Friendly call program in full swing

Natali Trivuncic
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

To some a phone call may not mean much, but for others, it is what they look forward to each week. The Senior Companion Project released their friendly phone call pilot project in October 2020 and it has been gaining traction since then.

Andrea Avis, coordinator of the Senior Companion Project, said they began the project hoping to match 10 seniors with 10 volunteers for a weekly phone call and now they have a surplus of volunteers waiting to be matched.

“We did have a few extra volunteers so right now we’re really fortunate that we have four people waiting to be matched when the senior is referred to us either by a family member or by an agency, for example Community Care or Canadian Mental Health Association,” Avis said.

Avis said volunteers did not start calling seniors until November but based on the monthly reports that she is receiving, the conversations and the relationships between the volunteer and senior look to be more comfortable.

“The seniors seem to really enjoy it,” Avis said. “Each of the volunteers sends a monthly report to the coordinator and at that time I can have a look and see if this is the best match. Are there enough topics of interest between the people that they can build this relationship? And it seems to have worked really well.”

Avis said one of her favourite quotes from a senior from their monthly report was ‘I love Wednesdays, it’s when my friend calls.’

Before the lockdown, Avis said they had no problem training volunteers while following safety protocols and social distancing. Avis adds that some volunteers who were unable to attend the training sessions or were not comfortable coming to them were sent all the training material.

“And then the volunteers in December were able to get a vulnerable sector check from the OPP which is important for the program moving forward,” Avis said.

Avis adds that it was not completely necessary in the beginning when they were only conducting the phone call part of the program but as the province comes out of lockdown and restrictions begin to be lifted, Avis said they want to be prepared for when volunteers are able to talk to their new friends in person.

In the meantime, Avis said they took a picture of all the volunteers and put it on a card to remind the senior who is calling them each week as well as to have a bit of a connection with that person by seeing their picture. It is also for the senior’s family members to know that these calls are legit and not a scam, Avis adds.

“In one case, all of a sudden this senior who hasn’t had a lot of interaction was talking about the volunteer all the time so the family member called me and I was able to give them more information about the volunteer and the situation and it set the family member’s mind at ease,” Avis said.

Avis said many volunteers are seniors themselves who decided to not go south for the winter.

“They realize that even if they do go away next year, they can still make a friendly phone call from wherever they are to their matched senior client who will already have had a relationship with them,” Avis said.

Avis added that their program will be recommended by the Social Engagement Program which was launched last week and caters to seniors in Kenora and the Rainy River District.

“They cover the district, we’re only in Fort Frances because we’re supported by the town of Fort France and the Canadian Mental Health Association Fort Frances branch,” Avis said. “First we had to give preference to the Fort Frances clients but this program that they’ve started is going to be recommending us to their people who call them.”

Avis said this is good news because there is going to be more support for seniors.

“We definitely know that the services are required and needed,” Avis said. “Especially when they don’t have family members in town or maybe their spouse has passed away.”

Avis said she has received great feedback from the community and adds that they are now looking into funding to keep the program going.