Connecting youth with socially isolated seniors.
You could say Crystal Corrigan, Alberta Blue Cross’s® organizational wellness manager, was in the right place at the right time. But when you really dig into it, you’ll see how the recent launch of the provincial Intergenerational Linkages Community of Practice—a hub to bring people together to learn, share, build capacity and develop programs to connect youth with socially isolated seniors— is a result of relationships built through community wellness partnerships.
Back in March, one week before the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta Blue Cross® and Communities ChooseWell (an Alberta Recreation and Parks Association initiative), came together at the Alberta Healthy Communities Symposium, celebrating what is possible when we work together to help communities develop and sustain their own solutions to challenges.
Some of the challenges that came up, particularly from rural communities, included finding ways to reduce social isolation in their older adults and promote youth community connection; as social isolation is a greater predictor of poor health outcomes than smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Those who are socially isolated also face an increasing risk of poverty, mental health challenges and reduced quality of life.
“When COVID-19 forced us into our homes and amplified these community challenges, I knew we had a responsibility to support connections, resiliency and wellness in local communities,” explains Crystal.
Tying it together
As part of our pandemic-related community support initiatives, Alberta Blue Cross® partnered with United Way and organizations across the Community Based Seniors Serving Sector (CBSS) to rapidly build the Collaborative Online Resource and Education (CORE) online platform. Through community consultation, leaders in the CBSS identified key emerging issues for their clients such as food security, social connection, mental health and wellness and home supports, which led to the creation of a provincial discussion group to find solutions for these issues.
“This is where I saw the opportunity for CORE to really amplify connections and collaboration between those looking to support our socially isolated seniors and youth looking for a sense of community,” says Crystal.
From discussion with her contact at the Ministry of Seniors and Housing, she found out about Rural LINK, a program that facilitates intergenerational programs and services that encourage involvement and knowledge sharing between youth and seniors to foster strong communities in rural Alberta.
Making magic happen
As Crystal tells it, “I reached out to the Rural LINK program lead and pitched my idea—and the outcome has really been magical.” On October 26, the provincial Intergenerational Linkages Community of Practice was launched. More than 60 individuals were registered for this discussion forum, with representation from approximately 40 organizations and communities attending including Barrhead, Beaumont, Camrose, Clairmont, Cochrane, Hinton, Lacombe, Magrath, Medicine Hat, Nisku, Oyen, Rocky Mountain House, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, St. Albert, Sundre, Taber and Vegreville.
Reflecting on the success of this initiative, Crystal adds “It’s because of the passion and dedication of these individuals that we are able to continue to empower others to develop sustainable relationships, meaningful connections and lasting impact.”
Supporting intergenerational programs across the province increases inclusion and a sense of purpose for seniors and youth, improving physical and mental health outcomes. Helping to bring communities together also amplifies the opportunity for collaboration and the positive impact we’re having in our communities. And for Alberta Blue Cross®, that’s what wellness in our communities is all about.
The first training series will cover how to start, implement and evaluate an intergenerational program. This three-part series, happening January 26, February 9 and 23 from 1:30 to 3 p.m., will coach you through deciding the type of intergenerational program best suited to your community, creating an action plan, determining next steps to implement the program and evaluating your program’s success.
Registration info is coming soon.
 Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316