BELFAST — As Heather Frederick’s husband Linden neared retirement, she began the process of setting up accounts for Medicare and other programs provided to seniors and retirees. What happened next led Frederick down a path of discovery — one she hopes more seniors will make for themselves.

Frederick logged onto the site to apply for Medicare and soon discovered she was in over her head.

“I got online, and it was confusing,” she said of the comprehensive online application process. “I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.”

Frederick had heard from a friend that a local organization provided assistance in navigating the often-bewildering morass of online forms and passwords that accompany the application for benefits.

“We found that at Spectrum Generations here on Merriam Street in Belfast you could make an appointment and sit down with someone who will help you sign up and talk to you about what plan you need,” Frederick said. “We were out of there in half an hour with exactly what we needed.”

Benefit advice and assistance signing up are just two of the many services provided by Spectrum Generations, an organization with 50 years of service to seniors, and now adults of all ages.

“We provided a lot of different services in the community,” said Senior Program Director Nate Miller. “These are services that help older and disabled adults remain in their homes.”

Spectrum Generations has had several different names over the past five decades. Created in 1972 as one of the five Area Agencies on Aging by then Gov. Ken Curtis, it was known as the Central Senior Citizens Association. That organization offered transportation services and takeout meals.

The organization changed its name to Senior Spectrum in 1988, reflecting a desire for increased visibility as a one-stop resource.

To reflect its work with adults of all ages, the name was changed to Spectrum Generations in 2018. Best known in the last 50 years for its Meals on Wheels program, the organization has evolved to a critical hub of information and assistance.

“People can call us for any reason,” Miller said. “If we don’t have the program or the service to offer them, we can tell them who in their community is addressing their need.”

The organization’s mission today is to promote and advance the well-being of older and disabled adults, with the support of their care partners, to live in their community of choice.

Spectrum Generations serves the swath of Central Maine that includes Waldo, Lincoln, Somerset, Southern Kennebec, Sagadahoc and Knox counties through seven community-based centers.

“Ultimately, we are a considered an aging and disability resource center,” said Director of Community Engagement Lindsay MacDonald. “We are responsible for 26% of the Meals on Wheels services provided in the state of Maine. That’s how many people know about us, but we offer so many other services around that.”

Spectrum Generations offers community case management, nutrition, aging and disability resources, health and wellness resources as well as family caregiver services at all locations. Many of these services are free, or low cost.

Each center hosts activities for aging adults that allow them to socialize in a comfortable setting, offer skills they can utilize in their home, and promote community. One of these programs is Money Minders.

“Money Minders helps older adults balance their checkbook and make sure their bills are paid,” Miller explained. “I describe it as free accounting help each month. It allows people to direct their finances and avoid having someone take over their finances completely, so they can be as independent as possible.”

All of the programming offered by Spectrum Generations is designed to help aging adults achieve and maintain independence.

The organization also offers programming that assists those taking care of older adults.

“Our Family Caregiver Support program offers education and assistance to those taking care of their older loved ones,” Miller said. “We help caregivers navigate the system and get home care services. We also have funds that will help reimburse caregivers for the cost of home care.”

All it takes to benefit from one of the organization’s programs is getting in touch with one of Spectrum’s statewide centers.

“One of the benefits of our programming is that it’s designed to meet people where they are,” said MacDonald. “That’s not only in person, but on Zoom, and we have tool kits available that we can send with important information. We can also talk on the phone. It’s really helpful in meeting people with our resources.”

To provide these services the organization relies on an army of volunteers. Many of those volunteers are involved in Spectrum Generations’ most visible program — Meals on Wheels.

Waldo County Meals on Wheels Director Beth Seekins, right, speaks with volunteer drivers as they prepare to go on their routes Jan. 3. Photo by Jim Leonard

“To qualify for Meals on Wheels you have to be homebound or isolated,” said Meals on Wheels Coordinator Beth Seekins, “If you qualify, we get the meals to you the next week.”

Currently the Meals on Wheels program in Waldo County is serving 110 clients, most of whom come in through referrals from other agencies or caregivers.

The meals are cooked and packaged at the Muskie Center in Waterville and delivered to the county facilities on Tuesday of each week. Volunteer drivers pick up the meals at the county facility and take them to the clients in their county. Each client receives five prepackaged frozen meals and a “milk” bag that includes milk or juice, bread, fruit and desserts.

Meals on Wheels are packaged in Waterville, frozen and delivered to clients throughout Waldo County. Photo by Alex Theberge

Seekins has 10 volunteer drivers to cover eight routes throughout Waldo County. Each route can take two to three hours to complete. Seekins is always looking for additional volunteer drivers.

“Some of our drivers go south in the winter,” Seekins said. “We need the additional volunteer drivers to cover their routes while they’re gone. It’s important because, sometimes, our driver is the only person some of our clients see during the week.”

Those who use a program or service at Spectrum Generations are put on the organization’s mailing list. It was here that Frederick discovered a way to pay it forward.

“We got on the mailing list and saw that they needed (Meals on Wheels) drivers,” Frederick said. “I thought, that is really one way I can say thank you.”

Frederick and her husband have missed just three weeks in the last three years and she says her work has reshaped her perspective.

“What I see, when I make my deliveries, is the strength of human determination,” she said. “They inspire me with their tenacity. My route is just one day a week for a couple of hours, but I make connections that last a lifetime.”