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Sidewalk Talk: You talk, they listen

New community wellness initiative sees trained volunteers setting up random listening stations in public spaces

Sometimes, all it takes is a willing set of ears to make the world a better place.

That’s the underlying premise of Sidewalk Talk, a community wellness initiative coming to Guelph later this month that sees trained volunteers set up listening stations in public locations: two chairs and a welcome mat.

People can then sit down and talk to a volunteer for 10 or 15 minutes about whatever they like.

“It could be a grandma wanting to brag about the birth of her new grandchild or it could be a person on the street who is really struggling that day,” says Marie-Jose van der Zande, the coordinator of the pilot project.

“It’s just a place to go where people care. Where people will listen. Ten to 15 minutes of whatever is on people’s minds.”

Improving a person’s well-being, and in turn the well being of the community, is the goal.

“It’s not a fix-all, it’s not going to mend all the issues, but it’s definitely going to contribute. It’s a piece of the puzzle,” van der Zande said.

“It’s just people connecting with people and know that they are contributing to the world’s well-being.”

If, during the conversation, the listener can offer some information on community services that might be of help to the person, it will be offered.

Sidewalk Talk got its start in San Francisco a couple of years ago and is now happening in 19 different cities around the world, including Peterborough.

The pilot project in Guelph being run by van der Zande through Mediation Guelph-Wellington, which is based at 10C shared space on Carden Street, and partially through funding garnered through the Elevator Project.

The project in the Royal city is partnering with the University of Guelph, which will be setting up Sidewalk Talk stations on camps during Orientation Week.

Van der Zande said that around the city they will be popping up in Downtown Guelph and other locations, including at community events that see the benefit of having them there.

“Just seeing a Sidewalk Talk station is enough alone to give people a sense of community,” she said.

Volunteer listeners must be at least 18, but come from all walks of life and all demographics, van der Zande said.

“Just regular, everyday people who are able to volunteer and help the community,” she said.

The first dozen volunteers will take part in a one-day training session Aug. 13. Shortly after that the first Sidewalk Talk stations will start popping up.

Van der Zande said they plan on being in the same location at the same times so people know where to look for them.

Volunteers will work with partners who will act as greeters and there will be boundaries for the topics of conversation.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer listener can email van der Zande at [email protected].

Any event organizers who would like a Sidewalk Talk station at their event can also contact her.


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Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 30 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
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