As coronavirus continues to upend normal life, many seniors are feeling more isolated. Enter the Southern Maine Agency on Aging (SMAA) Phone Pal program. Launched in 2018 as an offshoot of Meals on Wheels, Phone Pals pairs community volunteers with home-bound older adults to share critical social interaction and companionship by phone.
Currently, 39 Meals on Wheels clients in southern Maine have Phone Pals. Since the program was relaunched in May 2018, it has been a boost to 60 older adults in all.
Now those connections are more important than ever. “Adding the impact of COVID-19 increases paranoia and feelings of isolation as personal interactions and resources dwindle,” says Cindy Williams, Volunteer Project Manager at SMAA. “Our Phone Pal volunteers check in on their well-being, ask important questions to help manage uncertainty, and tell stories and jokes. It’s essential that our clients feel important and protected.”
In addition to helping seniors, the program gives community members a way to give back at a time when people are looking for ways to help.
One Pal’s perspective
Erica True is one of five Phone Pal volunteers who are also Martin’s Point employees. “This program is extra valuable during this unprecedented time,” says Erica, who has been a volunteer for more than a year. “It gives me an opportunity to listen to the perspective of my Phone Pal, share stories about our families, and focus on the positive things in life. We talk about the craziness of the world, but the positivity we share is uplifting.”
“Prior to the virus outbreak, my Phone Pal and I were connecting every other week. Now we’re talking every week.”
Erica and her Pal found a lot in common from the start, from motherhood to a love of animals. They share stories and photos and talk about world events. “This is one of the greatest parts of my life,” says Erica. “My children know about my Phone Pal and ask how she’s doing and if I’ve checked in with her. It’s a wonderful avenue to offer a senior in the community.”
How to find a Phone Pal
If you’re a Meals on Wheels recipient and you’re interested in finding a Phone Pal, just tell the person who brings your meal – or call SMAA at 207-396-6525. Volunteer Services will get the ball rolling, starting with taking time to match you with a volunteer that shares your interests.
How to become a Phone Pal Volunteer
It’s as easy as reaching out to SMAA, participating in a short training, and getting your match. To keep everyone safe, Phone Pal training is moving to a webinar format – new dates are coming soon. To learn more, send an email to email@example.com or call 207-396-6525 talk to the SMAA Volunteer Services staff.
Give it a try! For many, it’s the start of a beautiful relationship.