Sisters takes on loneliness and isolation
Last updated 10/17/2023 at 9:27am
Across the nation, there is rising concern about the negative impacts of loneliness and social isolation. Loneliness and isolation affect older people whose connections to community have withered, and young people who struggle to find their place in the world. Studies have shown that working-age men in particular have a difficult time forming friendships.
Some have observed that habits fallen into during COVID-19 lockdowns have persisted, making it harder for people to engage in their community.
A town hall forum titled “You Are Not Alone: Building Community in Sisters Country” will take on local issues around loneliness and social isolation. The event, cosponsored by Citizens4Community (C4C) and The Nugget Newspaper, is set for Thursday, October 26, at 5 p.m. Panelists with expertise and involvement around the issues will share their observations, and there will be ample time for audience questions and engagement.
Among the panelists is Judy Smith, a board member of Age Friendly Sisters. The organization is committed to improving livability and accessibility for everyone who lives in Sisters Country. They serve as an “incubator,” helping people with innovative ideas to connect the community get started. The most salient example of their work is the success of the STARS transportation program, which is working on becoming its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit (Click here to see related story.).
Smith said that Age Friendly Sisters is interested in supporting projects that address social isolation. They hope to “find ways to identify people who are isolated. And, coincidentally, a lot of those people are older adults.”
Steve Stratos, pastor at Sisters Community Church and another panelist, concurs.
“You see people who have been married for 50 years, and Alzheimer’s and illness, and even death and the grief associated with that” drive people into isolation.
Stratos said that Sisters Community Church is focused on fostering relationships.
“It’s more relational than religious,” he said. “We think the most important thing that we can do is cultivate healthy relationships for human flourishing.”
Smith offered strong praise for the faith community’s efforts to build community relationships and connections. She also noted that the music and arts communities do a lot to foster connection.
“There are those who have moved to Sisters because it’s the most beautiful place in the United States to live, and they find it’s not so easy to integrate into the community here,” she mused. “You can go to The Belfry and see a show and meet people who have lived here for 40 years. I’ve done it.”
However, Smith notes, “not everybody goes to church, and not everybody goes to The Belfry.”
She said that it is important to find ways to reach out to people who may really desire a connection — but don’t want to impose.
Jennifer Holland, executive director of Sisters Park and Recreation District, sees connections form through their programs.
She pointed to the Zumba dance-exercise class that meets regularly.
“They’re a family,” she said. “They welcome anybody; they do things outside of class.”
Like Smith, Holland recognizes the challenges of identifying folks who are struggling with loneliness and isolation — but need impetus to get out and active.
“We do have people who will bring a friend, bring a neighbor, and they’ll sign right up,” she said.
Sometimes it takes more work. Holland praised SPRD’s front desk operator Sarah McNeale for her work helping family members get other family members engaged.
“She’s fabulous at making those connections,” Holland said.
While we often think of loneliness and isolation as problems for older people, young people also struggle.
Stratos notes that many teens are “struggling to find themselves in the world we live in and build relationships.”
He said that teens are subject to pressures and examples that make it harder to establish ethics and purpose.
“(They are) trying to live a life of ethics and purpose in a world that challenges that,” he said.
He said that Sisters Community Church also strives to provide resources to support them.
Smith noted that Age Friendly Sisters is actively looking for innovative ideas for programs to support.
“We want to hear from people who are living here who are having lightbulb moments,” she said.
C4C board member Scott Crabtree will moderate the October 26 discussion, which C4C also plans to livestream.