“We don’t take the time to get to know our neighbours,” says Amie Peacock, founder and executive director of Beyond the Conversation.
The volunteer-run group hopes to change that by hosting its first ever Walk to End Social Isolation in Kerrisdale on September 9.
The 3 km walk begins at 10 a.m. with one group starting at 33rd Avenue and the other starting from 52nd Avenue. The groups will meet in the middle at Kerrisdale Park at 11 a.m. to hear prayers from an Aboriginal elder, speakers sharing personal stories of overcoming loneliness and strategies for prevention.
Peacock says attendees are invited to write cards with encouraging positive messages to hang on a Wishing Tree that volunteers will collect and donate to local hospitals to “remember those who are shut in and brighten their day by saying ‘you know we care.'”
She was inspired to take action after her mother visited her in Vancouver from Philippines but left after six months after becoming lonely due to the language barrier and a lack of friends. “It’s worse for people who are new to the country because they are uprooting themselves — they don’t have any family here. They are starting from the beginning.”
About 27 per cent of the province’s population will be 65 or older by 2038 and research shows that loneliness can contribute to a shorter lifespan and greater risk of developing health problems.
Beyond the Conversation launched in 2015 as a series of small groups to help seniors, newcomers and refugees practice their English conversation skills and make new friends.
The organization runs 12 small groups in Vancouver, recently opened a satellite site in Surrey and is fundraising to open 10 more locations.
A 2017 study by the Vancouver Foundation found that 30 per cent of youth between the ages of 18 to 24 in Vancouver reported feeling lonely ‘always’ or ‘often.’
Beyond the Conversation volunteers have begun giving presentations at high schools, colleges and universities to increase awareness of the relationship between social isolation and mental health.
The organization hopes to deliver 10 awareness presentations to students in 2018.