Partners honored for work in improving health of the region

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MILO — Many different organizations and individuals have been involved in efforts over the last few years designed to improve the health of residents across the region. Many of these partners in the Feel Good Piscataquis! initiative were recognized during a breakfast on Nov. 16 at the Three Rivers Kiwanis building.

“We are here to celebrate collaboration in our communities,” Piscataquis Regional YMCA Healthy Communities Project Coordinator Erin Callaway said at the start of the program. She said she had been thinking about what collaboration is.

“It’s so many things, working, learning together, challenging, frustrating and it makes you look at what works well independently and what works well with others,” Callaway said.

She said the Piscataquis Healthy Food for All program began four years prior with a grant from the Maine Health Access Foundation (MeHAF) “and we have found ourselves working together more and more.” Callaway added, “There’s a lot of great stuff happening and we need to celebrate that.”

Callaway said in 2013 she first learned about the Charlotte White Center’s Thriving In Place Collaborative and met Project Director Meg Callaway (no relation). “Then we learned there are lots of practical things we could do together,” Erin Callaway, saying the combined efforts feel under an umbrella named Feel Good Piscataquis!

“It’s all about taking the wonderful things where we live and making them more accessible and bringing people together,” she said. Callaway then said about 400 Feel Good Piscataquis! calendars have printed with each month highlighting a various organization or program helping the area.

Maine Highlands Senior President Dr. Lesley Fernow spoke next. Dr. Fernow said what she likes about collaboration is developing “all these ideas back here.” She added, “We are starting to see the volcano rising.”

“We really have pulled together some envisioning of how we can be a better community,” Dr. Fernow said. She said an idea for an adult day care center began in 2012 and the plan to revitalize Central Hall has evolved to include the forthcoming daycare center and senior center.

Dr. Fernow acknowledged “we are creating a monster” with the various partnerships working to improve the community, leading to a many meetings each week. “How do we take this collaboration and begin to streamline it and use each other’s strengths? I would propose we involve more people in the community who can take on roles to free up leadership to do something else.”

Mayo Regional Hospital Community Outreach Coordinator Hillary Starbird said the hospital received a grant from MeHAF in January and staff have started “making connections on social tenants of health. We have a better understanding of the programs in our community we can refer our patients to.”

Starbird then recognized both Callaways as well as Sue Mackey Andrews of Helping Hands with Heart.

Meg Callaway said the Thriving in Place Collaborative now is comprised of a network of more than 60 individuals and organizations, and a current initiative focus is on helping towns throughout the region work with the Maine Highlands Senior Center. “Really not to have everything happen at Central Hall, but to fuel activities in our communities,” she said.

MeHAF Senior Program Officer Ruta Kadonoff said the organization’s mission is to promote health care, particularly in the uninsured or underinsured, and to promote health for all. “We can do absolutely nothing without the people in this community and communities like it across the state,” she said.

Kadonoff said about a half million dollars has been invested in the region over the last four years. “I feel we have not spurred projects but we have spurred a greater level of collaboration,” she said. “I feel like we have made an investment, but that investment has been multiplied.”

Erin Callaway spoke again and she said in 2017 Piscataquis Healthy Food for All worked “helping people across Piscataquis County get better access to food.” She said this access has included understanding how to get food to those in need and overcoming the associated challenges.

Callaway said initiative officials have been looking at measures already in place, such as the summer meals programs and expanding the opportunities for children to enjoy healthy foods.

Speaking of the Derby section of Milo, Callaway said, “In this community alone we had volunteers help establish a summer meal site. In Derby at times we had 20 kids at that site.”

She thanked Milo Town Manager/Police Chief Damien Pickel, saying he was instrumental in helping Milo’s younger residents access lunch during the summer.

Across the region, about 3,000 more summer meals were served in 2017 compared to the year before. “In the whole county 50 people were involved in summer meals this year,” Callaway said about program volunteers.

“Another program we had going on this summer we are really proud of is FarmShare for Homebound Seniors,” Callaway said. FarmShare for Homebound Seniors allows eligible participants who cannot leave home to receive $50 of free produce from local farms.

“We have six major food cupboards serving Piscataquis and outlying areas and Dexter and Charleston, and smaller food pantries,” Callaway said about other Piscataquis Healthy Food for All partners.

She then mentioned “the Spice Drive” as “every month since January we have had a spice of the month.” Callaway said participating stores solicit donations of that month’s spice which is then featured at food distributions along with recipes and samples made by the Charlotte White Center Rising Stars day group. The monthly spices help those coming to the food cupboards make tasty and nutritious meals from the staples they obtain.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
CELEBRATING WORKING TOGETHER — Charlotte White Center Thriving in Place Collaborative Project Director Meg Callaway, left, reacts upon receiving a lollipop from Piscataquis Regional YMCA Healthy Communities Project Coordinator Erin Callaway during a breakfast celebrating the various Feel Good Piscataquis! initiative partners on Nov. 16 at Three Rivers Kiwanis Headquarters in Milo.

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