Inn at Village Square resident assistant: ‘I learn new things every day’

Caring for older adults wasn’t Julie Martin’s first career choice. In fact, she didn’t start until she was in her 50s.

But now she couldn’t imagine not doing it.

“There are some life lessons to be learned from the elderly,” she said.

Julie, 58, grew up on a farm in Gray, and now manages her own 150-acre farm in Gorham. After getting a degree in animal science, she landed a job immediately after college with a veterinarian who specialized in on-site embryonic transfer in cattle. When the vet retired almost 30 years later, she found herself at a career impasse.

She remembered a nearby housing development where she would take her 4-H students to visit: Inn at Village Square, an assisted living facility under the Avesta Housing umbrella. And she remembered how much she and the children loved interacting with the residents.

“I thought, ‘It’s a cute little place, and it’s only 2 miles from home. I think I’ll check it out,’” she said. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into.”

 

Julie quickly realized that she had much to learn. She took classes to become a personal support specialist, then became a certified residential medication aide. But she felt she still didn’t have the skills necessary to care for residents like she wanted, so she became a certified nursing assistant.

Today, Julie is a resident assistant at Inn at Village Square. Her main duties are delivering medication, providing direct care, and helping residents with activities of daily life, such as helping them get to the dining room at mealtimes. But there are other duties as well, such as helping the activities director organize events like socials, holiday dinners, and off-site visits.

One of her favorite things about the job is simply talking to residents. She’s found that many of them grew up on farms themselves, which makes it easy to form connections. About three years ago, she began taking residents on visits to her farm, where they can pet the animals, tour the land, and watch the sunset over the horizon. They now lovingly refer to her as “Farmer Julie.”

“They share their stories, I share my story, and it’s just a lot of fun,” she said. “I guess I’ve always been a people person, and I just didn’t know it.”

To be a resident assistant, one must be a people person, she said—someone who has a lot of patience and empathy in addition to the required professional skills. Someone who is willing to work with a team.

Someone who isn’t afraid to try new experiences.

“I learn new things every day,” she said, “and I’m open to learning new things every day.”

Artisans in Residence program unlocks talent at 75 State Street

 

When Nancy Chadbourne was a child growing up in Bristol, Maine, her mother told her she could expect to be one of three things: a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary.

“Boy, you don’t know your daughter,” she thought.

From a young age, Nancy craved adventure. Unfortunately, the times weren’t favorable for women seeking adventure. She tried unsuccessfully to join the Army, and roles for women in the workplace were extremely limited. So she did what was expected of her: She married and raised four children.

When the marriage ended more than a decade later, she saw an opportunity to forge a new path and began a long, successful career as a real estate agent in the Boston area. And when she retired, she spent some time traveling the country in an RV.

One day, while walking around a mall in Florida, Nancy noticed an ad for an oil painting class. Although she had already been painting by this time (like many, she had been inspired by the popular TV show “The Joy of Painting” with Bob Ross), she had received no formal training. She thought she would give the class a go, because… well, why not?

That was 25 years ago. Today, Nancy is an accomplished artist who can paint a new piece from start to finish in just a couple of hours. From a small worktable next to her bed in her apartment at 75 State Street, she creates with her brushes, palette knives, and sponges every two to three days. She is so prolific, she gives most of the pieces to family members and friends.

“People can accomplish an awful lot if they want to,” she said recently in her living room, which is decorated from ceiling to floor with her work. “But they have to WANT to.”

Nancy Chadbourne, left, and Ann Jolda discuss a new painting that Nancy is creating.

 

Nancy eventually began teaching art as well as creating it, and when she returned to live at 75 State Street in October (she lived there for about two years before a brief period in Connecticut), she was asked to be part of 75 State Street’s Artisans in Residence program. Trained artists living at the assisted living community teach their craft to other residents in a space designed specifically for this purpose and equipped with art tables and supplies.

The program began four years ago, said activities assistant Ann Jolda, when 75 State Street held an art show of paintings created by residents. The show was so well received, residents requested a formal program through which they could hone their talents. Activities staff manage the program, which includes scheduling classes, organizing supplies and work spaces, and assisting art instructors as needed.

Nancy currently shares teaching duties with sketch artist Lois Chazuad. Some days have open art sessions, during which residents create free-form or practice their lessons from a previous class. Their work is displayed on the walls at 75 State Street and in local galleries; artists receive all proceeds from the work that sells.

The classes do more than teach artistic skills, Ann said: They exercise cognitive abilities, increase self-confidence, and promote camaraderie. Some residents attend the classes just to watch or visit with their friends. “They’re forming a community, which is what we want them to do,” she said.

For some, the classes awaken a latent ability they didn’t know they had. Barry Smith, 84, took his first art class at 75 State Street in 2015. Now he creates landscape paintings for postcards that are sold by Renys, a chain of Maine department stores.

“I never picked up a paint brush until I moved to 75 State Street,” he said.

For Nancy, seeing residents like Barry discover their talents is one of the most enjoyable aspects of teaching in the artisans in residence program. Everyone has it in them to be an artist, she said ­— it just takes determination, persistence, and a lot of practice.

“I really enjoy the reactions of people when they see what they’ve created,” she said. “Just seeing them happy and content with what they’ve done makes it worthwhile.”

Barry Smith works on a new painting for a postcard series.

Community gardens bring residents together

Firmly gripping a handheld square hoe in her right hand, Caroline E. Savage describes what she has planted in her raised garden bed at Motherhouse, a 55-plus Avesta Housing community in Portland.

