JFS Perspectives

Friday, March 15, 2019

CircleTalk: Enter as Strangers, Leave as Friends

CircleTalk: Enter as Strangers, Leave as Friends

For some older adults who leave their homes for the security and support offered by senior residential communities, the transition is difficult. Social networks are disrupted or lost leading to loneliness, isolation, and lack of meaningful community. A growing body of research shows that these transitions can increase the risk of cognitive decline, dementia, and depression. A survey done by health insurer Cigna in 2018 found that loneliness rivals smoking and obesity as a health risk.

Many older adults are missing a deep human connection and a sense of self, which negatively impacts their health and well-being. It’s a void being addressed by Boulder JFS with its implementation of the CircleTalkTM program that engages older adults in meaningful conversations about the things that matter most to them.

CircleTalkIf someone gave you a million dollars to spend on yourself, how would you spend it? If you could give it away to make the world a better place, to whom would you give it? These are the types of questions that older adults explore together in the 12-week CircleTalk program.

CircleTalk was created to address the need to disrupt loneliness and isolation in the lives of older adults. The curriculum and methodology provide dynamic and thoughtful social engagement programming that is relevant to participants’ lives. The program encourages group members to open up to others, self-reflect, connect to something bigger than themselves, and finally, explore the mystery of life and their purpose in it. CircleTalk draws connections between group members’ experiences, giving them the chance to speak to the real moments that shape their lives and sense of self.

Boulder JFS received funding from Foothills United Way and the City of Boulder Health Equity Fund to bring CircleTalk to individuals who may not be able to access and/or afford this type of programming. Boulder JFS is now implementing its fourth CircleTalk group in the Boulder area with another four scheduled for 2019. Beyond creating a safe space for people to connect, Boulder JFS is working to create a sustainable program by training group participants as peer leaders who will continue to guide and grow the program. Since launching in 2018, the CircleTalk program has engaged 30 older adults.

The CircleTalk motto, “Enter as strangers, leave as friends,” has come to life in the group that meets at the Broomfield Community Center. Because the sharing is deeply personal, strong bonds among group members are formed. Everyone participates, and everyone has a stake in the success of the group.

CircleTalk2“It’s been fascinating to see the participants reveal more of themselves and share deeper layers of their stories,” says group facilitator Deb Grojean. “They are really getting to know one another in this safe and structured environment. I feel privileged to be in this ’circle‘ with them.”

One participant, whose husband recently passed away, told the group in the first session that she hadn’t been able to make even one friend in Colorado. By the end of the 12 weeks, she reported that she wasn’t sure she wanted to move back to California because of the wonderful friends she met at CircleTalk!