Fighting loneliness through outreach programs

Do you feel disconnected from your community? Are your days filled with feelings of loneliness and isolation?

A 2012 Vancouver Foundation survey cited growing concerns of wide-spread social isolation in Metro Vancouver.  Neighbourhood Houses believe if the same survey was administered to residents connected to their local Houses that the results would have been different.  In fact, a research project NHiMV(Neighbourhood Houses in MetroVancouverled by UBC partnered with SFU and University of Victoria has findings that show the impact that Neighbourhood Houses have on our communities.

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Burnaby Neighbourhood House operates two Neighbourhood Houses that are making a difference in people’s lives.  

“Loneliness can also be an equalizer,” says Antonia Beck, Executive Director of the Burnaby Neighbourhood House. “We’re breaking down the class system and meeting people where they’re at. Everybody has different issues at some point, and everybody needs to feel like they belong.”

Although the Burnaby Neighbourhood House’s outreach programs target two key demographics: young families and seniors, it also ensures that all staff and program areas have a mandate of increasing awareness and connecting individuals to local programs and supports.

Outreach workers create awareness about the affordable programs available to families with young children such as family drop-ins, baby health care clinics, food banks, and other valuable resources such as supporting government form filling.

“We want them to know about the resources in their community, and introduce them to free and affordable things to do,” says Beck.

These resources can be in the form of drop-in activities or regular programs held at the Neighbourhood House itself, or at schools, libraries and community agencies.

Older adults involved at the Burnaby Neighbourhood House have the opportunity to become volunteer ambassadors where they receive training to become outreach workers.

“They’re trained as a peer helper and in Seniors issues,” says Beck. “They are given the important task of going out in the community and finding other seniors who might be lonely and in need of support, and they tell them about the Neighbourhood House. Word of mouth is the best type of advertising.”

Recognizing that isolation is a big issue for seniors, the Neighbourhood House recently received federal funding to allow it to expand and replicate its seniors outreach model throughout Metro Vancouver.

In its 20 years, the house has also formed key partnerships with other organizations and businesses which contributes to the successful work of connecting neighbours to appropriate resources.  This is the case, when supporting both new immigrants and longtime residents as they make Burnaby their home.

“We offer many programs like cultural dinners, English classes and support with literacy needs,” says Beck. “Oftentimes, somebody might come in for one thing and suddenly find themselves striking up conversations with others, discovering new things and new friendships. Parents often connect with other parents, seniors connect with other seniors.”

“It’s common for people to start out as participants and become volunteers,” Beck adds. “What’s important is that the residents in our neighbourhood learn about what resources are out there for them.”

To find out more about the Burnaby Neighbourhood House, visit their website, call 604-431-0400, or send them an email.

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