Lifespan volunteers fight loneliness of elderly, others with phone calls

In April 17, 2020

By Jim Memmott (Democrat & Chronicle) – By all reports, telephone voice calls have increased significantly during the pandemic. Shut in their homes, isolated from friends and family, people are using phones, not just to text message, not just to check their email, but also to talk, just talk.

But, for a variety of reasons, there are people, many of them elderly, who aren’t hearing from anyone. Lifespan of Greater Rochester, which provides services and support for older adults, would like to connect them with a volunteer ready to give them calls.

“It’s just social, just chatting,” says Deb Palumbos, director of volunteer services at Lifespan. “It’s an attempt to engage people who are isolated. Just to hear another point of view, to chat with someone like we used to do in the old days. And, now with the pandemic, we have a lot more people at home, and it’s a very stressful and unsettling time.”

So, first things, first: Older people who are feeling isolated and would like to hear a friendly voice should let Palumbos know at (585) 851-9388. She’ll link each of them up with a volunteer.

Lifespan launched the phoning program, called SilverlineNY, three years ago, piloting it for the state. It runs a similar program, VetCom, that matches veterans with other veterans.

Right now, Lifespan has more callers than call recipients, as more than 200 people responded when the agency put out the word that callers were needed. “I’m grateful that the people in the community are so generous with their time,” Palumbos says.

The callers all undergo background checks and are matched with call recipients on the basis of interests. They are asked to make at least a call a week.

In the beginning, both volunteers and the people they talk with only know first names. But over time, deep connections are made, Palumbos says.

“The recipients are loving it,” she says “There’s so many new friendships that have resulted in the match-ups. It’s very heartwarming; the volunteers become like family.”

Many of the people who have been receiving calls may be living with family but still feeling lonely. “Some of them just want another point of view,” she says. “They just want to be listened to.”

And I’m sure they want to hear a warm voice at the other end of the line, someone to help them through these troubling times.