North Americans have a long-held tradition of working hard to prove their independence. We are trained from an early age that this is simply the way our culture works – as soon as adulthood dawns, young people are expected, for the most part, to manage life – and all the pressures and burdens it may bring – on their own.
As the years tick by, however, many people find the emphasis on being ‘independent’ a bit burdensome. A sense of community can be tough to find, and with the transient nature of society today, it can be all the more challenging to find a solid circle of support that doesn’t change significantly over the years.
Also what if you are single – and not particularly enjoying it? Or what if you find yourself suddenly single through divorce, separation or death? So many people go home night after night to an empty house, and deal with an isolation that is neither healthy or productive in any sense.
For seniors, it can be even harder. Imagine yourself retired with all kinds of hopes and dreams for the future and you are suddenly left alone. You may have had a post-retirement plan all worked out with your significant other. But as we all know, this just isn’t the way life unfolds for many.
Some fare better with solitude than others, of course. Many seniors have lots of energy and confidence, and are more than happy to run their own home as long as they can. They take pleasure in keeping house, and they aren’t afraid to live alone.
For others, being alone is either mildly uncomfortable, downright dreadful or somewhere in between. Their grown children may live hundreds of miles away and be very busy with their own families, and so seniors are sometimes left to navigate life largely on their own.
Other cultures show much effort to make sure their senior populations don’t feel excluded. In Central American countries for example, extended family being together in the same residence isn’t thought of as odd or unusual – not the rare exception as it is here. They would probably look curiously at our insistence that people should essentially be on their own.
That’s why a local program called HomeShare is such a tremendous step in the right direction. It’s such a practical and excellent idea, it’s surprising something like it hasn’t been up and running in an official capacity for years.
Launched this past summer as a component of the Alberta Generations Project, HomeShare aims to boost affordable options for local students by linking them with seniors in Red Deer. HomeShare is a partnership among Family Services of Central Alberta, the Golden Circle Senior Resources Centre, the Alberta Council on Aging – Central Alberta chapter and the Red Deer College Students Association.
And although the bulk of students are of course looking for housing options in the months prior to September, officials stress it’s a year-long program. Post-secondary students come and go throughout the year for a number of educational opportunities. The key thing is that people are brought together following a careful screening purpose.
HomeShare staff are currently accepting applications from seniors and Red Deer College students. It’s a win-win, as students new to the City can find it an isolating experience and would benefit from having a comfortable home to enjoy. Seniors living alone may also feel a need for more connection. Plus it’s a financial help to both parties as well.
Students will also be asked to give a hand around the house in some way, whether that be by shoveling the walk or mowing the lawn, for example.
Organizers say the gift of ‘time’ is also an intrinsic part of the program’s success. Sharing a few hours together each week not only brightens up the days, it can help keep loneliness at bay.
For more information and an application, check out www.fsca.ca and link on the Generations Project page or call Dawna Morey at 403-348-6547.