Despite what most people think, my extroversion, tendency towards planning gatherings and initiating with friends, and many great friendships, I often feel lonely. I have often wondered if there is something wrong with me for feeling lonely when I have many wonderful relationships in my life or if I have an unusually high capacity and need for connection.
But I have learned I am not alone in experiencing loneliness and take great comfort in knowing that nearly two-thirds of Americans reported experiencing loneliness in 2019 – and that was before the pandemic began!
I often reflect on how easy it was to make new friends as a child when we went to school with other kids and participated in so many activities together. But it’s hard as an adult! There aren’t as many opportunities to meet new people, it can seem like others have already found their people and aren’t interested in investing the time and energy to build new relationships, and it is hard and vulnerable and scary to put yourself out there to make new friends. Plus, if you’re shy or introverted, it’s exponentially harder! If you feel this struggle too, know that you are not alone! One study showed that the average American hasn’t made a new friend in 5 years and that forty-five percent of adults find it difficult to make new friends.
As someone who works with volunteers in my professional life, and has always engaged in volunteering in my personal life, I’ve seen volunteering and the connections that are built there combat this universal challenge of building more relationships and reducing loneliness. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people and make new friends! Relationships take time to build. With volunteering, you are committed to a shared activity together, and you have something in common since you all chose to engage in the volunteering activity. Volunteering most often requires using and developing social skills and offers you the opportunity to connect with and learn from others.
When I first moved to Halifax almost 8 years ago, one of the first things I did was find someplace where I could volunteer. I was primarily motivated by my desire to help others, but I also wanted to meet new and like-minded people. I wanted to feel connected to my new city and community. Sunday Suppers (fondly called the Sups), a meal and a community that serves about 200 hungry people in Halifax each week, was recommended to me by a colleague, and to this day, it is where you can find me on Sunday afternoons. As we set up the tables and chairs, prepped snacks, scooped casseroles, and poured coffee for our guests, I slowly got to know my fellow volunteers. After a few weeks, a fellow volunteer who knew I was new to the city invited me to a clothing swap. Another invited me over for dinner. Over time those relationships grew and to this day, some of my closest friends are my Sups friends. Because I know that I will see them every (or most) Sundays, they are some of the most consistent relationships I have!
Volunteering for 10 days internationally with Venture 2 Impact when you don’t know anyone else on the volunteer team can be scary. While some of our volunteers sign up with a friend or colleague, many do not. When I led my first V2I volunteer experience in Indonesia in 2017, I was anxious about whether the other volunteers would like me, whether we would have anything in common, and whether I could belong to the community. Not to mention the fact that I wanted to make an important contribution to the development work we were doing. While transiting, sharing meals together, working, and playing cards together in the evenings, I had opportunities to ask my fellow volunteers questions and to share vulnerably about my life – if I had the courage to share. I was grateful for our “team time” discussions, facilitated conversations that enable volunteer teams to reflect and educate ourselves on important topics such as poverty and identity, which created a safe space for honest conversation and connection. By the end of the program, I knew that the volunteers I had the privilege of spending 10 days with were genuine friends. And many of them still are!
If you’re interested in experiencing the positive relationships that result from volunteering, reach out and get involved with Venture 2 Impact or find an organization in your local community to volunteer with. If you need help finding the right place to volunteer, want to learn more about V2I, or if you need someone to connect with, Bryanna would love to talk with you!
This is part 1 of a 2-part series on friendship and volunteering. Stay tuned for the 2nd part which you will be able to find on our social media channels or check back on our blog page next week.
*Note: Connection with other people is not the only way to combat loneliness! It is also very important to be connected to one’s self as well, which is a whole other challenge!
Loneliness is at epidemic levels in America. Cigna Newsroom. (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://newsroom.cigna.com/loneliness-in-america
Gervis, Z. (2019, May 10). Why the average American hasn’t made a new friend in 5 years. New York Post. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://nypost.com/2019/05/09/why-the-average-american-hasnt-made-a-new-friend-in-5-years/