Celebrating International Day of Friendship
What better mascot for friendship than Winnie the Pooh? The beloved storybook character was chosen by The United Nations (UN) in 1998 as the world’s Ambassador of Friendship. By 2011, the UN General Assembly declared July 30th as the International Day of Friendship “with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.”
Pooh and his friends have a universal appeal because we can all recognize or identify with some of their traits. Pooh can be a bit obsessive (especially about honey). We can identify with Eeyore when we are feeling sad. Piglet is anxious, but shows bravery in a crisis. And who doesn’t love Tigger’s optimism, even if it can bring about a bit of chaos. The lesson they share is that friendship is rewarding, even when we are different from each other.
At Richcroft, we see every day how developing and maintaining solid friendships is essential to emotional wellbeing. According to The National Council for Mental Well Being, healthy friendships can:
- Increase a sense of belonging
- Improve self-confidence
- Lower depression
- Reduce anxiety
Adults and children with intellectual and other developmental disabilities sometimes find it challenging to make friends. They worry about fitting in or being judged.
Disability blogger, Alison Hayes, relates her own experiences in a Disability Horizons article, “… the risk of rejection is a bit higher for those of us managing disabling conditions – and going out often requires more energy and planning than the average person as well.”
The good news is, there is a pathway to developing friendships at any age.
- Start with small steps, by trying an activity for a brief period of time.
- Keep efforts consistent when possible, by returning to a group or program, which will help develop a comfort level.
- Seek a group with a shared identity or experience before jumping into an entirely new activity.
- Look for special interest groups like reading, music, or gaming. Talking about a hobby or activity someone already enjoys lessens the learning curve of navigating a new friendship.
- Research ahead of time for accessibility and any special accommodations that will make participation easier.
- For people who choose to stay at home because of physical challenges or social anxiety, the world of online groups can be a lifeline and pathway to connecting with others.
Alison encourages everyone to engage within their comfort level. “Keep looking for the right opportunities … Mainly, I am looking for respect and understanding, which are traits that are very important in cultivating a friendship anyway.”
Over the years, we have watched friendships blossom in our residential homes. Spending time with peers is integral to living a full and happy life. At Richcroft, we focus on socialization throughout our residential program, creating multiple opportunities for the individuals we support to partake in recreation activities.
Residents facing the same challenges understand and celebrate the little wins with each other. This kind of support and encouragement is essential for a positive mental attitude, and aids in maintaining one’s emotional well-being. As part of our personal support services, we provide transportation to social and recreational activities to keep individuals engaged and give them opportunities to meet new people, with and without disabilities.
For folks living independently, we offer fitness and sporting programs along with recreation, socialization, and community engagement opportunities.
There’s an app for that.
Julianna Fetherman was inspired to develop the Making Authentic Friends (MAF) app by watching her younger brother with ADHD and autism struggle with making friends. Fetherman explained to CNN, “There’s an array of disabilities and the point of the app is to find people with the same needs so they can feel less alone, less isolated, and hopefully less depressed.”
Right now, the app matches people by disability and location and connects them for meaningful conversation. Users are located in 35 states and 12 countries, and the hope is to increase user numbers so that people can arrange safe, in-person meets in their geographic areas in the future.
So, to celebrate International Day of Friendship, we’re sharing some of our favorite quotes from the friendliest friend of them all, Pooh.
“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”
“A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.”
“It isn’t much good having anything exciting, if you can’t share it with somebody.”
“If you live to be a hundred, I hope to live to be a hundred minus one day, so that I never have to live a day without you.”
“A hug is always the right size.”