British Columbia

University group forges friendships between students and seniors

A student-led group at UBC Okanagan hosts regular gatherings to bring together two groups that often face loneliness.

Program at UBC Okanagan aims to connect 2 typically lonely groups through social events

Local seniors and UBCO students gathered at the university in March for a meal and networking event. (Laurence Watt/CBC)

Students and seniors are some of the loneliest people in society, statistics show.

An estimated 70 per cent of students in Canada experience loneliness during their university careers, and more than one million Canadian seniors have reported feeling isolated, according to Statistics Canada.

A group at the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna, B.C., is trying to tackle loneliness among students and seniors through regular social gatherings.

Age-Link, a student-led association, has been bridging the gap between generations since its creation in 2016, inviting students and community members of all backgrounds to chat with people they may never meet otherwise.

"There are different ages, and people from different kinds of cultures, and when they're gathered together everybody's at an equal stage, kind of," said Kelly Lu, a student who joined the group to get to know people outside campus.

June Levulett, a Kelowna senior who has attended several Age-Link events, said visiting younger people helps her to forget problems associated with aging.

"They are just a breath of fresh air," Levulett said, adding that if she didn't have these events to attend, she would stay at home and dwell on personal issues. 

Students, including several international students, are working to bridge the gap between generations as a way to combat loneliness. (Laurence Watt/CBC)

Learning opportunity

While Age-Link's primary goal is to help people socialize, there is also an opportunity for attendees to learn from one another. 

Age-Link member Kamal  Narayana, a second-year student from Russia, joined the group to maintain a connection with seniors, a custom that is highly valued in his home country. 

Narayana said Age-Link events have given him the chance to learn from seniors in another part of the world who have different experiences than his.

Luke Stack, a Kelowna city councillor, attended an Age-Link event in March 23 and said his table included people from around the world.

With files from Laurence Watt