Facilitator Helen Lawrence of the Seniors Connect Café at IHOP in Chilliwack. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

Gatherings in Chilliwack are geared to breaking down isolation of seniors

Called the Seniors Connect Cafes, the events are casual and focused on conversation

A cup of coffee, or tea, and a little friendly conversation can go a long way in today’s society.

The Seniors Connect Café events are held Thursday mornings in Chilliwack, launched by the Compassionate Neighbourhood Health Partners Society (CNHP) and sponsored by the Community Response Network (CRN) of Chilliwack.

“I think this has been such a great initiative,” said Karen Bunner, regional mentor for the Community Response Network.

Before the launch, there was nothing quite like it locally. The impetus was breaking down the barriers of isolation and increasing opportunities for socialization.

Now they come to a local restaurant for a weekly chat. They laugh. They commiserate. They celebrate.

“With our mobile and high-stress society, it is easy to forget that we may have older adult neighbours that may be lonely or have difficulty getting out to social events,” Connie Stam, co-ordinator of the Compassionate Neighbourhood Health Partners Society, said.

Some may have lost their support networks in retirement, or through widowhood, or when family and friends move away, she said.

When someone arrives for the first time, they are welcomed by the facilitator, introduced to the group, and invited to have a free cup of coffee or tea.

“They come together to meet each other, and some have become friends,” Bunner noted. “It’s that connection with other people that is just so important, and decreases the isolation.”

Studies show that social isolation and loneliness are not only universal, but can be more deadly than cigarette smoking. The U.K. even created a “Minister for Loneliness” because the situation is so dire.

Modeled after the Talking Cafés launched in England, the local events were launched last June, on a twice-monthly basis at first.

“We heard from several that they people that they have found it very hard to meet new people since moving to Chilliwack,” Bunner said.

Local resident Alva Tew was one of those people, until a friend let her know about the Seniors Connect events.

“Getting to know people,” has been the best part so far, Tew said.

Tew and her hubby moved to Rosedale a couple of years ago from Langley, after 32 years of living there, and they found it tough to meet new people in Chilliwack.

That has all changed.

“I enjoy talking to people and finding out a little about their life histories,” Tew said.

They launched with a soft opening last summer. Attendance has been increasing ever since, so the frequency was recently doubled from twice a month, to four times a month.

There is always a resource person on-hand at the cafés, most with a health background, to refer folks to the appropriate resources, or help find answers to their questions.

Seniors Connect Cafés are held the first and third Thursdays of each month at IHOP (45466 Yale Road), and the second and fourth Thursdays at Homer Restaurant, (46090 Yale Road) from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.

For more information, contact Connie Stam, of CNHP at 604-798-2023, or by email neighbourhealth@gmail.com, or to inquire if getting a lift is possible.

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The casual Seniors Connect Cafe gatherings include a free coffee or tea and some compassionate conversation. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

Attendees of the Seniors Connect Cafe share a laugh at IHOP in Chilliwack. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

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