“It’s good to be seen!”
As a national network of elder services organizations that celebrates the value of friendship in relieving isolation and loneliness, Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly (LBFE) traditionally hosts a suite of intergenerational programs at Boston’s senior housing facilities, where we often hear this warm reply when welcoming our guests.
But it took a pandemic, and the suspension of many social interactions, to realize the profoundness that simple statement carries for those lacking the connections of family and friends, and remind us how important it is to everyone’s well-being to just be seen.
Consider that loneliness is more dangerous than obesity and is as damaging to one’s health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Consider there’s a 45% increased risk of mortality in seniors who report feeling lonely, and that 43% of seniors do so regularly.
Finally, as you recall how social-distancing in the pandemic resigned everyone to more screen time, consider only about half of adults 65 and older have smartphones, fewer have tablets or laptops, and those who do report impediments to using them.
Given the dramatic changes and challenges our society has undergone, how do we ensure access to the value in friendship and being seen?
LBFE Boston is here to meet the moment, learning from the past to reimagine a future that bridges distances, spans generations, breaks down barriers, and replaces loneliness with companionship in more ways than ever.
While we’re thrilled to be safely returning to in-person events and programs with our older friends, we will continue to offer online activities for those not yet comfortable, or simply looking for more ways to engage with their community.
The pandemic only widened the digital divide, illustrating how important online accessibility is for all ages, whether ordering groceries, attending school, requesting assistance, arranging telehealth visits, or connecting with loved ones.
To bridge that gap, LBFE Boston is proudly launching Digital Dividends, a new program providing technology training, connectivity and accessibility, including a laptop and paid internet access, for participants. Recognizing there’s no replacing vital in-person connections, Digital Dividends will bring together older adults, their neighbors and student volunteers for weekly learning and friendship-building opportunities.
Recent events likewise elevated the need for our society to address racism and harmful, discriminatory practices, even if unintentional. It showed us how vast and real distances and barriers can be, and how many people feel lonely, unseen and unheard.
Like many organizations, LBFE Boston pledged to do better, and is partnering with the YW’s Inclusion Boston program to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout our team and programs. By participating, we hope to grow and ensure we’re doing our part to listen, learn, see and include more perspectives through our work and mission.
We’ve unveiled a new website and a vibrant new logo in partnership with LBFE Chapters nationwide as part of our efforts to adapt, refresh, expand and move forward together to strengthen awareness and understanding of our cause, building upon our work with local community partners like the City of Boston’s Age Strong Commission.
While public health and safety were rightfully prioritized, the pandemic only exacerbated the reach, depth and harmful impact of loneliness and isolation. But it also created a global sense of empathy reminding us of our social responsibility to care for one another like never before.
If we are to do more and do better, we must never forget, and harness, this sentiment and commit ourselves to bringing these issues to the forefront of today’s discourse. We were pleased to host a lively forum for Boston’s mayoral candidates on issues facing older adults in our community, and to have Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker note the tremendous power in our work.
While a global pandemic threatened the bonds LBFE Boston has built and celebrated over the decades, we are proud to be leading the way in the work done by our staff, volunteers, students, older friends and community partners to transform and talk more about how we share, how we laugh, how we live, and how we thrive.
It’s good to be seen! And to know that the goal of relieving loneliness and isolation among us is priority we all can share in advancing.
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Nikki Shults is the Executive Director of the Boston Chapter of Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly (LBFE). For more information on how you can help or get involved, visit www.lbfeboston.org.