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Adams School Condos become new home for Boston Marathon bombing survivor

Sitting on the couch in her new living room at the Adams School Condominiums, Karen McWatters talks about the blue and green rug underfoot – her first purchase for her new home. She built the room around its ocean-like hues, adding green pillows and sea-glass colored vases and candle holders. The whale décor scattered around the condo is a coincidence, she says – her new husband, Kevin, is a fan of the Hartford Whalers ice hockey team, as evidenced by the two ball caps that have prominent (if begrudging, on her part) placement on the console table.

She explains that her recovery has hit a bump, and she needs another surgery to walk comfortably on her prosthetic leg. She faces weeks of post-surgery recovery in a wheelchair. She’s all the more thankful now for her new home, which is fully handicap-accessible.

No matter their provenance, the nautical touches seem right at home in the Munjoy Hill condo, where bay windows afford a glimpse of the ocean. Karen closed on the condo last August, and she’s looking forward to walking down to the ocean this summer. Even though it’s a short walk, completing it would be a milestone for her since she lost her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

“I wanted to just have my life now,” she says. “It’s like, I know I have this place, and I’m all set. I don’t have to worry, and it’s a huge thing not to have to worry. I can just do what I’ve got to do to get better.”

Searching for a new home

Before the bombing, Karen (whose last name was Rand at the time) and Kevin were living in Massachusetts but looking for a summer home in Old Orchard Beach where they could stay while visiting family. But after the bombing, they realized they needed a year-round home that was handicap accessible.

But it was hard to find that kind of place in Old Orchard Beach, and the search took them further and further away from the center of town. “I’d feel like a prisoner stuck in my house, I couldn’t go anywhere,” she said. Karen and Kevin ultimately decided they needed to look elsewhere.

Their search led them to Portland, where “it was a challenge to find an affordable place, and also handicap-accessible.” When the Adams School Condominiums came on the market, her realtor showed her the listing and urged her to look at it before it sold. Kevin convinced her to drive by just to see it on a Friday afternoon: “He said, ‘Let’s go,’ we pulled into the lot and didn’t even get out of the car. I called my realtor and said, ‘Put in an offer,’” Karen recalls.

Karen and Kevin at the closing of their condo

“From the day I walked through the front door I haven’t regretted it,” she says. “I’m so grateful and so happy to be able to come here and just recuperate – it’s exactly what I needed.”

From her condo, Karen can easily get herself to local shops and restaurants, like Hilltop Coffee, Rosemont Market and The Front Room. And she’s grateful for the new support system she’s found in her neighbors. “They all watch out for me, they know my story. It’s like its own little community.”

The 16 townhouse-style Adams School Condos sit at the corner of Moody, Wilson and Vesper streets in Portland’s desirable Munjoy Hill neighborhood, where rising property values have become increasingly unaffordable to many. Priced below market rate for similar properties and available only to buyers making no more than 120% of the area median income, the Adams School Condos provide homeownership opportunities on the Hill that are affordable to people like Karen.

Moving forward

A Westbrook native, Karen previously spent a couple years living on Munjoy Hill, not far from her new place, while working for Standish Telephone. She went on to become an executive assistance for a chef in Massachusetts, a job she loved. She loved living in Cambridge and “became a city girl,” she says, selling her car and walking everywhere.

On Patriots’ Day 2013, she was at the Boston Marathon cheering on her then-boyfriend Kevin when the bombing happened. It cost her more than her leg. Her best friend, Krystle, did not survive.

“To have everything change in a minute was really a shock,” she says.

She doesn’t like to talk about the bombing or losing her friend. Rather, she likes to focus on moving forward and turning the experience into something positive, like helping others who face similar challenges.

A chance conversation in a furniture store last fall led Karen and her husband to learn about Estefania, a 13-year-old girl from El Salvador who lost one leg and was in danger of losing the other after she was hit by a drag-racer. Karen and Kevin arranged for her to receive free surgeries at Shriners Children’s Hospital in Boston, as well as a donated prosthetic leg from Next Step Bionics, which provided Karen with her prosthetic. The couple also raised $15,000 to pay for airfare and living expenses to allow Estefania and her mother to come to Boston for her treatment.

Since Estefania arrived in February, Karen has visited her many times and was there when she took her first steps on her new prosthetic. Also there was ESPN, which profiled Karen and her work with Estefania one year after the bombing.

Although they don’t share a common language, the bond between Karen and Estefania is obvious. Karen flips through photos she’s taken of the teenager and grins. “I just think she’s adorable.”

Speaking Spanish, Estefania told ESPN, “It makes me happy because we have gone through the same thing. And I love that she is always smiling. I am so grateful to her. I love her, and she is my angel.”

Karen plans to continue working with Shriners Hospital to find other children like Estefania in need of medical care, and she’s also volunteered her time with the Red Cross to promote blood drives and fundraisers. The work has helped Karen stay busy and positive during times when she’s struggled in her recovery.

And, despite it all, Karen is remarkably positive. She’s glad to be back in Maine and close to her mother, friends, siblings and one of her two adult sons. She’s happy to be a newlywed, having married Kevin in March at Cambridge City Hall. And she’s looking forward to the day when she can once again walk to the Old Port, or even get back on her bicycle.

“It’s strange how your life changes,” she says. “In spite of the bad thing that happened to me, I’m happy. I’m married, I’m in a new place I love. I can’t complain about anything, that’s for sure.”


By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

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