As our society becomes increasingly health conscious our conversations turn more and more frequently to the big topics of the day, from obesity and sedentary lifestyles to proper nutrition and sufficient sleep. Much time and energy are spent on avoiding the illnesses we see featured daily in headlines, including diabetes, cardio-respiratory illness, cancer. We seldom pause to consider one of the most damaging conditions of all: social isolation and the loneliness which follows.
Humans are social creatures, hence the rise of social media and chat apps. Our “always connected” society is not just a product of a poor work/life balance or a need for shiny new toys, it is also a reflection of our need to connect and interconnect with our peers. Every Facebook post is an “I wuz here” graffiti tag, every like and share a cry for inclusion.
Yet the individuals in our society with the most need for social contact often receive the least.
For a person dealing with mental or physical health issues, with a disability, or with poverty, isolation can become a daily fact of life. A single entrance step may as well be the Grand Canyon to a person using a wheelchair, a barrier to many events and gatherings. Poor health and low energy may turn a party into a tedious experience best avoided. A periodic disability makes it hard, if not impossible, to make plans for “dinner next week”. Surviving on the mere $1,130 per month of the Ontario Disability Support Program can make a coffee date an expensive proposition, and a few drinks as financially out of reach as a trip to the Bahamas.. and both plans are moot if one can’t afford the bus fare to get out.
Social isolation can reduce lifespans and may be as unhealthy as obesity and smoking. Social isolation is prevalent in people impacted by HIV. This issue is recognized by governments, including in the UK.
Bruce House recognizes this urgent need for social contact from many of our clients. Our Community Kitchen, monthly socials, and other activities offer opportunities for human contact. Our Volunteer Buddy Program offer a bridge to social interaction—for some clients, the weekly visit from the volunteer Buddy may be the only friendly face they see.
Through our Buddy Program a client is paired up with a volunteer buddy who will provide support around psycho-social needs to reduce social isolation. Clients and buddies meet once a week for coffee, dinner, a movie, taking a walk, going to the museum, and going to a mall. Buddies also help with bringing clients to appointments, medication reminders, and grocery shopping. Our volunteers create a safe place for our clients and social support which increases self-worth and helps decrease social isolation. We are grateful for the dedication, commitment, compassion, laughter and great energy our volunteers devote to our client community and Bruce House family.
“I am grateful for the Buddy Program as I see how it gives people hope. When someone is isolated at home or dealing with mental health challenges, having a safe connection with someone can turn their day into a positive one. I am part of a buddy program with the Ottawa Hospice and I had the privilege of developing a relationship with an elderly man over the past 3 years who was very isolated in his community. He passed away in December and when we said goodbye to each other in the hospice he told me he missed me, and I would be in his heart. I felt the same way and will forever be grateful for that relationship. I am passionate about expanding our Bruce House’s Buddy Program, so we can continue providing hope to our clients.”
—Linda Truglia, Manager of Volunteers Services & Community Relations
Interested in volunteering as a Buddy? Contact Linda at 613-729-0911 x28 or firstname.lastname@example.org
“The buddy program is a great way to stay involved with Bruce House while making a true difference one-on-one, where it matters most. To be part of something that gives so much to our community and being able to see the positive impact in the lives of the clients every week, is truly an uplifting and amazing experience. Every time I leave feeling fulfilled and to witness the positive impact Bruce House makes for people in Ottawa is a truly inspiring experience.
When I meet up weekly with Dominique, no matter what we do the conversation is always good. It’s amazing that the simple act of just getting a coffee with someone can make a huge difference in someone’s life. I would definitely recommend the buddy program to anyone, because you will definitely get as much out of it as your buddy will.”
—Dylan, Buddy Program volunteer
“I needed someone that I could count on, to have someone to take me out of my apartment. I don’t have many friends.
It helps my emotional and mental health to have someone to talk to, to do activities with. With all the things in my past… the trust is not there. With Dylan I feel respect and friendship, not judgement. I look forward to seeing him every week.”
—Dominique, Bruce House client