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My Journey from Loneliness and Isolation to Creating an Online Haven for Seniors

“When one is home alone, all day, with nothing to do, nobody to speak with, stuck with their thoughts both good and bad, it’s easy to slip back into a depressive state. Feeling unneeded, unwanted, no happiness, no joy, no reason to get out of bed – just suffering with “the blahs”.”

Hello! Who are you?

My name is Steven Shagrin, though I’ve gone by “Shags” since the mid-70s. Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, I moved to Walnut Creek, California, in 2006 to get away from the cold, snow, and ragweed.

I’m self-semi-employed as a Certified Money Coach/Master Money Coach & Trainer, helping to train new Certified Money Coaches around the globe, as well as maintaining my own clientele.

I’m also a Certified Professional Retirement Coach, helping individuals and couples design their lives in retirement through a holistic approach that includes all aspects of life. I also have mastered the culinary art of paella preparation, and provide “private chef” services for small groups of 30 or so.

I’m married to a wonderful partner, going on 42 years. We have two adult daughters, both in loving relationships, one nearby and one across the country on the East Coast. The daughter nearby has two sons, who are the joy of our lives. We also share our home with a 12-year-old miniature dachshund we’ve had since he was 2 months of age. 

I love to cook, enjoy good wines, and have been a Rotarian since 1982, putting “Service Above Self” to work in my personal, vocational, and volunteering life. My current passion is building and maintaining an online community of senior adults seeking friendship and activities to connect them so as to reduce loneliness and isolation.

At present, I consider myself to be happy, but that’s something that wasn’t always the case, as I’d suffered from depressive episodes over various times in my life, most recently in my late 50s.

Much of my happiness comes from my connection with and to others, spending quality time with them doing fun and interesting things together. It’s something I work on every day. And my zest for life – my raison d’etre – comes from being of service and feeling as if I make a difference in the lives of those with whom I interact.

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

My current struggle is that I have few friends nearby and in the same time zone. Some close friends we developed after moving west from Ohio moved away about three years ago, and with the grandsons soaking up the attention, my wife and I spend almost every weekend she isn’t working with them.

I’m rarely around others my age or stage in life to chat with, spend time with, and share experiences. It’s lonely at times. I feel isolated, as our 2nd vehicle “died” last year and I’m not able to get around freely on my own for the past 8 months. 

When the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down our ability to gather together, it was a very similar situation. Though I could travel, there was no place to go and nobody to be with. It was a very emotionally stressful time.

As treasurer of the Storytelling Association of California, I was concerned that our organization, which had small-group Story Swaps that met in person on a monthly basis, as well as several regional in-person events a year, would suffer a loss of membership due to the lockdown.

It was a very challenging time for the organization, though the Storytelling group successfully migrated to online Zoom-based events to keep connected. And membership actually grew as others discovered ways to stay connected to others.

But still, there were several days of minimal contact with others, and phone calls or video chats weren’t the answer. I craved community and together-time with my storytelling friends. And with others from whom we were now separated by the pandemic.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

When one is home alone, all day, with nothing to do, nobody to speak with, stuck with their thoughts both good and bad, it’s easy to slip back into a depressive state. Feeling unneeded, unwanted, no happiness, no joy, no reason to get out of bed – just suffering with “the blahs”.

I was good at hiding it from my wife, but I could tell it was impacting our relationship, as she kept saying that I just wasn’t “myself” anymore. Thoughts of self-harm arose now and then when it seemed as if there would be no end to the loneliness and isolation. If nobody else cared about me, why should I? It was a very unhappy time.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

In May of 2021, I turned 65 and became eligible for Medicare. I also secured a Medicare Supplemental Insurance Plan through AARP/United Healthcare. After signing up, I received an email about a program through the supplemental insurance called SecureSeniorConnections (SSC), a secure, online platform to connect senior adults dealing with loneliness and isolation.

I joined and immediately found a community where I could make new friendships, share resources, attend Zoom-based events around education, health & wellness, Open Chat, and much more. It was like finding a local playground where you could go to meet up with your friends, play games, share conversations, and just have fun.

And it wasn’t only me that benefitted from SSC – many others whom I met said that it was a lifeline for them during the COVID pandemic shutdown, helping them to overcome their feelings of loneliness and isolation.

And then, on July 20, 2023, SSC announced that they failed to secure the venture capital they needed to continue and would cease operations on July 28th.

The active SSC community was devastated. I knew something had to happen, and fast. A Facebook or LinkedIn Group is one thing, but it wouldn’t replace the platform of interest groups, chat rooms, educational posts, and more. 

Fortunately for me, I was a member of two other groups that were using a community-building platform called As a user, I was familiar with how things could be laid out and viewed. I looked into the price and found it affordable to begin to create a new community for SSC folks to join before we lost connection with each other at their closure.

Within 24 hours, the basics were designed and the site went live with about 25 members. By July 28th, we were at over 75 members, and now, after 7 months, we’re at around 135.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

Once it was clear that the community would continue at the new platform, the next step was to get the organizational documents prepared and apply for non-profit status as an online Senior Center, both at the federal and state level. That took another two to three months but was secured without any issues. 

The struggle now is to continue to grow, bringing in new members to meet others around the country – and the world – who come together to share good times and be of support to each other in not-so-good times. And to find a source of charitable funding to support the cost of operations, which is around $2,500/year – not much at all for what we are able to offer.

What really helped me was my past experience as a volunteer in different community projects, giving me the skills and confidence to bring about the change needed at the time.

And, most importantly, taking immediate action, ignoring nay-sayers while still supporting their concern for creating a viable platform to continue our caring community.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

This story has been posted to my Facebook and LinkedIn pages and shared with the Rotary eClub of Silicon Valley, which recorded my story and posted it to their YouTube Channel

I’m very comfortable talking about loneliness and isolation because it’s a huge health issue in America and beyond. It’s no fun to be alone, not able to get out much, and not talking with someone other than family during the day.

And it’s not healthy, either. In May 2023, the US Surgeon General released a comprehensive 82-page report about it being an epidemic associated with lots of health concerns.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

If you experience feelings of loneliness and isolation, visit ThePlayground Senior Circle and see if it’s a good fit for you. We’re very welcoming, very diverse, caring, and willing to make new friendships.

Here you’ll find the link and credentials to take a “test drive” as a pretend member. And please share this story with others you think might enjoy joining our growing community of friends.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

I really have nothing to offer here. My computer literacy and skills are such that I knew I could create a working community platform in short order using the right tools. And in 8 days, we had to migrate members from SSC to ThePlayground, I took many screenshots and printed many PDFs of things that would soon be lost.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

I worked all that in above, plus my email. Also, you can find me at my vocational website.

I’m guessing this isn’t the typical story that’s shared on Tracking Happiness, so I’m open to answering any questions you have that you feel might fill in any gaps you perceive.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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