Caring by Calling: Employees Reach Out to Local Seniors

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Employees Lend Support and Companionship by Phone

Erica True is making life a little less lonely for a housebound Maine senior – right from her desk at Martin’s Point Health Care in Portland. As part of a volunteering program called Phone Pals, the administrative coordinator sets aside work for 30 minutes twice a week to chat by phone, helping a 79-year-old woman stay linked to her community.

Phone Pals – an offshoot of the Meals on Wheels program operated by the Southern Maine Agency on Aging (SMAA) – began providing deeply needed social interaction and companionship to housebound seniors served by Meals on Wheels in 2018.

“Phone Pals allows seniors to stay independent and stay in their home for as long as possible,” says SMAA Phone Pal Volunteer Coordinator Deb Baginski. “Many of our clients rely on this interaction to engage about family, health, wellness, world events and more.”

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For volunteers, it’s a convenient way to contribute from work or home. “Phone Pals fits my schedule perfectly,” says Erica. “It’s easy to find 30 minutes on the phone versus driving somewhere to participate and coordinating work and family life around that.” Jordan agrees: “I can use my break time or volunteer time to connect with Carol with very little effort.”

Eleven of the 46 Phone Pal volunteers are Martin’s Point employees. “We’re in constant contact with Martin’s Point, connecting them to Meals on Wheels clients and discussing how to grow and develop these new relationships,” says Adam Seigal, SMAA Volunteer Services Supervisor. “The Martin’s Point staff is great at keeping communication open. They send us new people, and check in to see how current staff are doing. It’s obvious they care not only about their employees, but also how they engage with community members.”

Can a phone call make a difference?

“There’s a lot of loneliness out there,” notes Jordan Ouellette, a Martin’s Point recruiter who has been volunteering with Phone Pals since last November. Jordan talks with Carol, 71, for about 45 minutes every Friday. Carol is largely stuck at home while her husband is in a nearby care facility.

“I do a lot of listening,” says Jordan, who helped deliver meals to seniors during college, and wanted to keep contributing in a similar way. “Carol has a great memory, following up on events we’ve talked about the week before.”

“I like to hear what she’s lived through, and even though we’re at different stages in life, we find surprising things in common – places we’ve been, experiences we’ve both had.”

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A boost for senior and volunteer alike

“I love my time with Carolyn and making a difference in her day,” reflects Erica, who says the pair talks about everything from pets to how much their babies weighed at birth. “When I learned she grew up on a farm in Orrington, I asked if I could send her photos of our horse, dog, and the calf we’re raising,” That got them off and running.

Erica also keeps a journal to help her keep track of what they discuss from week to week. “I know I get as much joy out of my time with Carolyn as she does,” she says. “I’m incredibly fortunate to work for an amazing organization that offers its employees paid time off for volunteering in the community, supports growth development and enhances the lives of its employees.”

“Seniors have great stories to share,” adds Jordan. “I’m thankful for what they’ve done in their lives – and they aren’t always reminded of that. It’s nice to be there for someone and be reminded each week how important the little things are.”

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Connecting with Phone Pals

Volunteers are well prepared for their roles, with a comprehensive four-hour training provided by SMAA. “You get a heads up about anything you might encounter, from dementia to politics,” says Erica. Volunteers are matched with seniors on the SMAA list, and then the two agree on a mutually convenient time to chat.

Ready to make the call? Learn more about Phone Pals and Meals on Wheels here, and if you’re interested in volunteering, please send an email to volunteer@smaaa.org or call SMAA’s volunteer coordinator at 207-396-6595.

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