One of the most terrible side effects of living in poverty is loneliness and isolation. These two things stem from a lack of funds to participate in activities or lack of transportation, from a feeling of being judged, and from the constant focus on finding a way to survive that poverty necessitates.
And loneliness has physical side effects: high blood pressure, obesity, and lack of exercise. It can actually increase the aging process. People who live in a constant state of loneliness have higher mortality and morbidity rates. A lot of this is tied into depression and the feeling that there is nothing or no one left to live for.
In our classes at Humanity House, people attend who haven’t been out of their homes or socialized with others for months, or even years. It’s moving to see them come in the door believing that they don’t deserve to be there, and then watch them becoming more animated, making friends, interested in others, asking about more classes, and participating and bringing others with them as the weeks go by.
We sit with everyone who comes through our door and guide them through a seven-page survey as part of a one-on-one conversation. One of things we ask is whether they participate in community activities. Usually the answer is no. We also ask what type of activity they would be willing to participate in. Invariably, the answer is some kind of potluck or get together that doesn’t cost money to attend, where they can meet other people, there’s music, and they can just make some friends and enjoy some food. Overall, loneliness is high on their lists of things they are struggling with.
I am working hard on getting our building done so classes can resume. We are making plans and taking suggestions on classes to offer and names of people who would be willing to teach a fun class. We will have chess, checkers, puzzles, and hopefully a quilt to work on. If I can raise the money for the hood vent and fire suppression system that the city is requiring, we will have cookie baking and cake decorating classes, along with general cooking.
The elderly suffer from social isolation more than any other group. There is a terrific program in the preschool where the kids get to mingle with the grandmas and grandpas. But after preschool, that program is dropped. We hope that we can get kids of all ages to recognize the value of our elderly populations. They have so much to offer us all.
Breaking down class barriers is one of the best ways to help lift someone up out of poverty. There is no better way to break down that barrier than to sit side by side and learn something new or shoot the breeze while putting a puzzle together or getting stomped in a game of gin rummy.
We are shooting for a mid-March opening of our new building. I am so excited for this and the many things and community projects that we have in store for all of us. We hope to see you there. Kindness matters!
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