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Ending Loneliness and Building Community

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

I am very honored to serve on AARP-Massachusett’s Task Force to End Isolation and Build Community. Under the exemplary leadership of Sandra Harris, this is a group of the state’s thought-leaders and quite frankly, the do-ers (you know, the ones who truly get things done)! You may learn more about the Task Force in this press release.

Loneliness is a very serious issue. It has been for a very long time – but of course, it is now exasperated by COVID. In 2018, Cigna conducted a landmark study that:

- Concluded with the headline: Loneliness is at epidemic levels in America.

- Found approximately 1 in 6 adults in the US suffers from a mental health condition and that loneliness is a commonality.

- Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes per day!

- Generation Z (adults age 18-22) and Millenials (ages 23-27) are lonelier than older adults

You may read the entire study here.

The Task Force is asking: How do we address this loneliness and build community?

In the spring, the Task Force held a series of forums across the state where attendees could share what isolation looked like for their older people in their communities and how organizations were addressing this. Caitlin Coyle of UMass Boston organized these forums and the resulting data. I was grateful for the opportunity to facilitate some of the these discussions in June when many of us were still staying-at-home. The ingenuity and resourcefulness of communities was truly inspiring. Some of the intergenerational solutions that touched me:

- A school’s parents’ group began doing grocery shopping for older adults at risk during COVID – and continued even after it was safer for the older people to go into grocery stores.

- A superintendent invited older adults to pick-up free meals-to-go along with the district’s students and their families. No questions asked.

- Music students began performing outside senior housing – rotating around the building so all could hear from their windows.

- Copies of students’ artwork was printed and sent home for elders with bags of groceries.

Last week, the Task Force held a statewide summit to release a report with a summary of the findings. The report is entitled: It's the Little Things: A Community Resource for Strengthening Social Connections. The report includes 100 ways that people and organizations can reach out. You may download the report here.

I was excited to lead a subcommittee on intergenerational approaches to ending isolation and building community, specifically on how the Task Force could add an IG lens to their work.

Kasley Killam is leading a subcommittee that is raising awareness of this issue and solutions through social media. Check out the website including resources for you. #ReachOutMA.

May each of us reach out to those in different generations to help end loneliness. In doing so, may we create ripples of love that nourish each one of us and bind us together as community.

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