BLUE HILL, Maine — On Sunday, the staff, participants and their caregivers celebrated the first anniversary of Friendship Cottage, an adult day service program, with an open house at the facility.
The program, administered through the Washington-Hancock Community Agency, has grown steadily since it opened and now provides services for dependent adults and their caregivers.
“This has been a lifesaver for me,” said Lois Stevens of Surry, who cares for her 99-year-old mother, Violet Tompkins. “It lets me live.”
Friendship Cottage was several years in the planning and began with Gerry Bryan of Brooksville as he provided care for his wife, Jackie. On Sunday, Bryan said he had been able to assemble a team that helped him provide the care his wife needed. He realized, and the community realized, that not everyone would be able to build a care team and the area needed a program such as Friendship Cottage.
“I look around right now and here is the team,” he said. “We are the team. It is all about the community taking care of each other and working together so that people can continue to care for themselves in their own homes.”
Working with WHCA, a community group raised funds to purchase the former Left Bank Cafe and renovate the space to make it appropriate for a program of socialization and care in a homelike setting. The cottage opened a year ago. It now provides services for 18 adults who come to the cottage at least twice a week.
The program has a van that is used for outings and also for transport to and from the cottage.
“That’s really helpful,” said Anne Ossanna, Friendship Cottage program director. “It is good to be able to provide transportation for participants; to be able to pick them up and drive them home.”
Ossanna said she hopes to expand the program in the coming year. The cottage is licensed for up to 30 people and she said she hopes to reach that level. She added that she also would like to acquire another van, which would allow them to transport more participants.
The staff includes Ossanna, two full-time certified residential medication aides and a registered nurse consultant along with a “slew of volunteers” who work in a variety of ways with the program participants. Volunteers require no special skills.
“You have to like people, be compassionate and have a big heart,” Ossanna said.
The program benefits the participants and their caregivers as well.
“It’s a blessing,” said Stevens whose mother attends the program five days a week. “Without them, I couldn’t work. Now, I can work part time. And it gives me a break.”
Shirley Danielson drops off her husband, Dan, and picks him up from the program. At first, she said, she felt guilty.
“I didn’t realize that it was not just for me, that this was something for him,” Danielson said. “But he loves coming here and he gets the stimulation that he wouldn’t have if he wasn’t here.”
Friendship Cottage also has a caregiver resource center which provides resources, retreats, support groups and other support services for caregivers.
The program is designed to improve the quality of life not just for the participants, but for their caregivers as well, said Tim King, the executive director at WHCA.
“Adult day service is just one element of care,” King said. “Friendship Cottage is just one piece of the long-term care puzzle for healthy aging in Maine.”
He said that as the program develops, it will continue to expand services so that people can continue to live in their community and their homes and continue to age in place.
Friendship Cottage, along with a number of other agencies, recently joined the Eastern Agency on Aging which received a Weinberg Foundation grant that will provide $650,000 over the next three years to expand rural caregiver services in Washington and Hancock counties.
Ossanna said the funds will allow the partners to hire a caregiver advocate to develop a caregiver network in the area, to purchase a computer to serve as a resource for caregivers to use, and to create a respite fund that will help to subsidize extra care for those who might need it.
The grant also will help to formalize the Friendship Cottage model for use in Washington County and beyond, she said.
“There are hardly any services in Washington County,” she said. “We hope to establish a system here in Hancock County and transfer it to Washington County. We hope we can replicate it in other settings in Maine and around the country.”
For information about Friendship Cottage, or to volunteer, call 374-5612.