“God wants to redeem what this generation has lost”: Project 50’s Hazel Sam reintroduces friendship to young seniors

Project 50 is a ground-up initiative for Singaporeans aged 50 and above to meet up and make new friends. Founder Hazel Sam shares her story.

Peck Sim // March 21, 2024, 7:48 pm

hazel sam

In 2021, Hazel Sam started Project 50 to build a community that thrives together in the second half of life. All photos courtesy of Hazel Sam.

When Hazel Sam was turning 50, she felt her heart break for her generation.

At the cusp of leaving her 40s behind, she experienced a deep pang — a sense of loss of purpose, relationships, health, wealth — that she knew her peers were going through.

“Where is my heart and what is my burden? Where and at whom is God looking?”

She asked herself: “Where is my heart and what is my burden? Where and at whom is God looking?”

“I felt that pang was from God,” Hazel said. “I felt His love for us, His grief and yet hope for us. I felt He wanted to redeem all lost relationships, purpose, health and wealth of this generation.”

For 10 years, she had led a young adults group at her church, but as 50 drew close, she felt God moving her to focus on people in her age group.

Gen X (those born between 1965 and 1980) “is such a responsible generation,” Hazel noted.

“We didn’t have the best role models so we are not exactly the best role models. But we do have a desire to do good.”

If you build it, they will come

When Hazel chanced upon Meetup – a social networking site that facilitates meetups between people with the same interest – she decided to create a community for those 50 and above.

She recalled the famous line from the Kevin Costner movie, Field Of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”

That small idea has blossomed from six into a group of 445 members.

Shortly after her 50th birthday in January 2021, Hazel created Project 50 on MeetUp and true enough, the people came.  

A month later, six people turned up for the first meeting. “I thought if I could just get a few of us, I would have met my objective of starting Project 50,” she said. During that period of the pandemic, eight was the maximum that could meet.

That small idea has blossomed into a group of 445 members, at last count.

One Saturday every month, for the last three years, Project 50 has met up for coffee and catch-ups on life. The group, once solely led by Hazel, has grown into a community that owns the project.

Sometimes, members other than Hazel organise special events like walks. One subgroup in the community recently celebrated Valentine’s Day together as friends.

Project 50 started with six members meeting in February 2021 in the midst of social distancing restrictions in Singapore. This is the second meeting in March 2021.

“Becoming big wasn’t the intent,” she clarified. “The intent was to create a space for us to get to make friends again. I personally lost many friends in transition and this was an opportunity to make new ones.”

At the start, Hazel ran it like a cell group but it has evolved. “God always provides a new idea and brings different people who support in various ways,” she said.  

Attendance at its monthly meetups are now capped at 45 people, with members rotating each month. Some days only 10 turn up.

She is not fussed. “As long as people turn up, I will run these meetings.”  

A safe space

Ninety-five percent of Project 50’s members are non-believers, but Hazel does not hide the fact that she is Christian.

Though Project 50 is not an evangelistic outreach, Hazel said, “I hope they can see Jesus in my life through our interactions.”

Members are aged from their 50s to 70s. The oldest is a 75-year-old who joined the original group of six when he was widowed. He credits the community for helping him get back on his feet, Hazel said.

Project 50 draws professionals taking a career break, people who have lost their spouses, those recovering from sickness — all looking to rediscover life with new friends. 

Apart from coffee and catchups, other members sometimes organise special activities like walking.

Running this has also been a healing journey for Hazel as she witnesses people in her age group show strength and resilience in the face of struggles and loss.

Hazel believes the opportunity to engage with like-minded people draws people back to the gatherings again and again.

She does not force participation. “I said in my introductions that this is a revolving door, and one member told me, ‘When you said that, it gave me the freedom to come when I can.”

The beauty of Project 50 is that it has evolved into a group run by the group, not helmed by an individual or a personality.

“This should not be dependent on one person because it is God’s project,” Hazel pointed out. “I’m confident this community will continue even if I were not around because it is driven by the people in the community.”  

“I hope they can see Jesus in my life through our interactions.”

With the community of Project 50, even when the monthly commitment started to weigh on her busy schedule, Hazel never considered stopping the meetups. She drew on the help of regular attendees who stepped in to offer help without being asked. 

“I am blessed by the new friendships that are genuine and the joy of running a project that is deeply appreciated by its participants. 

“They are not demanding,” Hazel told Salt&Light. “This is a joyful project. People are so willing to step up. You’re really running with friends, running with people who appreciate the journey with you.”

Called to bring courage to many

Hazel, 52, wears multiple hats: She is wife, mother to three children in their early 20s, sister, daughter, granddaughter and main caregiver to her 96-year-old grandmother, mentor to young married couples, and a financial planner.

A Christian since giving her heart to Jesus at age 12 during an evangelistic concert at St Hilda’s Primary School, Hazel’s faith grew deeper when she lost her father to brain cancer at age 16.

She drifted from God when she started working and got married, but a close friend drew them back to church where their spiritual fervour was reignited. Hazel now worships at Life Church.

“The intention is to create a safe space for them to find friends and to be well.”

To Hazel, Project 50 is a call from God to build up and encourage people. 

She draws encouragement from 1 Samuel 14:6-22 where Jonathan and his armour bearer roused the men of Israel to pursue the Philistines in battle.

“God uses a few to bring courage to many,” she pointed out. “This account has always given me tremendous strength in persevering in God’s assignments through thick and thin.”

She is grateful to witness how an idea birthed of God can take flight with no striving from her.

She said, “I feel like He’s by my side, just leading me. It’s a tremendous experience to see God move so powerfully.”

Members attending its monthly gatherings over coffee and conversations have grown to average 30-40.

Hazel has no intention of slowing down. Since turning 50 she has tried out improvisational theatre and completed a Masters degree in wealth management. She has plans to learn tango, which to her exemplifies letting God lead.

“I think about us being well, being mobile, being able to dance in our old age,” she said.

“My vision is of my generation dancing at SG100, 40 years from now.”


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About the author

Peck Sim

Peck Sim is a former journalist, event producer and product manager who thankfully found the answer for her wonderings and a home for her wanderings. She now writes for Salt&Light and also handles communications for LoveSingapore.