A community is like a family – show it some local love

Family Day is a time to connect with our loved ones and reflect on our gratitude for one another, but what about our wider communities? Like a family, a community requires nurturing and care in order to flourish.

This week ask yourself: how well do you know the other families in your neighbourhood?

This year marks the United Way’s 90th anniversary. With the new decade only just begun, United Way is designing innovative solutions to the issues facing communities of today and tomorrow – including social isolation.

“For the past few years, we have been hearing from residents in communities that social isolation is a growing issue,” says Kim Winchell, Director of Social Impact at United Way.

Social isolation can look like not knowing our neighbours, difficulty making friends and feeling closed off in communities that are meant to be connected. Critically, the ramifications are much more serious than feeling a little lonely.

Researchers from the University of Chicago have shown a link between social isolation and increased rates of depression, poor sleep, cognitive decline, heart issues and impaired immunity. The most startling conclusion: these negative health impacts of social isolation are observable at every stage of life, meaning everyone in a community, no matter their age, is at risk.

Luckily, community is also one of our greatest sources of strength – sometimes it just needs a little “local love,” as United Way likes to call it. This is the premise of United Way’s Hi Neighbour initiative, which empowers everyday residents with tools to foster connections in their own unique ways.

“Through Hi Neighbour, we have mobilized teams in eight local neighbourhoods where social isolation is a growing concern. These teams are embedded in the community and are working alongside residents as they design their own solutions to the issue,” says Winchell.

“Our society has never been so connected and so disconnected at the same time,” says Geneviève Kyle, Coquitlam resident and founder, producer and co-host of podcast Parent Talk.

“Meeting in person is a very good way to solve loneliness, anxiety and depression because it is all connected.”

Kyle moved to the Burke Mountain area of Coquitlam years ago from Quebec and felt overwhelmed at the number of new moms who admit to feeling isolated in the community.

In order to combat this feeling, she started to invite new mothers into her home to get to know one another. After she saw the demand in attendance, Kyle knew she had stumbled upon a cause very important to her, and was desperate to find more ways to help.

Meanwhile, community engagement specialists at United Way were also tracking a sense of isolation in the Burke Mountain area. That’s why it is now home to one of its eight Hi Neighbour initiatives, and why Kyle has been tapped as a local community builder to spark change in the area.

Recently, Kyle launched her podcast Parent Talk to discuss topics affecting new parents in an open-minded and safe space. She’s also partnered up with like-minded community connectors, like Audrey Poulin, founder of a Canadian app called Social Mom. Kyle is using these innovative tools to ensure moms have a place to meet, socialize, and organize real-time events in which all communities can benefit. Help from United Way, and its Local Love Fund in Hi Neighbour Burke Mountain, have been instrumental in helping Kyle expand her reach and mobilize local moms.

As it marks its 90th anniversary, United Way continues to serve vulnerable populations through programs in our local communities – including those that help kids, families and isolated moms. United Way also sees change-makers like Kyle as part of the solution.

“We really see the importance of providing programs and services for those most vulnerable in communities alongside community initiatives,” says Winchell.

“When those two go hand in hand, we really see stronger, sustainable communities.”