“Making New Friends and Keeping Them.”

You may never have heard of a city called Port Alberni. It is beautiful—located on Vancouver Island in the province of British Columbia, Canada and almost completely surrounded by mountains. While Port Alberni might not be as well known as other cities, there is something unique happening there in a long-term care home called Echo Village.

Echo Village faces the majestic Arrowsmith Mountain and offers complex care and residential care services. Sujit Jhai, director of programming and adult day services for Echo Village, shared that loneliness and social isolation are ongoing concerns as there are residents living there who receive few visitors and spend almost all their time alone in their rooms.

Indeed, loneliness and social isolation affect one out of two older adults living in care everywhere. This despite numerous social programs offered to residents.

The Power of Peer Mentoring and Peer Support

But then Echo Village received government funding through New Horizons for Seniors to implement a peer mentoring program called Java Mentorship and things began to change.

The Java Mentorship program is made up of residents and volunteers who call themselves mentors, have weekly team meetings and provide visits in pairs to those that are lonely.  

The team meetings serve a dual purpose: they give the mentors support and a place to share how their visits are going, and they give mentors training on how to be a great mentor.

The mentors learn how to develop trusting relationships with those they visit and when the time is right, invite them to join in the programs offered there—particularly the peer support groups where they can develop meaningful relationships.

Residents helping Residents End Loneliness

Although still a relatively new program there, one staff member reported: “It is helping with isolation and loneliness and giving our residents a purpose.”

When asked what they liked about being a mentor, the resident mentors stated: “I enjoy getting to know and meeting new people.” and “Making new friends and keeping them!” Not only did the mentors agree that the program was beneficial to those they visited but it was also beneficial to them.

There are many good reasons to visit Port Alberni. Come to see the port and the amazing mountains but stay to check out Echo Village and the extraordinary work taking place there.

What could be more meaningful? Residents helping residents end loneliness.

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