UNE, Salvation Army partnership aims to improve programming for older adults in Portland

UNE student Topher Van Hare talks with seniors at The Salvation Army
Topher Van Hare (D.O., ’24) talks with Donna Brown and James Sproul, members of the Center for Healthy Aging at The Salvation Army in Portland.

Improving the programming for older adults in the Portland Area is the focus of an interprofessional project being led by the University of New England’s Center for Excellence in Aging and Health (CEAH).

In partnership with The Salvation Army of Portland’s Center for Healthy Aging, also known as the Senior Center, the two-phase project entails analyzing the strengths and recommended improvements of the center’s program offerings for older adults and comparing them to organizations that offer similar programming.

Such activities at the CHA include Bingo, Bible study, card games, potluck lunches, timbrel classes, a foot clinic, center-facilitated grocery shopping, and more.

The CHA serves community dwelling older adults based on a mission to meet the needs of the whole person and enrich their quality of life. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, adults 55 and older who are members of the center can gather for a variety of programs, trips, and entertainment as well as make new friends.

Beginning in April, as part of the first phase of the project, UNE student Nora Ramos-Michael (M.P.H., ’21) interviewed CHA Director Janet Lavenbein, plus an active volunteer, to inform the evaluation project.

These contacts set the stage for UNE students Topher Van Hare (D.O., ’24) and Alyssa Welt (M.P.H.,’21) to complete a day-long immersion at the CHA, located at The Salvation Army’s Cumberland Avenue site, in mid-May. Van Hare attended in-person, while Welt — as a remote learner in the College of Graduate and Professional Studies (CGPS) — partook via FaceTime.

At the immersion, the two students interacted with members of the CHA, played games with them, and observed an exercise class, among other activities.

Van Hare, who is president of the UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNE COM) chapter of the American Geriatrics Society, said the experience has been valuable as he prepares for a career in geriatrics.

“I'm interested in learning about programs that are outside of the clinical space,” he said. “This isn't a doctor's office — it’s a community center — and I think it's really important to be able to learn how these older adults can be engaged in an environment like this and how that can really improve their health, both physically and mentally.”

Welt, a biomedical engineer for a medical device company, said the project will help her work with clients in Florida, where she lives, as that state has a large population of older adults.

“Maine and Florida are experiencing similar scenarios with aging populations,” she said. “To be able to improve health in whole community, you must look at all aspects of individual health, and that includes emotional, physical, mental, and social health. I’m very thankful to be working with the Salvation Army to help bring improvements to the Portland area.”

The collaboration is but one example of how the Center for Excellence in Aging and Health collaborates with community partners to support student learning, enrich the lives of older adults, and promote applied research projects.

“This partnership is a win-win for UNE and The Salvation Army. Our students are hungry for applied projects that make a difference,” explained Tom Meuser, Ph.D., founding director of the CEAH at UNE. “Here, we have an opportunity to explore the needs of community dwelling older adults in our area and provide strategic input for the Army’s future work. The students are doing the work and learning a lot in the process. I want to see the CEAH partnering more like this in the future.”

In the second phase of the project, Meuser and Carol Ewan Whyte, Ph.D., M.Sc., assistant director of Research and Service for UNE’s Graduate Programs in Public Health — plus several Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) students — will seek input from local professionals who are knowledgeable in aging services.

The students, Rene Agbortharh (M.P.H., ’22), Laura McCoy (M.P.H., ’22), and Hatem Shaglouf (M.P.H., ’21), will interview these “key informants,” as Meuser calls them, about local needs and how they see The Salvation Army tailoring and expanding their services. They will also explore possibilities for The Salvation Army to form additional partnerships.

The UNE team will then prepare a written report with recommendations for the CHA later this summer.

“The Salvation Army of Portland is excited to be in partnership with UNE for this project. Senior citizens are a vulnerable part of our community, and we want to serve this group as well as we are able to,” said Salvation Army Major Armida Harper, who serves as a coordinator for the Greater Portland Area. “With UNE’s help, we can objectively review where we are at and what we can do to expand the Center for Healthy Aging in the future. No individual is smarter than a group as a whole. Therefore, we strive to collaborate with others to best serve those who come through our doors.”

CHA members partake in a timbrel class.
Affirmations and program updates at the Center for Healthy Aging
Topher Van Hare (D.O., ’24)

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