A sense of belonging is a basic human need, just like food and shelter. Friendly Connections, a new community program, builds a bridge to belonging by pairing up community members and helping them connect for 2-3 hours a month by phone.
Community partners including MyMichigan Health, Senior Services, 2-1-1 of Northeast Michigan, Midland Area Wellbeing Coalition and United Way of Midland County have united to bring this new program to our community.
“Feeling like we belong contributes significantly to our wellbeing,” shared Kathy Snyder, Coordinator of the Midland Area Wellbeing Coalition. “Friendly Connections is an innovative way to foster connections and increase belonging throughout our community.”
Before the pandemic, loneliness and isolation were already on the rise. As more and more people have been forced into isolation during the pandemic, feelings of disconnection, loneliness and loss of hope have increased. In a regional survey conducted by MyMichigan Health, over 47% of respondents indicated they were struggling with loneliness.
“We know loneliness can contribute to health issues,” shared Kathy Dollard, Director of Behavioral Health at MyMichigan Health. “We are excited that MyMichigan Health’s Bridge to Belonging Program now includes Friendly Connections as another tool to help those who are lonely, and in turn, improve their health.”
How it Works
The program will be housed at 2-1-1 of Northeast Michigan. Matches will be made by a Connections Coach based on interviews with candidates to find common interests. Community members have an opportunity to join the program as a Tier-1 or Tier-2 volunteer. All connections will have at least one Tier-2 volunteer, which includes a background check and additional online training.
“Senior Services is thrilled to be a part of creating the Friendly Connections program,” shared Barb Zebley-Oldani, Director of Care Coordination at Senior Services. “Decreasing social isolation by improving connections for older adults has been a long-time focus for Senior Services. This program expands our efforts to improve the overall wellbeing and quality of life for those we serve.”
Throughout each month, matches will connect over the phone to chat about common interests, what’s happening in their lives and even ways they might need extra support and help. The goal is to build a caring relationship between the matched pair and to help alleviate loneliness, fuel connection and keep our neighbors connected to the community.
“I’m excited for Friendly Connections to be introduced to our community,” shared Jeremy Screws, Connections Manager at 2-1-1 of Northeast Michigan. “I am hopeful that it will be a great resource for individuals to connect with others and create a sense of belonging in the Midland community.”
Volunteers are needed to make this program possible. The time commitment is minimal, calls can be made from anywhere and everyone can participate. Most importantly, the meaningful connections will be life changing.
by Cathleen Louisignau, United Way of Midland County