The word “connected” has taken on new meaning. We are “connected” to billions of people around the world through our phones and computers. But how often do we feel connected to those around us, at home and in our communities? 

At Papa, we’re seeing a steady rise in severe loneliness, which indicates chronic or persistent loneliness that can be challenging to reverse. We saw a 67% increase in individuals reporting this level of the condition during initial assessments from 2020-2022. Knowing loneliness can have dramatic effects on health, these rising levels speak to a need for preventive care and early intervention, as doctors would suggest for any other chronic condition. 

But these findings also got us thinking—if we are to realize our vision of a world where no one has to go it alone and address loneliness before it reaches the extreme, we’ll need to go beyond our 9-5s and “be a pal” while we’re off the clock too. And we’ll need others to join us. Because we can only create a more connected, and healthier, community together. 

Introducing “Be a Pal” Week  

So we set a challenge. For ourselves; our Papa Pals, who bring companionship and social support to 1,500 people’s doors every day; our clients and partners; and our broader networks. 

The challenge: Do one thing that brings people closer together or helps someone during Be a Pal Week, which we held Oct. 10-16, 2022. 

We encouraged actions big and small because we believe anyone can be a pal, and everyone needs one. And because we know that simple gestures, like a friendly hello, a meaningful thank you, or an unexpected invitation, often matter more than we think

At Papa, we gave our employees a day of paid time off to volunteer with a relevant community organization. And we developed Pal Packs in English and Spanish, filled with ideas, tools, and activities to help our Papa Pals, and everyday pals, build and nurture connections. We also rallied our clients, our partners, and leading voices on kindness and loneliness to join us. 

“Dang, it feels so good to be a pal” 

Dozens of Papa People used (or plan to use) their volunteering time off benefit and countless others performed acts of kindness during Be a Pal Week. Activities included helping a mobile home community in Southwest Florida clean up after Hurricane Ian; delivering meals to seniors and veterans across New York City; helping a domestic violence shelter in Kansas City prepare for its annual fundraiser; donating clothing, toys, and time to an orphanage in Mexico; packing and delivering lunches to people in need across Miami; and even participating in a seniors casino night (I’m jealous I missed that one). 

We also heard from 20+ Papa Pals who shared the connections they made during Be a Pal Week, including: Papa Pal Jessica, who threw a 103rd birthday party for her member in Miami; Papa Pal Christine, who took her member to her first hibachi experience; and Papa Pal Sonja, who took her member on a long walk to enjoy the weather. 

It was inspiring to see our Papa People and Papa Pals elevate their commitments to bring social support and companionship to those who need it during Be a Pal Week. And our reach didn’t stop there. 

More than 50 posts and videos shared on social media touched over 50,000 people throughout the week and engaged thousands across the country. We mobilized our health plan clients and our partners to share the challenge with their teams and networks. And we sparked conversations with leading voices on loneliness, social connection, and the power of kindness, who cheered us on and participated. 

Changing the fabric of our society, one act of connection at a time  

Living our mission beyond our day-to-day work and setting a broad call to action had a sweeping halo effect on our business—and our hearts. It built cohesion among our mostly remote team, inspired countless people to build connections with those around them, and engaged not only our stakeholders, but families, friends, and friends of friends in this very important work. It even led to a record number of new referrals applying to be Papa Pals—the most we’ve seen in a single week. 

It also reinvigorated our personal commitment to Papa’s mission to create a world where no one has to go alone. And it reminded us that achieving that mission will require taking off our “social blinders”—our phones, earbuds, the instinct we’ve developed to hurry onto the next thing—and actually see and seek to understand, the people around us. 

To create a world where no one has to go it alone, we’ll have to step outside of our comfort zones and act in spite of the voices that tell us a simple gesture won’t make a difference or speaking to that person we don’t know will be uncomfortable, and choose to be intentionally kind instead. Because we can all use a little kindness and connection.