Katie Urich, activities coordinator at Island Commons on Chebeague, leads a word game with residents Sylvia Ross, Janet Martin, Joan Phipps and Joan Deming. “Our residents don’t live in our workplace, we work in their home,” an employee says. Sydney Richelieu / The Forecaster

Christina Skillin drove through a snowstorm early Monday morning to get to work. It was 5 a.m., the sun hadn’t yet risen and Chebeague Island was a frozen landscape, but she knew how important it was for her to get to Island Commons on time.

As care manager at the homey assisted living facility, Skillin is dedicated to the residents and their well-being. For her and the other employees, Island Commons isn’t just a residential care center.

“Our residents don’t live in our workplace, we work in their home,” said administrator Amy Rich.

Island Commons is celebrating its 25th year on the island this month. Located in a 3,500-square-foot farmhouse donated by an island family, its provides care for islanders or islanders’ loved ones who can no longer live independently.

Island Commons resident Joanie Deming enjoys her birthday cake made by aide Gina Ramirez. Contributed / Nancy Olney

Before it opened, “when people got older and could no longer live independently, their only choice was to go off the island,” said Susan Stranahan, president of the Island Commons board. “They were separated from everything they were familiar with.”

The facility currently has five residents with room for seven. For islanders who wish to remain in their homes, the Commons provides in-home care service and a meal delivery service every week.


When the Commons opened, the majority of staff were Chebeague residents. As the island population changed, the Commons started to rely on mainlanders to serve as some of their 23 staff members. Off-island employees are scheduled for 36-hour shifts to make it easier for them to commute.

Gina Ramirez lives in Auburn and makes the commute to Chebeague Island each week for her shift. The relationships she’s formed with the residents are special to her, she said. She knows their quirks and their likes and dislikes, and she bakes their favorite cake for each of their birthdays.

Best friends Joan Phipps and Janet Martin, pictured here at a lunch outing, met at Island Commons. “They found best friendship in their sunset years,” says administrator Amy Rich. Contributed / Nancy Olney

Last Thursday Ramirez wasn’t working, but she drove a cake down from Auburn and sent it over to the island on the ferry for a resident’s birthday. It was her birthday, too, but she chose to spend her day making the day special for her residents.

“It’s the best job in the world,” Ramirez said. “The residents become part of your family.”

For some of the caregivers, the residents actually are family. Skillin, the care manager, and Community Outreach Manager Nancy Olney both have relatives at the Commons.

Olney’s mother-in-law, Sylvia Ross, was born on Chebeague Island and recently moved into the Commons.


“She’s a prime example of why this place opened,” Stranahan said. “She has more visitors than anybody.”

As a nonprofit, the Commons relies heavily on fundraising to survive. Five years ago, it opened a resale shop, called the Red Studio, which sells furniture and other household items.

“Talk about popular!” Stranahan said.

Last year, the Red Studio grossed over $20,000, Rich said.

“We run at a huge financial loss, so we’re always raising money,” Stranahan said. “We have a unique position on the island of respect, so people are usually willing to donate.”

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