I’ve been hearing quite a bit lately about aging in Maine. Usually the discussion begins with the observation that Maine has the oldest population in the nation. From there, talk tends to proceed down a gloomy path of disastrous predictions: “Maine’s aging population is a ticking bomb” … “We’re going to be hit by massive waves of retirement that will create leadership vacuums in government and business” … “Social Security is going to collapse because of spikes in the number of old people drawing benefits.”
Sometimes, these conversations enter truly dark places, leaving an image of a state filled with frail, isolated elders, a burden to their deteriorating communities, waiting for the young people to come back and save Maine.
I can take this position on our aging population because for the past four years I have been involved with a program called ENCorps. ENCorps’ 200 members, all of them 50 and older, are working in every county in Maine. They are involved in a wide range of projects related to food security, including school gardens, soup kitchens, and farmers markets that help ensure that fresh, quality food is available in their communities.
These “seniors” are creating transportation networks and outreach programs to make sure their neighbors aren’t isolated. They build sidewalks, restore historic buildings, and lead tours to help their downtowns thrive. They sit on boards, recruit volunteers, and manage projects to support nonprofits. Most impressively, ENCorps volunteers have logged more than 87,000 hours of volunteer time, making an estimated $1.4-million economic contribution to communities across Maine.
So when I hear talk about the doom and gloom coming to Maine because of our aging population, I tell people about ENCorps, about how 266 “old” people are creating change in their own communities. I tell them that our challenge in Maine is finding ways to help our greatest resource — our population of experienced older adults — contribute to the communities they care about with a wealth of passion and knowledge.
What’s your perspective on older Mainers and their role in the future of the state?
Originally published in Real Time: A Community Blog on Thursday, August 25, 2014