Research supports that friendships are specific to our stages of life – with our friendships becoming closer, fewer, and more binding as we age. Transitioning into our later years can bring about significant changes in our friendships – retirement, loss of spouses, developing health problems and relocation. Moving into a long-term care setting can be a significant adjustment in many ways, but we often fail to recognize the profound impacts it has on individuals both socially and emotionally. Not only have they ‘given up’ a familiar environment and so many of their daily norms; there is often a void left that was once filled by friends that provided a connection associated with this stage of life. Many individuals do not have the same ready access to their religious, community and personal support systems when they enter long-term care as they did when they lived in the community.
Residents may also find the transition to long-term care isolating. They are surrounded each day by unfamiliar faces and routines with no one to share their experiences and fears. Even if they have a good external support system from family and friends, it is difficult for those individuals to understand the transition. Studies show that close relationships with friends, particularly those who share commonalities with us, are vital to our health. Loneliness and isolation are linked to health issues and a reduced life expectancy in older adults
The silver lining in this scenario is that just as one person faces this transition, there is another person – likely just at the other end of the hall – facing the same transition. And as C.S Lewis said: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'”
This is where the Java Project comes in!
The Java Project, a NC CMP-funded project that began 2021 and has served six long-term care facilities, is a program that addresses loneliness and isolation by fostering peer support and providing mentoring activity programs. The guided program is different from typical activities programs that encourage socialization in that it encourages residents to provide peer-to-peer support versus the traditional staff-led support. According to the Java Project, ‘Typical social programming addresses loneliness with entertainment and distraction. Java Group Programs bring people together with an innovative approach that ends loneliness and spreads happiness. Through structured peer support and peer mentoring, Java participants uplift others and are uplifted themselves.’ 
Java Project encourages its participants to express kindness to another, express sincere appreciation, practice listening well, check in on someone, volunteer to help, nurture talent in others, and bring optimism. According to the Director of Community Life at one of the participating facilities, “One resident went from doing nothing to doing everything. This resident had a hard time adjusting to the facility. When I approached him about joining the Java Music Club, I said we are looking to fill leadership roles. He came to the very first group and at the end I shook hands with him and thanked him for coming. But he had tears in his eyes, and he thanked me! He now waits outside the door on the morning of our group at 9:00 am for Java Music Club to begin — and we don’t start until 10:30. He also participates now in many other activities and is often the first one there. His behaviors have decreased, and he has made new friends. He is pleasant to be around, and people often seek him out to sit near him. It is a metamorphosis.”
There are 3 peer support and mentoring programs to the Java Project – Java Music, Java Memory and Java Mentorship. Each program is designed to give everyone the opportunity to benefit from this program – from those willing to try it, to those who are less likely to engage, to those with dementia and other cognitive diagnosis.
Coming out of a pandemic that forced the isolation of residents to protect their health and well-being, this project was implemented at the perfect time in North Carolina and has had positive outcomes in the participating facilities. Additional information about the Java Project can be found on their website.