Our well-being depends on rebuilding social capital

Opinion by Jamison Steeve, Chief Strategy Officer, YMCA of Greater Toronto

After almost three years of pandemic measures, from social distancing to virtual events, we’re learning just how distant and isolated Torontonians feel today.

Toronto Foundation, the Environics Institute and 16 other partners, including the YMCA of Greater Toronto, recently released the 2022 Toronto Social Capital Study, the second and most in-depth look at social capital in the city.

Social capital measures the connection we feel to our city and each other. It’s integral for individuals and communities to shine. When social capital is depleted, it creates a ripple effect in individuals’ lives and the community at large.

While the study doesn’t point to causes, we must acknowledge the impacts of the pandemic. It’s no surprise there’s a stark decrease in social capital today compared to 2018, when the last edition of this study was released.

In 2020, we all had to find new ways to connect, and the YMCA was quick to facilitate these connections across the Greater Toronto Area.

We provided support and made virtual connections: conducting more than 180,000 check-in phone calls to members, staff and volunteers; launching the Bright Spot, an online community for older adults; offering hundreds of virtual programs from camp to online fitness classes; providing emergency child care for essential workers and more.

While we know these programs and services provided great support to the community, there’s no true replacement for in-person social connection. As we approach the end of 2022, we can gather and interact in person more freely, but the networks people had before 2020 have diminished.

The study found more than 200,000 people in the city report having no close family members they can call for help or talk to, and a similar proportion say they have no close friends. While there’s a decline in social connections across the board, this is especially true for those who: have lower incomes, are unemployed, are living with a disability and report poor mental health. This is why promoting equity is critical.

This study isn’t just data — it’s a call to action. And the Y is uniquely positioned to act and to make an impact on our city’s social capital. We are inspired to boost physical, social and mental well-being — and promote equity in our community.

The Y has provided support to the community for the past 170 years. We won’t stop and are ready to help rebuild the social capital that’s been lost. The work we do alongside volunteers, members, participants, funders and donors is at the heart of social capital.

Our community centres are designed to bring people together. We provide resources that facilitate personal connections — from our shelter programs and employment services, to child care, camps, health and fitness and more.

It’s why we’re building more centres, where people can make social connections, including two openings this year — in Vaughan and the Beaches — and another underway at Richmond and Spadina.

We’ve also been rebuilding in-person programs, from YMCA teen nights to health and fitness programs, which is so important when it comes to building social capital. This is just the start of the rebuilding process to help boost Toronto’s well-being. There’s more to be done and we can’t do it alone.

How can you help rebuild social capital?

• Institutions: Donate, invest time and resources in building social capital. Invite people who aren’t usually at the table.

• Private sector: Invest in quality of life and public space, where we can connect with new people.

• Public institutions: Create space for people to come together and build their skills.

• Citizens: Identify ways you can support people around you. Civic engagement isn’t just every four years. It can take the form of volunteering or helping out in the community.

One connection can spark a flame that makes the entire community shine brighter.

Posted originally in the Scarborough Mirror. To view the original, please visit: https://www.toronto.com/opinion/our-well-being-depends-on-rebuilding-social-capital/article_c8d43df6-1fe4-5f9e-842f-60f8c762859c.html