Social isolation and loneliness are widespread across the world, issues that are recognized as having severe mental and emotional consequences. COVID-19 further magnified this with “social distancing” policies.
Although a self-admitted introvert with social anxiety, Richard Miller has created Neutral Ground, a non-profit dedicated to fostering community connections. Neutral Ground was formed in January 2023, and throughout the year it hosted a half dozen free events open to all ages.
The non-profit's next event is Hallowed Ground 2023 taking place Saturday, Oct. 28 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at St. Albert Public Library. The highlight activities include a spooky jigsaw puzzle, knitting and crocheting, scary role-playing, mad boardgames, monster painting and a LEGO competition. Step up in a costume or come dressed as you are.
“It’s completely free to turn up, but we encourage people to donate if they can,” said Miller. This is a major fundraiser for Neutral Ground and the St. Albert resident is attempting to raise $10,000 to set up an online hub where people of all ages can chat, text and share information.
In addition, the Halloween mixer will feature a live auction with gift baskets, Oilers tickets, Landmark Cinema tickets and Arden Theatre show tickets, to name a few donations.
As an IT specialist who has lived in St. Albert for 16 years, Miller discussed his social anxieties with friends and learned many people are afflicted by it. Instead of burrowing himself in social isolation, he opted to reach out to others using hobbies to avoid social awkwardness and overcome personal obstacles.
“I wasn’t interested in sports, and I don’t go to bars. I realized if you do something you enjoy, it’s a small step to communicating and connecting with other people. If you give people something to do, it breaks the ice, and they start to talk. We are combating social isolation by stealth. We have an underlying purpose, and taking part in an activity makes it easier to connect.”
Social isolation affects every slice of the population and Miller is eager to partner with numerous community groups such as the Seniors Centre, Family Resource Centre, Transitions, Outloud and any other organization that knocks on his door.
For members of the volunteer-run group, the focus deals with offering a safe place without preconceptions in a relaxed environment.
“It’s a chance to meet a wide variety of people who enjoy doing what you are doing. It’s a chance to support people who are disconnected and isolated from the community, and it’s a chance to bring them in.”