Dylan Cawston and Hetty Wilderdijk wouldn’t appear to be a likely match under any reality.
Cawston is a 23-year-old assistant manager at the local Fire and Flower who moved to Hinton a year ago, while Wilderdijk is a retired head librarian with roots in the community. But the two have developed a lifelong friendship since being connected by the Town of Hinton’s Friendly Visitor program.
“We don’t even consider it a part of the friendly visitor program anymore, which might sound silly but we just clicked so good,” said Cawston, who moved to Hinton from Vancouver.
He admitted that their friendship may seem unconventional, but that Wilderdijk has become one of his closest friends in Hinton.
“It’s not even a scheduled thing anymore. It’s always like ‘hey, what are you doing, do you want to hang out?’ It’s not really a set time or date anymore, it used to be but it has evolved from there, it’s nice,” he said.
Cawston has also met another friend through the program; a young mom closer to his age who he occasionally goes for lunch with.
“It’s just a really nice thing to do if you’re new to town or if you really want to help people. There’s some people who don’t have time to necessarily make friends,” he said.
Currently, the friendly visitor program has a waiting list of recipients and are looking to recruit volunteer companions to form long term sincere friendships.
“We want people to sign up and committing at least six months to a year to hang out with this person. You can’t really form a friendship without spending time, that’s what sets this program apart, it’s the intention to form a long term friendship that will hopefully last,” said program coordinator Lisa Brett with Hinton FCSS, adding that participants range from seniors to new moms or newcomers in town, anybody seeking friendship to get out of the house and do things.
“They might be feeling like they’re not socially connected and they’re vetted through me and I try to match them up with a companion,” said Brett.
Brett explained that the program launched one year ago, gaining attention from people who believe in the philosophy of the program.
Traditional support networks seem to have weakened as families are smaller and more spread out due to urban sprawl, and the number of single households are increasing.
“Work and time pressures have been raised and even the cost of living has increased, it has had a negative effect. A lot of people feel like they can’t go out or they won’t go out because it costs money,” she added.
To combat that loneliness and social isolation, the program was created and has been successful in Hinton, according to Brett. Six strong pairings have been made since the program started and recipients are waiting for volunteers to sign up. The intake process starts with an application form and a background screening of participants. An initial meeting between the match is set up with Brett in attendance with the hope that the two participants continue their friendship from there.
“What we truly hope happens, is that there will be a third visit, a fourth, and then a 99th visit. The visit can be anything you want it to be, I just provide the framework to make sure its structured in some way but it’s the people that make it happen,” added Brett.
Brett said their biggest success story is between two participants, Ginnie Blair and Kim Hill, who have been friends for a year through the program.
“It has gone beyond just a coffee or a walk, Kim is welcome in Ginnie’s home, has met extended family, has plenty of visits. And even though Kim’s mental capacity is declining quickly, she has Alzeimer’s, Ginnie has remained a constant in her life,” she explained.
Hill’s brother-in-law, Lowell Gullickson, said Blair has been a great friend and huge support for Hill as she moved into the Good Sam this spring. To sign up for the program, go to the FCSS office or phone FCSS at (780) 865-6036.
“Anybody thinking about it, should just stop thinking about it and just go and [sign up], because honestly it’s been one of the things that has made me like Hinton the most,” said Cawston.