Friendly caller program keeps seniors involved in community
DARIEN — When Peter Sosnow was growing up, he often accompanied his grandmother, a home health aide, on her visits. There, she would cook meals, talk to people and do other things to help them through their illness.
His grandmother’s kindness had an effect on Sosnow, who now works in health care himself. He also saw the effect such kindness can have on people, which was part of his motivation in volunteering for At Home In Darien’s Friendly Caller program, which connects seniors in town with residents for weekly phone calls.
“We offer a variety of services for seniors including transportation,” said Gina Blum, executive director of At Home In Darien. “But we’ve found they want to chat. They’re not just giving ride information, they’re sharing about their lives. We thought there’s an opportunity here for longer conversations.”
The caller programs allows seniors who want to be involved with the community a way to meet new people when health issues may keep them homebound. It also gives them another person to talk with about health problems and other concerns in addition to their families and caretakers.
Originally, At Home In Darien offered an in-home visit service, but many seniors felt too pressured by having guests in their home. The caller program allows that companionship without the time it takes to have someone come over.
“It’s good for meeting new people,” Sosnow said. “[My senior] can’t meet as many people. This is a chance for her to connect with people in the town.
“She seems like the kind of person who wants to grow, meet people and experience life,” he added. “This is another way to connect.”
Join the Friendly Caller program. Contact At Home In Darien at 203-655-2227 or visit athomeindarien.org
Sosnow said he and his senior hit it off in their calls right away and developed a back-and-forth repertoire quickly. Their weekly calls are sort of a “week in review” with him often telling her about his business trips and his three teenage sons. In return, Josephine offers travel tips or shares her own stories about her life growing up in Darien. Sosnow said the one-on-one phone time has been beneficial for him as well, especially in the age of texting and email.
“To pick up the phone and have a call is terrific,” he said. “There’s a therapeutic aspect to it.”
Lee Caputo, a senior in Darien who uses the program, said she receives calls every Monday and similarly gets updates about her volunteer’s life.
“She talks about her family and little things,” Caputo said.
Debbie Evans, another volunteer who lives in Rowayton after moving out of Darien, said she enjoys the program because she thinks it gives seniors security, especially when it comes to setting a time for a weekly call.
“I think there’s security in that fixed time as opposed to randomness,” she said. “I know this kind of thing takes place elsewhere. My stepfather in Canada has a program like this. It gives those who are at home help. They know someone will call and check in on them.”
“This kind of thing is not readily available in all towns,” she added. “Having older parents and knowing what people do to have them stay at home, that call is a small contribution I can make to give that sense of security to seniors in Darien. I’m happy to be able to do something like that for the senior population.”
Evans added she also tries to keep her senior in the loop about potential phone scams and other schemes that target the elderly.
Evans is working with one caller right now, calling them once a week, on top of working part time at the Kumon Center, a learning center in downtown Darien.
“It’d be easy to fix more calls in.” she said. “It can be easily arranged between the caller and seniors. It can be the most flexible arrangement, but it can do a great deal of good for a volunteer. It’s about as easy a role as you can play, even if you work full time.”
Right now, Blum said the program is looking for more callers, as they have many seniors who have expressed interest in the program. Applicants must submit a resume, references and will have a background check done, as well as an interview. At Home In Darien also interviews seniors and tries to match people for optimal pairing.
“The common denominator is people want to give back,” the At Home In Darien executive director said. “They realize senior citizens deserve a lot of respect as far as the life they’ve led and place they are now. Nothing is more fulfilling than being able to help someone, but more importantly, a few seniors are who looking for friendship. They have so much interesting stuff to share.
“In the fast paced world we live in, people are quick on the phone or using texts or emails and I think a lot of seniors, especially, desire a little more time than that,” Blum added. “They’re looking for meaningful conversations and this seems to fulfill that need.”