A couple of tomato plants here. Some kale over there. Rosemary, basil, and dill for flavoring. She’s an artist—a photographer by trade, she explains—and she’s arranged the plants with an artist’s eye.

“It’s a beautiful place to work,” says Savage (pictured above) as she stabs into and turns over the soil, occasionally revealing the palm of her hand. It is evident that this hand has seen many hours at this bed, with dirt creeping under the nails and highlighting the palm print like fine-grained wood after staining.

“It takes effort.” She pauses, then adds: “But it also promotes community.”

With summer in full gear, community gardens at Avesta properties are once again being put to use by residents. Their surface function is obvious: vegetables for eating; ornamental flowers and plants for aesthetic pleasure. But they also serve underlying purposes that are perhaps less obvious.

They provide a place where people can congregate, get to know each other, and work together side by side. They provide a sense of peace and tranquility, especially for those with behavioral health issues. For residents who previously lived in single-family homes, they help in the transition to living in a housing complex, and for former farmers, they offer a chance to continue farming while passing on their knowledge to others.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More than 50 percent of Avesta properties have a community garden, said Nicholas Kjeldgaard, resident service manager. Some of them were part of the development plan, while others were installed later at residents’ requests. Some are raised beds, some are in-ground beds, and some are simply grow bags. Some are plain; others are festooned with windmills, sculptures, birdhouses, and other decorations. Most are maintained by the residents themselves, although some are managed by neighborhood associations, organizations, or municipalities.

Here are just a few examples:

  • At Pearl Place in Portland, the Bayside Neighborhood Association partnered with the City of Portland to install 12 raised beds, and a member of the BNA is on site for a couple of hours every Wednesday to help residents maintain the gardens.
  • At Sandy Creek in Bridgton, the community’s children helped shovel loam into grow bags and garnered seedling donations from local farms; they now help maintain the grow bags.
  • At Foxwell in Kittery, Avesta has taken a hands-off approach—residents buy all the materials and do everything by themselves.
  • At Motherhouse, members of the property’s residential gardening club manage the garden, with each person responsible for planting and maintaining their own bed.

Despite all the differences, they all have one thing in common: They bring people together.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that there are folks gardening, but there are also non-gardeners bringing over their lawn chairs and sitting in the garden space to enjoy it,” said Heather McIntosh, a resident service coordinator for Avesta. “That’s been really nice to see.”

After all, they’re not called “community” gardens for nothing.

Wessex Woods sets new standard in affordable sustainable housing

Avesta Housing’s newest community is the first of its kind in Maine and a reflection of our commitment to provide housing that is both affordable and sustainable.

For Wessex Woods in Portland, Avesta partnered with CWS Architects of Portland and Zachau Construction of Freeport to utilize the latest in eco-friendly construction that not only addresses current needs but anticipates future needs.

Housing residents ages 55 and older, the building is the first in the state to include CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) in its design. An alternative to masonry, CLT panels consist of layered boards stacked crosswise at 90-degree angles and pressure-glued into place. The panels are lightweight but very strong and are quick and easy to install, which make them especially cost-effective for multistory dwellings.

In addition, the building has an energy recovery ventilation system that imports and circulates outside air to regulate the indoor temperature, and each floor includes two electric heat pump units, resulting in a two-thirds reduction in electrical usage. To reduce the chance of flooding, all rainwater is collected in an underground tank under the parking lot and filtered into a nearby waterway rather than flowing into the city’s stormwater drainage system.

That’s not all—future plans call for the addition of solar panels on the roof (made possible by leftover contingency funds), and conduits are in place under the parking lot so that electric charging stations for vehicles can be installed at a later date if desired.

“The theme of all this is that we are thinking forward to ensure our properties reflect the latest building science and response to climate change challenges,” said Greg Payne, development officer for Avesta Housing.

Interior view of a single-bedroom apartment at Wessex Woods.

Construction on Wessex Woods began in November 2019 and was completed this past March. There are 40 one-bedroom units, of which 34 are affordable housing and six are market-rate units. Portland Housing Authority provided vouchers for eight units.

Amenities include a laundry room, a multipurpose room with wi-fi and a TV monitor, a bike storage room, several raised garden beds for residential use, and a telemedicine room in which residents can conduct virtual appointments with healthcare providers. Located near downtown Portland near Brighton Avenue, Wessex Woods is within walking distance to shopping areas, dining, walking trails, and public transportation.

Of course, a building is not a home without people to live in it. And with the need for affordable housing in Maine at historic levels, demand for Wessex Woods was incredibly high. Normally, it takes six months to fully lease out a new apartment complex; Wessex Woods was leased out in less than three months.

“We had about 900 people who gave us their information before January saying they were interested,” said Emily Pelletier, senior leasing specialist with Avesta Housing. “And of those who were placed in units, only a handful came from another home. Most were living with their children or were homeless and living on the streets.”

With Wessex Woods, Avesta Housing is proud to provide another community that people can call home—now, and for many years to come. But our work is far from done. As long as there is a need for safe, quality, affordable housing, we will strive to provide the means to fulfill that need.

“I have never lived in a community living setting before, but as we continually see new faces, we become familiar with each other. Everyone is so friendly and seem very happy to be here,” said Deb, a resident at Wessex Woods. “I couldn’t have found a more beautiful place to live, and I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.”

The community room at Wessex Woods.