Free financial counseling for Avesta residents

The Avesta NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center (HOC) is partnering with Avesta Housing communities to offer free financial counseling and education to residents. The HOC is excited to help Avesta residents meet their financial goals!

In these financial counseling sessions, affordable-housing residents learn about how to build a strong credit score. The goal of our resident seminar is to demystify how credit works and empower residents with the knowledge they need to feel in control of their credit. The HOC’s credit-counseling clients often say that they are “afraid” to look at their report because they don’t want to face a bad score. This fear stems from the fact that people don’t understand how credit works and aren’t aware how simple changes can increase their score.

For example, many people don’t realize that closing old cards you don’t use anymore can decrease the length of your credit history and pull your score down. It’s also important to realize the balances that you carry on your cards are almost as important as whether you pay your bills on time! Instead of paying off cards one at a time, a better strategy might be to pay down all the cards at once until they’re all under 30% of their limit.

Simply understanding how credit works can make people feel much more confident moving forward. This financial counseling seminar helps people face their credit fears and understand how credit works, with the goal that every one leaves class with realistic strategies to improve their financial well-being.

Avesta resident embraces healthy living and loses 120lbs

Avesta Housing resident Judy Pulsifer of Stonecrest in Standish, Maine has lost 120 pounds, thanks to inspiration from an Avesta-sponsored cooking class offered at her property last year. Judy says learning how easy it was to make healthy, budget-friendly food like roasted vegetables and soup motivated her to lose the weight she’d always wanted to lose. Before her commitment to getting healthy, she had become a recluse in her apartment. She had low self-esteem, was lonely, unable to shop for herself and couldn’t enjoy activities with her grand kids.

After a gastric bypass, other residents at the property joined Judy in her quest to start eating healthier. They began using the buddy system to keep each other on course. Instead of bringing each other cookies, they brought fresh vegetables from the Stonecrest community gardens, which also increased her interest in gardening. They looked forward to their regular cooking classes and encouraged the group to continue.

After losing 14 lbs in the first two weeks, Judy began eating a mostly vegetarian diet, became devoted to portion control and never deprives herself. She says her new lease on life allows her to participate in many new activities and be much more social and healthy. One of the best rewards for her dedication? Being present at her granddaughter’s graduation, something she never expected to attend! When asked her secret, she advises: “Consistency is important. Eat fruits and veggies every day. Exercise daily, even if it’s walking or doing housework. Get your friends and neighbors on board to help. Keep journals for food, exercise and emotional states. Remember that getting off track for one meal doesn’t mean the whole day is ruined. Get back on track with your next meal or snack. Don’t deprive yourself. If you want dessert, have some but keep your portions small. Love yourself and give yourself credit for making the effort.”

Avesta staff send many congratulations to Judy for this major accomplishment, her commitment to healthy-living and for inspiring so many others along the way!

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

Celebrating the completion of Hyacinth Place in Westbrook

On May 16, we celebrated the grand opening of Hyacinth Place, a 37-apartment community on Walker Street in one of Westbrook’s historic neighborhoods. While the first residents began moving in back in September, we waited to hold a celebration until the apartments were full and the weather more agreeable.

Hyacinth Place is a unique community for a few reasons — one of which is that it’s a combination of historic renovation and new construction. Along with Developers Collaborative, we turned the former St. Hyacinth Catholic school and convent buildings into affordable apartments. We rounded out the property with a new building that includes a community space for residents to relax and gather. Seeing these vacant, deteriorating landmarks restored to their former glory and preserved for future generations was really rewarding, and the news residents love their historic features.

The redevelopment of this site also included giving some serious love to the adjacent green space, which we’ve dubbed Walker Field. This previously underutilized space now has a jogging path, benches, new swings, picnic tables and soccer goals. We’re hopeful that the space will be used for Little League games as well as community gardens. This space is now much more welcoming to the more than 100 families living in the neighborhood, and on any given day you’ll see people walking their dogs, older kids playing soccer, and younger kids tumbling in the grass.

On Friday, this field was the site of our grand opening event. We wanted to make it a fun neighborhood party, so we had a popcorn machine, an ice cream sundae bar (with ice cream and fixings made by Westbrook’s own Catbird Creamery) and a visit from the Westbrook Fire-Rescue Department’s Engine 4. Attendees got to tour the new building and the renovated historic buildings. Many guests had connections to St. Hyacinth, whether they went to school there or even taught there, and they were eager to see inside these buildings once again.

Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton told the crowd that the redevelopment of the site was just what the neighborhood needed, especially with the housing need in the community, and that “to see this type of life happening here is really refreshing.” The city will also receive nearly $50,000 a year in new property taxes.

Maine State Historian Earle Shettleworth talked about the historical and cultural impact of the influx of Franco-American families into Westbrook, and the “presence and permanence of parochial education in this community.”

