stonecrest community means to them on cards that were displayed at the event.

“Stonecrest gave me a home that is safe and clean, and friends that make me feel good every day,” said one resident. “And a real sense of community, to share our stories, our ups and downs.”

“After five years without a home of my own, Stonecrest has given me a roof over my head that I can call ‘home,’” wrote another resident. “I really want to thank everyone for the friendships we’re developing!”

All these stories had common themes: a sense of safety, support from the community, a willingness to help each other. I can attest to the residents’ willingness to help, as I was surprised and delighted when several of them came out to help set up the tables and decorations for the event! They told me they were happy to do it, and I could see that they truly were. After the event, they literally opened their homes to us, offering tours of their apartments to visitors and guests who wanted to take a peek.

I’m very appreciative to the residents for their help and their hospitality. And I’d like to offer a special thanks to Norman for serving as the event’s host and for sharing what the Stonecrest community means to him. “To face aging with a community of caring adults gives great comfort to us,” he told the crowd. “The greatest meaning for us is the friends we have made. We’re becoming ‘family’ and that’s a real good feeling.”

Read more about the event and watch video at the Bangor Daily News website.

And read about the community garden at Stonecrest here.


By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

Partnerships revive garden at Stonecrest in Standish

This is part two of a three-part series on community gardens at Avesta properties.

The residents at Stonecrest in Standish have had a community garden for several years, thanks to a partnership with Rippling Waters Organic Farm. In 2007, Standish-based Rippling Waters received a grant from Gorham Savings Bank to build the gardens at the senior community of 12 apartments.

Earlier this year, phase 2 of Stonecrest opened, adding another 25 apartments and breathing new life into the community gardening effort. New residents meant a need for expanded garden space. Avesta applied for and received a $400 grant from NeighborWorks America (of which Avesta is a chartered member) to help fund the addition of three new raised beds at the property to complement the existing six. The residents worked together to build the beds, and Rippling Waters supplied the plants.

Liz from Rippling Waters visits Stonecrest every Monday morning to help residents tend to the garden. She can always count on a group of six residents to show up, while a handful of others help out when they’re able. “The majority of people helping are new to gardening,” Liz says. “It’s going pretty well.” The residents harvest the vegetables and put them in the community room to share with their neighbors; a chalkboard alerts residents to what’s available.

Theresa has been working in the gardens since she moved into Stonecrest over two years ago, when there were just two people keeping the effort alive. She’s happy to see more of her neighbors participate this year. “It’s good for the whole community for everyone to have fresh veggies. And I’m willing to work for it.”

The residents are growing beets, radishes, lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, carrots, leeks and other vegetables that anyone is free to pick and use, or collect from the kitchen. At a recent community cookout, residents and guests got to enjoy a salad that included veggies fresh from the garden.

“The stuff is good so far,” she says. “I love anything out of the garden.”

Read Part One of the community gardening series: Community gardening improves quality of life for seniors in Raymond


By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

Community gardening improves quality of life for seniors in Raymond

This is part one of a three-part series on community gardens at Avesta properties.

Gardening is a newfound passion for Benny. He had a small garden years ago but said he gave up on it after his wife died in 1983. A former Portland cab driver, Benny has lived at Avesta’s Jordan Bay Place, a housing community for people 62+ in Raymond, for six years but didn’t get involved in the community garden until last year.

And now he’s hooked.

From left, Benny, Michial and Junior talk about their community garden plans

He visits the garden “a dozen times a day” and half-jokingly admits to singing to the plants. “I didn’t think I’d get into it this much,” he says.

Benny is one of a handful of residents at Jordan Bay who have thrown themselves into the community garden. On a recent overcast day, the residents were out surveying the garden with Michial Russell, the farm manager for Pearson’s Town Farm at Saint Joseph’s College. Michial has been helping the residents double the size of their garden this year, thanks to a $400 grant from Kitchen Gardeners International, a Scarborough-based nonprofit. The grant provided the funding for four new raised beds, which Michial helped the residents build.

“It’s part of our commitment to helping people,” Michial says. “I enjoy getting out and helping people get going and eat better.”

Benny and his neighbors list off this year’s crops: squash, green peppers, tomatoes, beans, cauliflower, radishes, beets, cantaloupe and herbs, to name a few. Residents who are interested in gardening divvy up space in the beds volunteer their time and skills growing and harvesting the fruits and veggies. They share their harvest with their neighbors by putting it in a basket in the community room.

“It keeps us busy,” Benny says about the garden. “It’s great for conversation. People are constantly talking about it and what’s going on out here.”

As he surveys the garden, Benny talks about the A-frames he built last year for the cucumbers, and points out the seaweed he’s using as fertilizer. His gardening success is the result of techniques and tips he’s gleaned from YouTube, like using bars of soap dangling from plant stakes to ward off critters.

