Poughkeepsie … The Dutchess County Office for the Aging (OFA) has begun a pilot “Friendly Calls” program to alleviate the feelings of loneliness and isolation some seniors feel. “Friendly Calls” connects these older adults with volunteers who call them weekly, speaking for 20-30 minutes and providing all-important social interaction, helping OFA achieve its mission of helping older adults remain active, age with dignity and live independently as long as possible.
An adaptation of the New York State Office for the Aging’s “Friendly Calls” service, the County program has already trained two dozen volunteers to connect with local, pre-screened older adults who have identified an interest in fostering connections with others and reducing social isolation through weekly telephone conversations that cultivate relationships between participants. Nearly 40 local seniors who already receive services, case management and/or home-delivered meals from the Dutchess County OFA, have registered to be part of the program, having been surveyed to determine their level of loneliness and interest in participating.
Volunteer callers, many of whom already donate their time and talents to with other OFA programs, are similarly eager to participate and improve the mental and physical health of the older adults they call. The program runs in eight-week periods, and following an initial introductory conversation, volunteers will spend 20-30 minutes each week talking with the older adults with whom they’re matched, based on mutual interest. If both participants express interest, they can extend their calls past the initial eight weeks.
County Executive William F.X. O’Neil said, “The safety and well-being of Dutchess County’s older adults is a top priority, and we know feeling isolated can have adverse effects on a senior’s physical health, including higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and dementia. Our Office for the Aging has begun its ‘Friendly Calls’ program to increase socialization for older adults who need it and decrease those adverse effects related to loneliness. We look forward to expanding this program, based on its anticipated success, and enhancing as many Dutchess County seniors’ lives as possible.”
“Friendly Calls” volunteers report to an OFA Program Manager, designated to oversee the operation of the program. To qualify for the program, prospective volunteers must be:
Training includes teaching volunteers conversation starters, meaningful and appropriate topics, active listening, problem-solving guidance and how to respect boundaries, among other topics. Volunteers can speak with as few or as many older adults they feel comfortable handling. The OFA’s next volunteer orientation takes place on Feb. 9th; space is limited and residents interested in volunteering for the “Friendly Calls” program can contact OFA at 845-486-2555 to learn more.
Dutchess County OFA Director Todd Tancredi said, “Following her years as an advocate for older adults on the State Senate’s Aging Committee, Sue Serino recommended the ‘Friendly Calls’ program for Dutchess County seniors, and we enthusiastically implemented it. Both our volunteers and the seniors they call are anxious to foster relationships that will be mutually beneficial.”
“Friendly Calls” was a 2023 budget initiative for the County’s OFA, which has expanded its services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to create innovative offerings – including drive-through picnics, drive-in Bingo games, Pancakes in the Park and virtual exercise programs, among others – which allowed the seniors it serves to regain the socialization that plays an important role in enhancing the quality of life.