And new Hyacinth resident Monique Rodrigue talked about her excitement at finding Hyacinth Place on the Internet when she was searching for a new home for her and her husband. She loves that her new community has provided her with an opportunity to give back — she volunteers her time tutoring children and even their parents who want to improve their English language skills. I’ll share more about Monique in a later post.

It was a great event, and just one piece of Avesta’s continued commitment to revitalizing the neighborhood. Later this year, we’ll embark on a $3.2 million renovation of the 73 apartments that make up Steeple Square on Walker and Webb streets.

 

 

 

 

To see more photos from the event, check out our Facebook page. And for more on Hyacinth Place, including its history and the construction, check out our website.

Post by Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

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

Protecting yourself from deceptive debt collection practices

Nearly 15% of all Americans show at least one item in collection on their credit report, and the average amount of debt in collection is $1,400. Debt collection is a $12.2 billion industry in the United States. Banks and other creditors may collect their own debt, and they can also sell off debt to third parties, which can also choose to collect the debt or sell it off. As a result, it is not surprising that debt collectors sometimes engage in practices that intimidate and harm consumers.

Many debt collection companies play by the rules and treat consumers fairly, but those that don’t can wreak havoc on your finances. Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, all covered persons or service providers are legally required to refrain from committing unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices. Any entity that is not the original creditor is subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and is also legally required to refrain from committing unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices in the attempted collection of a consumer debt.

But what kinds of debt-collection practices should you be wary of? The following practices are typically deemed to be illegal.

  •   Threatening action the debt collector does not have the authority to pursue. Debt collectors and creditors should not make false threats of lawsuits, arrest, prosecution or imprisonment for non-payment of debt.
  •   Misrepresenting the nature, amount or legal status of the debt. Debt collectors and creditors must not falsely represent who owns the debt, the amount of debt that is owed or the debt’s legal status.
  •   Misrepresenting that a consumer’s debt would be waived or forgiven. Debt collectors and creditors should not misrepresent that a debt would be waived or forgiven if a consumer accepted a settlement offer when the company is not, in fact, forgiving or waiving the debt.
  •   Failing to properly post payments or credit to a consumer’s account with payments. Debt collectors and creditors should not fail to properly post payments or credit to a consumer’s account and then charge late fees to that customer if the customer paid on time.

It is important to point out that debt collection companies must also be careful about making statements regarding the impact of paying a debt on a consumer’s credit score, credit report or creditworthiness. Often times these statements — like telling consumers that paying a debt would improve their credit score — may be deceptive.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has published a consumer bulletin regarding unfair, deceptive and abusive practices, which you can read here.

The CFPB has also published a second bulletin regarding debt collectors discussing consumers’ credit, which you can read here.

Other tips for communication with debt collectors

The CFPB has also published five action letters that consumers can consider using when corresponding with debt collectors. These letter templates are available for download from the CFPB at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/debtcollection/. These letters may help consumers get valuable information about claims being made against them or protect themselves from inappropriate or unwanted collection activities. The letters address the following situations:

Needs more information on the debt: This letter is for consumers who need more information about a debt the collector has told them that they owe. The letter states the consumer is disputing the charges until the debt collector answers specific questions about what is owed. This letter may be useful, for example, for a consumer who may not immediately recognize the debt as their own.

Wants to dispute the debt and for the debt collector to prove responsibility or stop communication: This letter tells the collector the consumer is disputing the debt and instructs the debt collector to stop contacting the consumer until they provide evidence that the consumer is responsible for that debt. For example, consumers who do not want to discuss the debt until they have additional information verifying the debt might use this template.

Wants to restrict how and when a debt collector can contact them: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from contacting a consumer about a debt at a time or place they should know is inconvenient. With this letter, the consumer is able to tell the debt collector how they would like to be contacted. This may be a useful option for a consumer who wants to work with a collector to resolve their debt.

Has hired a lawyer: If a consumer has hired a lawyer, the debt collector should be contacting the lawyer instead of the consumer. This letter provides a way for the consumer to give the debt collector the lawyer’s information and instruct the collector to contact only the lawyer.

Wants the debt collector to stop any and all contact: Consumers have the right to tell a debt collector to stop all communication. It is important to note that stopping contact from a debt collector does not cancel the debt or prohibit the collector from potentially pursuing other remedies, such as filing a lawsuit. This letter could be beneficial for consumers who feel they are being harassed by a collector’s communications.

Consumers can submit a complaint to the State of Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection or the CFPB against any company collecting a consumer debt from them. You can submit a complaint at www.credit.maine.gov (BCCP) or www.consumerfinance.gov/Complaint (CFPB), or call their toll-free phone number at 800-332-8529 (BCCP) or 855-411-2372 (CFPB).

David Stolt

By David Stolt, Home Ownership Services 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