Since 2021, the Greenwood Senior Center’s Social Connection Project (SCP) has been increasing social connection among older adults, spurred by statistics on the negative health impacts of social isolation. Research has shown that lack of social connection can increase health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In January 2023, in a national poll, one in three adults aged 50 to 80 reported feeling socially isolated.
In addition to making the community aware of offerings at the Greenwood Senior Center, the SCP has added many new programs. These programs are largely a result of learning from and collaborating with the community on the best ways to identify and engage older adults who could benefit from increased social connection. Some examples include:
Speed Friending—A survey of older adults in the community conducted in partnership with University of Washington students revealed survey participants wanted more opportunities to meet others one-on-one. This led to the creation of “speed friending”—a fun and fast paced way to meet new people in a way that dissolves awkward social barriers. The SCP has offered two Speed Friending events so far and plans to offer another one in October.
- Solo Aging Groups—We are passionate about helping identify solutions for “solos”—individuals who cannot or choose not to rely on family to help them navigate life events and make health decisions as they age. Strong social connections are a critical part of this solo aging process. Because of this, the SCP offers Solo Aging groups to help solos plan for and manage health and well-being decisions and events during the second half of life.
- Social Connection Consultations—We learned through community outreach efforts that many people need a contact person to discuss their concerns about social isolation, rather than just a brochure with a list of available programs. Because of this, we now offer one-on-one consultations to help individuals and/or their loved ones identify and brainstorm ways to increase their level of social connection.
- Connect2Affect Community Workshop—Through involvement in national learning and networking opportunities created by Commit to Connect, we discovered the Connect2Affect Community Workshop created by the AARP Foundation. The workshop helps participants craft a “friendventory” to take stock of their social contacts and think about ways to improve their connections. The SCP offers these workshops at the Greenwood Senior Center as well as at Seattle Housing Authority senior housing and is open to offering the workshop elsewhere in the community.
To date, 87 percent of Social Connection Project participants surveyed reported feeling more connected to others and/or having more resources to increase their level of social connection.
Contributor Teresa Tam is the Social Connection Project Coordinator at Greenwood Senior Center, which is part of the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA), serving Northwest Seattle and North King County. PNA’s mission is to build, engage and support its diverse community through programs, services, and activities that connect neighbors and foster civic engagement.
Photos courtesy of Greenwood Senior Center. Photo at top shows Solo Aging Group participants meeting in person for the first time.