top of page

Massachusetts Taskforce to End Loneliness & Build Community


While attending the 2023 Building Connected Communities conference, I had a chance to hear a presentation from Sandra Harris, State President, AARP Massachusetts and Caitlin Coyle, Director, Center for Social & Demographic Research on Aging, UMass Boston, summarizing the work of the Massachusetts Taskforce to End Loneliness & Build Community. They offer a framework for other cities to follow, and we will be incorporating some of their success stories and ideas, like the Happy to Chat bench, into our own work.


The Taskforce is a statewide coalition dedicated to fostering connection and addressing social isolation. Their mission is to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth feel connected to their community and experience a strong sense of social well-being. This is achieved by mobilizing local organizations, thought leaders, and partners to collaborate and leverage collective resources for maximum impact.


The Taskforce adopts an intergenerational approach, recognizing that social isolation affects all ages, and they believe that friendships across generations can be transformative. The goal is to elevate intergenerational programs across the Commonwealth and encourage collaboration to create more opportunities for intergenerational connections.


Comprising 104+ members representing 45+ organizations, including government entities, nonprofits, academic institutions, advocacy groups, startups, and other partners, the task force operates programs such as CONNECT TV, which disseminates resources through a monthly television series on community media. Other programs include CONNECTED SPACES, focusing on enhancing community connections through accessible and inclusive outdoor spaces, and DIGITAL DIVIDE, which develops resources and a multigenerational program to improve digital access and technology literacy.


To create socially connected spaces in Massachusetts, the task force has launched two new projects. The first is the Inclusive Greenspaces initiative, supporting Healthy Places by Design in implementing a pilot project for inclusive and intergenerational public greenspaces that enhance social connections, health, and well-being. The second project involves deploying "Happy to Chat" Benches in collaboration with the AARP MA Age Friendly and Livable Communities programs. These benches invite people to sit, chat with strangers, and foster new connections.


Additionally, the task force has initiated #ReachOutMA, an awareness and action campaign aimed at inspiring individuals, communities, and organizations to address social isolation and loneliness in Massachusetts. The campaign includes a monthly TV show, "CONNECT: Addressing Loneliness in Massachusetts," exploring various themes related to connected, healthy aging. The series is produced by partners at Winchester Community Access & Media Inc. PSA videos featuring mayors, researchers, and local leaders, as well as social media engagement using the hashtag #ReachOutMA, contribute to spreading the campaign's message online.


The task force's commitment to combatting loneliness gained prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated social isolation. They recognized the health risks associated with loneliness and focused on practical actions to bridge the gap between understanding the problem and effecting change on the ground. Social isolation, as highlighted by the task force, increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia.


The Commit to Connect campaign, a federal public-private partnership based in Washington out of the Department of Health and Human Services, will benefit from the task force's solutions and experiences in addressing loneliness. The task force emphasizes simple actions, such as sending letters or postcards, volunteering, and building socially connected communities across age groups.





Comments


bottom of page