Laughter, the clink of spoons in coffee cups, and the smell of warm pastries. Every other Saturday, 67-year-old Avril and 70-year-old Brenda, along with 20 to 30 other seniors and local volunteers of all ages, drink in sounds, scents, and companionship at Coffee with Seniors, which takes place at local coffee shops throughout Chilliwack’s Sardis neighbourhood. The program was co-created through United Way British Columbia (United Way BC) Hi Neighbour with a local Community Champion to promote social connection and wellbeing.
“I couldn’t go to dinner with my friends and couldn’t travel…I didn’t see a lot of my family,” says Avril who retired from running a daycare just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Combating social isolation
Avril is not unique in her loneliness. Pre-pandemic between 17% to 33% of older Canadians were lonely some of the time. During the pandemic, that increased to 26% to 42%, with older women consistently experiencing a higher loneliness rate than older men.1 In Sardis, where over 45% of the population is 55 plus, the pandemic has had a tremendous impact.
Enter United Way BC Hi Neighbour, an initiative that helps combat social isolation and disconnection by engaging residents like Community Champion Zeeshan to help strengthen vital connections, so communities are stronger, more inclusive, and resilient.
“The idea [behind Coffee with Seniors] is for seniors to socialize with local volunteers, local community members, and let’s get life back to normal because they’re still traumatized with a few years of isolation in in their homes,” Zeeshan says.
“I’ve met some really interesting people,” says Brenda. “Some of the stories I’ve heard just crack me up and some I want to cry.”
A natural extrovert, Brenda has no trouble making friends, but she knows her peers can struggle. When she’s out and about, she mentions Coffee with Seniors to others.
Older adults who interacted with people beyond their usual social circle of family and close friends were more likely to have higher levels of physical activity, greater positive moods, and fewer negative feelings according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Gerontology. Along with boosts to mental and physical health, those attending Coffee with Seniors find out about area programs and services available to them.
Local love in action
Coffee with Seniors came into being when Zeeshan met with a Hi Neighbour Community Builder and Sardis resident to brainstorm how they could help area seniors. United Way BC hires residents with strong social networks and a deep knowledge of their community as Community Builders to help promote positive community change. While the United Way BC Local Love Fund provides microgrants of up to $1,000 to help people realize their dreams of making a difference.
“The Local Love Fund is an amazing thing for people like me who want to do something in the community, and they don’t have a means to do it financially. It gets you started,” Zeeshan says.
A relatively small financial support can go a long way. Today, more than one hundred seniors are registered with the program, which runs at three different locations simultaneously on Saturdays. National coffee chains and local organizations have jumped in to help the program grow, and seniors have started to initiate their own activities. Avril and her new friends have started a walking group.
Coffee with Seniors was just one of nearly 150 Local Love-funded projects that connected almost 9,000 community members in 12 Hi Neighbour communities across the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley last year.
Let’s be here. For each other. Donate today. For tomorrow.