For Junior, another Jordan Bay resident, gardening is an old habit. He worked on a farm for most of his life, whether it was his grandparents’ farm, the Watkins farm in Casco or the 50-acre cattle farm he owned for 25 years.

For both Junior and Benny, the garden is more than a hobby – it’s a way to stay healthy. Working in the garden provided Benny a push to take on more physical activity; both he and Junior take daily 4-5 mile walks. Benny’s health conditions – diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol – have improved or disappeared altogether through his commitment to the garden.

“The garden is my exercise.”


By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

Community focus at Oak Street Lofts show for First Friday Art Walk

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means the art gallery at Oak Street Lofts in Portland is open to the public tonight for First Friday Art Walk. This month, we’re featuring the artwork made by children at several of our properties, including Pearl Place I and II in Portland and North Street in Westbrook.

We held several art-making events at the properties, where we asked children to create art on the theme of what community means to them. The children made collages, paintings and drawings depicting some familiar community landmarks, like Deering Oaks Park and Reiche Community School, as well as their families, friends and neighborhoods.

The children’s work is juxtaposed with art made by residents of the Marshwood Center, a skilled nursing facility in Lewiston. Their work debuted last month, and several of the artists came to Portland for the opening on June 7. Their excitement at seeing their work hanging in a gallery was evident as they studied the walls of framed paintings, and their family members were there to share in the excitement as well.

The show, entitled “Late Works,” is the result of a unique partnership between the center and Oak Street Lofts. Since April, the Marshwood Center has been holding weekly painting classes run by Jeannine, the center’s housekeeper and a lifelong painter. Angela Mastrella, recreation director at the Marshwood Center, said the classes have had a positive impact on residents and provided a creative outlet for those who thought their painting days were behind them. You can read more about the program in the Sun Journal.

Michelle, a resident at Oak Street Lofts, happened to see the artwork on display in the center when she was there visiting her grandmother. She approached the center about a gallery showing and served as curator. Michelle joined the residents at the opening in June, lifting a glass of sparkling cider to toast to their accomplishments.

Some of the work made by the Marshwood residents will be on display tonight as well, so if you missed it last month, you still have a chance to see it.

photo (10)Michelle, herself a potter, has more than one connection to tonight’s show. She also volunteered her time with the children to help them produce their artwork.

Including an art gallery in Oak Street Lofts was a first for Avesta. Since the building opened in January 2012, about 30 artists have shown their work there. The gallery space is booked through November, and some months in 2014 are also reserved.

We’ve been happy to see the residents so excited to use the gallery, and we’re pleased to see such interesting collaborations evolve. These kinds of connections are what communities are built on — and as the children’s artwork demonstrates, community is pretty powerful, no matter how you interpret it.

Stop by 72 Oak Street from 5-8 p.m. tonight to see the show.


By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

Pearl Place II: Returning Bayside to its residential roots

We’re really excited to celebrate the grand opening of Pearl Place II on June 10. We’re not just marking the opening of new, affordable apartments in Portland – we’re also celebrating the culmination of a nearly decade-long effort to participate in the revitalization of the Bayside neighborhood.

It was in August 2004 when we announced our plans to build in phases 100 housing units. And while our conceptual plans and timelines were adapted over the years, our goal did not: Spur the growth of the Bayside neighborhood by building new housing units.

A 2000 study entitled “A New Vision for Bayside” called for a return to the neighborhood’s residential roots with the creation of 500 housing units. In 2004, Ronald Spinella, then-chairman of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, told the Portland Press Herald that “it would be a real boon to Bayside to have more people living here again.”

In late 2007, on the corner of Oxford and Pearl streets, we opened Pearl Place I, an energy-efficient building with 60 apartments. The building filled more quickly than anticipated, and many of the new residents were immigrants and refugees. The location was ideal: 43% of the residents could walk to work, and the average resident commute shrunk from nearly 10 miles to less than 3.

Now, we’ve added another 54 apartments with Pearl Place II. Many of the residents are immigrants and refugees. Many are working families. Some are participants in the STRIVE U program, which provides post-secondary education and training to young adults with developmental disabilities. Some were formerly homeless and in desperate need of a safe, affordable place to live.

Over the last decade, the Bayside neighborhood has experienced a renaissance, thanks to concerted city efforts and $140 million of private investment. Our residents now have even more they can walk to, like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Avesta also moved its office to the Bayside neighborhood in 2002 with the purchase of 307 Cumberland Avenue. And while our Pearl Street plans are complete, our investment in the Bayside neighborhood is far from over.

We’ve enjoyed being a part of the changing landscape of the Bayside neighborhood over the last 10 years, and we’re excited to see what the next 10 will bring.

By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

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

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