Senior Companion Project to begin friendly call program

Merna Emara

The Senior Companion Project began matching seniors with volunteers for the friendly phone call program after COVID-19 prevented both volunteers and seniors to meet in person.
Andrea Avis, coordinator of the Senior Companion Project, said the friendly phone call program is to alleviate some people’s feeling of loneliness and isolation who are living in their own homes.
“It might be because their family members do not live in the area or they do not have a close connection with friends or community or maybe their circumstances have changed that made them isolated,” Avis said.
“For example moving from the neighbourhood that they grew up in or that they had their families in or moving away from their church community or maybe no longer being able to drive.”
Avis said when they matched volunteers with seniors, they sent the seniors the phone number, name and picture of the volunteer companion. At home the senior would have a picture and the name of the volunteer who is going to be calling them so that they can put a face to the voice, she added.
Before connecting volunteers to seniors, Avis said they held multiple face-to-face training sessions and they went through how to deal with specific scenarios.
“We talked about what topics to stay clear of and how to draw them into conversations,” Avis said. “We also did some training about conversation starters and then we sent the person who we matched [the information].”
The Seniors Companion Project accepts referrals from family members, agencies, and friends who would have a knowledge on who would best benefit from the program.
“They sent us some referrals because it is for people who are living alone and who don’t have a lot of contact with family members or community members,” Avis said. “There are a lot of people who live alone.”
The Seniors Companion Project had to alter their offerings because of COVID-19. Usually, seniors and volunteers would be meeting in-person and perhaps doing some activities together. However when COVID-19 restricted gatherings to only people within the same social bubble, Avis said they were only able to operate the friendly phone call program.
“With support from the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Town of Fort Frances they were able to keep me on as the coordinator and do a pilot project for the friendly phone call,” Avis said.
The friendly phone call program is a pilot program that will only run for one year. So far Avis said she is aiming to match 10 volunteers with 10 seniors. She said not all the spots are filled yet.
“The volunteers are really enthusiastic,” Avis said. “They are very committed especially the ones who came for the training session. They were anxious to get started. Some of the seniors we deal with have some sort of support coming into their homes, meaning home care, but it is not the same as someone saying ‘How’s your day going? Did you Catch Dancing With the Stars last night?’”
If you have questions on how to volunteer or refer a senior for the phone call program, you can call the project coordinator at (807) 271-6370 or email