History and Future
Island Connections started with neighbors helping neighbors …
On a winter’s day in 1995 a visiting nurse arrives at the home of an elderly gentleman who receives home health visits from her on a regular basis. While the driveway is plowed, the walkway is underneath five inches of snow. Concerned, the nurse takes quick steps to the front door and knocks while peering through the side light for a figure to appear. The man’s face brightens as he sees his familiar visiting nurse, his only company in ten days. Taking his hand, she leads him to an armchair and engages him in relaxed conversation while taking note of his physical status and state of mind. While the nurse’s assignment is to address a medical condition she discovers other matters that need serious attention. There is little food in the house and due to the unmanageable walkway the trash bin sits in the kitchen overflowing. While happy to see her, he conveys his dislike for his daily isolation. The nurse feels his pain deeply but can only offer a hug and a reminder that she’d be back in ten days for his next medical visit.
This unfortunate scene, replicated in various forms and in numerous settings, was witnessed again and again by visiting nurses, social workers and other health care agency professionals on Mount Desert Island. Those caring for this segment of the population routinely shared similar, poignant stories, and knew something needed to be done. Betty Mitchell, director of Mount Desert Nursing Association at the time, continually observed that transportation was a big problem for the elderly. Appointments to the doctor were missed, food at home could not be replenished and attendance at social gatherings became nil. Mount Desert Nursing Association did their best to remedy the situation but had only a limited number of volunteers to help with transportation.
Through recognition of this urgent need by many in the healthcare community, a grass roots effort emerged to facilitate the improvement of daily life for seniors and those disabled. Ron Greenberg, an initial organizer of the effort, described the original neighbors providing service as possessing a familiar and personal level of acquaintance with the seniors and disabled in need of assistance. This personal knowledge of their unmet needs translated to delivery of the assistance they wanted.
As assistance for the elderly population was beginning to be addressed, those involved saw the need to sustain and develop this vital community service. At the March 1996 Island Network Conference, area healthcare agency professionals reached consensus that issues of elderly well-being required immediate action. Two weeks later the Mount Desert Island Seniors Task Force was formed. Kelly Corson, of the Bar Harbor Housing Authority, was a major contributor in terms of defining goals and objectives of the organization. Seeking to maintain the neighborly level of personal familiarity, the task force conducted assessments of the elderly by performing surveys at health fairs and through a mailed questionnaire that reached more than 700 seniors and disabled. The need for personalized, readily available transportation was revealed as the most basic necessity to maintain quality of life.
Culminating from experiences gathered by the founding group, it became evident that, in order to maintain a viable organization, services needed to be performed on a personal level. After much care and discussion, the group agreed that the future of the organization depended on honoring the fundamental principle of “neighbors helping neighbors.” Over time, the giver might very well become the receiver of assistance. With this natural progression in place it would become possible for the organization to be a vital and significant resource in the community for years to come.
With a solid direction, the task force sought out resources to enable services to be delivered. Dick Salisbury, who would become the organization’s founding president, identified the Council of Churches of the Islands as an essential companion. The churches provided a natural venue to communicate the organization’s mission of “neighbors helping neighbors.” Acting as representative for the Council, Dick, as well as other task force members, presented the concept of the mission at many church gatherings. This was the seed that created the energy to grow the organization.
Through a bit of research, the task force targeted the Faith in Action Program as a source of funds to launch the organization. The program, underwritten by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, closely reflected the same goals held by the task force. In March of 1997, a grant proposal was submitted by the task force to the Faith in Action Program. The grant was awarded in May 1997, covering startup costs and 18 months of operation.
With financial backing in place, the organization was poised to take on official status, starting off by creating a board of directors. The task force desired to recruit a balanced mix of community members and succeeded in establishing a board possessing strengths in business, healthcare, finance and first-hand knowledge of the needs of the elderly and disabled.
In October 1997, Michael Reisman was hired as Program Director. Michael proved to be an essential influence in development of the organization. He wisely set his initial priorities as raising awareness island-wide about the program through speaking at church meetings and gaining publicity through local media, targeting churches that offered financial support prior to the organization being awarded the Faith in Action grant, and addressing insurance issues. Public presentation of the organization necessitated assignment of a name. Initially, the board approved the name of “Caring Connections – A Faith in Action Program” only to learn, just weeks later, that the Bangor YWCA had an existing program with the name “Caring Connections.” Undaunted, board members contrived the name “Island Connections” and made it official in November of 1997.
In December of 1997 the State of Maine granted non-profit status to Island Connections followed by receipt of its tax-exempt 501c-3 status from the Internal Revenue Service in April of 1998. By this time, the organization was in full operation with 25 volunteers serving 51 elders and those with disabilities. With an average of 145 occasions of use per month, Island Connections was making a tangibly beneficial impact in the quality of life for this segment of the population.
Life was busy for those affiliated with Island Connections. Training sessions were coordinated through Adult Education at the high school; dinners were delivered from “Meals for Me” in Bar Harbor; brochures were produced and distributed; long range plans were presented at the MDI Hospital Health Fair; fundraising drives were planned; and additional grant proposals were examined. Also, at this time the distinctly popular tea and popover event occurred for the first time at the Jordan Pond house.
Now, nearly ten years since its inception, Island Connections continues its mission of serving and caring for the elderly and disabled population. For the last ten years, Mount Desert Island seniors now have realistic options for receiving transportation to their medical appointments, joining friends in activities outside the home, and receiving regular “care calls” from caring neighbors when homebound with an illness. Today, Island Connections is 150 volunteers strong serving more that 190 care recipients.
None of the accomplishments of Island Connections would have been possible without the support of countless concerned members of our community and the hundreds of businesses responsible for donating goods and services. Our community is extremely fortunate to have Island Connections but without the inherent goodwill existing within residents of Mount Desert Island its presence would not be possible.