By the student team behind Joy4All
It’s important to celebrate all things big and small as we move into another spring focussed on virtual learning and caring for the well-being of our families, friends, and communities. Here at Ever Active Schools, we recently celebrated the very first birthday of The Joy4All Project: a phone hotline with pre-recorded jokes and messages that was created to bring joy to people experiencing social isolation. Although we forgot to put the party invitations in the mail, and we haven’t figured out how to email a slice of cake yet, we still wanted to share this celebration with you knowing that we can all use a little bit of joy these days!
The Joy4All Project was born from the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ingenuity of youth participating in a program called Recreational Leadership. Recreational Leadership was created in partnership with the Calgary Board of Education, Ever Active Schools, the City of Calgary and Calgary Public Library. In 2020, we were in our third semester of the program at the Central Library in downtown Calgary and we were offering an engaging blend of work experience training and hands-on learning focused on employability, certification, and skill-building in the areas of recreation and human services. A core component of the course involved engaging in a volunteer activity, and we had planned to host a spring break camp for kids at the downtown library. Of course, our plans had to change when school closures rolled out the week before spring break.
Despite the shift to at-home learning, students still wanted to volunteer and lend support to their community. They had an idea that we could connect with folks experiencing social isolation, like seniors, by reaching out and bringing them some joy. Although we didn’t have the capacity to make individual phone calls, we realized that we could create a phone hotline for people to call us anytime and from anywhere. We recorded new stories, jokes, and kind messages every day for people to call in and listen to. Our goal was to tend to the social-emotional and mental dimensions of wellness, and we haven’t looked back since. We received national and international media attention for the project’s impact on social isolation for seniors. Media outlets including CBC, CNN, BBC and Global News, and celebrities Tom Power, Billy Crystal and James Corden helped to spread the word.
When the Recreational Leadership course ended in June 2020, The Joy4All Project transitioned to the Miyomahchihowin: In Good Health portfolio where it lives today, under the leadership of a stellar group of youth volunteers. On April 10, 2021 we marked 1 year of The Joy4All Project and we had a lot to celebrate:
- The hotline has received more than 38,000 phone calls
- 9 students were hired for 2020 summer employment with The Joy4All Project, through grant funding from RBC Future Launch and support from Ever Active Schools
- We received a Minister’s Senior Service Award for Innovation from the Government of Alberta
- We received the Class Act Runner Up Award from RandomActs.org
- The Joy4All Project disbursed $3,000 worth of bursaries to support ongoing learning opportunities for student project leaders
- Student leaders presented the project at multiple conferences, including Shaping the Future and teachers’ conventions in the Greater Edmonton and Central Alberta regions
- 2 post-secondary students completed their practicum experiences with the project
- We have hosted 5 volunteer events for Calgary area youth in partnership with Youth Central, engaging 45 youth in our project
What we’ve learned from our work thus far is that intergenerational initiatives offer opportunities to build inclusive environments. Just like youth face stereotypes and barriers, older adults and elders experience barriers too, and we know that community spaces are not always age-friendly. Community building requires all members of our community and intergenerational connection is important for this. Through the Joy4All Project, both students and seniors continue to experience the benefits of increased social connectedness and feelings of joy.
When we first started this project, we encouraged families and classrooms to lend their voice to this work and we have received amazing submissions of recordings, artwork, writing, and more. We are still interested in connecting families and classrooms to this volunteer opportunity and we encourage you to find ways to share your joy with others.
Experience Joy4All yourself: call 1-877-JOY-4ALL (569-4255), visit joy4all.ca or view us on Twitter and Instagram (@Joy4AllProject). If you would like to lend your voice to the project, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.