Opinion

Alex Sangha: A new civic role for seniors proposed for Surrey

I have always wondered how to create inclusive and nurturing neighbourhoods. How can we be better citizens? How can we become more empathetic and feel what other people are feeling? How can we turn conflict into creativity and solutions and have a better understanding of each other? Most importantly, how can we teach people valuable life skills and help and support each other?

I came across the Harvard Study of Adult Development which tracked subjects for over 80 years. The study found that happy and healthy people are associated with close relationships with family, friends, and community. In other words, feeling connected and in nurturing relationships are very important for our overall health and wellness.

The policymakers and politicians need to address not only economic poverty but also “social poverty.” I propose the provincial government fund an “Inclusive and Nurturing Neighbourhoods (INN)” pilot project in partnership with a municipality or city such as Surrey. This project would match retired city employees with adults to provide guidance, direction, and support; share wisdom; reduce loneliness; provide references; assist with city recruitment; and develop friendships.

There are many examples of similar programs paying huge dividends in society. For example, many people in Alcoholics Anonymous benefit from having a sponsor to stay sober. The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada help youth who do not have a sibling or who live with a single parent. There are a lot of programs for youth. I feel adults can also benefit.

The pilot project may well have a positive impact on the emotional and psychological well-being of adults. People, especially men, would be encouraged to express their feelings and finally have a safe outlet. It would reduce alienation, isolation, and loneliness. It may also be a deterrent for young adults who are at risk of going into gangs.

The project might also reduce employee absenteeism and overall health and social welfare costs. If people are happier, they will likely be able to better cope with their life stressors and challenges. Applicants to the program could be screened based on criminal record checks and references and matched based on expertise and need. Furthermore, people with specific “life experiences” such as being LGBTQ, a person with a disability, or a person of colour could request to be paired up with someone similar. In addition, this project would be a great way to orient new immigrants and refugees.

Many people cannot afford a life coach or counsellor. Some people grow up in poor neighbourhoods and they are not provided with the same opportunities as others. Furthermore, many people do not have the contacts and connections needed to help them reach the next level in their career.

This program would directly help with the social mobility of some of our most vulnerable citizens such as foster kids ageing out of care. Everyone deserves a chance and every person should have the opportunity to reach their potential.

This program would be affordable, accessible, and empower and nurture our citizens. It would encourage our society to value the wisdom and life experience of our elders. It would promote connection, community, and compassion. The project could be expanded to include other levels of government.

In addition, the private sector might also want to join the program since it could assist with their community engagement and recruitment efforts. Human beings are social beings. There is no better feeling than to know that you have helped someone, especially someone from your community.

If we can develop these social connections, we might also be more concerned about all our citizens, rich or poor. We will want to make sure that not just our basic needs are met, but we should also foster higher levels of functioning such as self-actualization. We can harness the power of people to have a better life, with their skills and abilities functioning at their best.

What’s my inspiration?

I was lucky to find a mentor about ten years ago. He was a retired librarian. We started going for regular walks and coffee. When I met him I was on welfare and confused with what to do with my life. My mentor helped me set realistic goals and saved me from many pitfalls, such as when I was thinking of dropping out of my Master of Social Work program because I found the statistics course too difficult. My mentor helped me find solutions and resolve many of my personal life challenges. He helped keep me on track and move forward in a positive direction.

As a result, over the last decade, I completed my second Master’s degree and published an award-winning book. I was employed as a youth counsellor, as well as a social worker, clinician, and team leader with a local health authority. I obtained my clinical social work designation and opened a private counselling practice.

Most notably, I am the recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada for my community work. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today without someone who believed in me and invested in me. I owe a debt of gratitude to my mentor. I was lucky to have someone who nurtured my strengths and spirit.

Alex Sangha is a Registered Clinical Social Worker and Counsellor based in Surrey, B.C. For more information check out alexsangha.com

Alex Sangha
Alex Sangha is an award winning author and social worker based in Surrey.  He completed a Masters in Public Administration and Public Policy from the Department of Government at the London School of Economics.  For more information on Alex check out his author blog at alexsangha.com
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