Transportation is the number one concern of Bethel area residents as they think about staying here as they age, according to a survey by the Age-Friendly Community Project.

The AFC Project’s goal is to help residents and town leaders better understand the needs of older residents and support healthy aging.

Answered by 221 people, the survey results were presented last week at a gathering in Bethel attended by about 65 people, most of whom said they completed the survey. Also discussed were options for addressing the transportation issue.

The surveys had been made available in area churches, libraries, town offices, a grocery store, the Bethel Family Health Center and the District Exchange and Food Pantry, according to the local AFC team of volunteers. The surveys were also distributed at meetings and senior citizen groups. People from a total of 11 communities responded.

About two thirds of respondents said it was very important to them to remain in their community as they age.

Forty-two percent said needing more accessible transportation would be a factor in a possible decision to move away from the area. Half said that needing help with health care or household tasks would affect their decision on moving.

Other important issues cited in the survey included access to health care services, a community center and affordable housing.

Also included as important community features were seasonal services, healthy affordable food, accessible public buildings, well-maintained parking, exercise programs, affordable meal programs,and intergenerational programs.

As far as rating the area currently as a place to age, about 60 percent rated it as good or very good, and a third rated it fair.

Features mentioned as stronger points included opportunities to volunteer and educational and social opportunities. Presenter Amy Flowers of Analytic Insights noted that the public-place nature of most of the survey distribution might have weighted the responses in favor of those features.

Flowers also provided a breakdown of the survey respondents. About 70 percent were female, and 99 percent were over 50. Three-quarters were retired. One hundred were from area towns other than Bethel.

In a question and answer period, some attendees wondered about the views of people confined to their homes who might not have had access to a survey.

As for the issues noted in the survey, Steve Wight of Newry said the U.S.Forest Service building on Route 2 in Bethel, with 10 acres of land, is expected to go up for sale and might be an option for a community center.

Next steps

Al Cressy, a member of the AFCP team, said a public discussion on transportation is planned for Feb. 24 at 4 p.m. In addition, there will be a Brown Bag Lunch Feb. 25 at 12:15 p.m. at the Bethel inn to discuss next steps in the project.

Cressy also recognized two people at last week’s meeting who he said are in a good position to help with any effort to improve transportation – Craig Zurhorst of Western Maine Transportation Services and Joan Walton of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments.

Peter Morelli of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) also attended, and he said his organization could help in any planning to set up a volunteer driving network. According to the AARP website, the organization “works with local officials and partner organizations around the country to identify communities for membership in the Age-Friendly Network.  AARP then facilitates the community’s enrollment and guides its representatives through the network’s implementation and assessment process.”

The Bethel team anticipates having an “action plan” by the end of April.

A public discussion on the issues in the survey is also planned for Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. at the Whitman Memorial Library in Woodstock.

Cressy said officials from the towns of Bethel, Woodstock, Greenwood and Newry have also expressed interest in getting more involved in the effort. Bethel Town Manager Christine Landes introduced last week’s program.afccrop

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