Volunteers Answer Phone ‘Friendline’ for Latchkey Kids

Times Staff Writer

As children returned to elementary school this week in the Bonita Unified School District, some old friends were waiting in the wings to lend a helping hand.

Since the beginning of 1988, 13 volunteers have run a “telephone friendline” for latchkey children--youngsters who return to empty homes after school--in La Verne and San Dimas. The volunteers do everything from reassuring children who are lonely to providing a sympathetic ear to students who are overwhelmed by the pressures of school.

One volunteer recalls such a child who just couldn’t handle the stress of a school assignment and dialed 596-PALS for help.

“He told me he had to look in a microscope and draw and label, and he couldn’t get it done,” said the Tele-Pal volunteer. “His mother just said he had to work harder and he could do it. He was so frustrated he called to share his feelings.”

840 Calls

Such calls are all in a day’s work for the volunteers at Tele-Pal, which is sponsored by the American Assn. of University Women of Pomona Valley.


Since it started, the hot line has received 840 calls from students in seven elementary schools in the Bonita Unified School District. Its two phone lines are staffed from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.

This year, the hot line will also accept calls from sixth-graders.

The volunteers, many of them retired school teachers trained by the local police and social service workers, operate from a room at Hillcrest Homes, a retirement community in La Verne.

“It’s mostly kids who are lonesome and bored and needing to talk to an adult,” said volunteer Juanita Wagner. Sometimes children call for help with homework, and the volunteers keep a dictionary on hand for callers wanting help in spelling.

“We’re kind of surrogate parents,” Wagner said. “I feel for the kids and yet I know some parents just cannot afford to let kids have baby-sitters all the time.”

‘Empty Homes’

“I didn’t realize so many children returned to empty homes,” said Cheryl Hlavety, president of the Grace Miller Elementary School PTA. Students from Grace Miller have placed more calls--122--than any other in the district. “I’m glad they used it rather than being home and scared,” Hlavety said.

Cathy Leff, PTA president at Allen Avenue Elementary School, was also surprised that the hot line was used so much by the school’s children. More than 100 students have used the service since it was started.

“I couldn’t picture kids calling somebody they didn’t know and talking,” she said. “If I had it my way all mothers would stay home with their kids, but that’s an old-fashioned opinion and not everybody can do it.”