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Volunteers Phone Homebound Elderly

For more than a dozen years, a low-profile volunteer effort has provided support and comfort to one of society’s most marginalized groups--elderly, homebound residents who often have no family or friends.

Officials said the Telephone Reassurance Program, staffed by about 25 volunteers and coordinated through the city’s Senior Center, give its recipients an important yet simple gift: the knowledge that somebody cares whether they live or die.

“All the clients are elderly, all homebound and lonely,” said Betty Goyne, Senior Center director. “They probably don’t have family members checking in on them anymore.”

Volunteers make calls at least once a week, at a specific time. The conversations average five to 10 minutes each but can run longer, Goyne said. Volunteers often call on holidays such as Thanksgiving, when feelings of loneliness and isolation can increase.

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“If you say, ‘I’ll call on Tuesday at 2,’ it gives them something to look forward to, and if they’re not there, we are alerted,” Goyne said.

The volunteers are trained to recognize signs of depression and will ask questions about the client’s health, she said.

“For instance, if the person is falling more often, we can alert a doctor or get them medical attention,” Goyne said. “And sometimes we contact authorities if we hear a horror story about a son coming in and stealing all his mother’s money.”

Generally about 50 to 60 homebound seniors participate in the program, Goyne said.

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Though participants are not encouraged to visit each other in person initially, Goyne said, many long-term friendships develop.

“Some interesting things have happened over the years,” she said. “There’s one woman, Helen, who had been called by Mary for years. But now Mary is more frail than Helen, so Helen is calling Mary to check up on her.”

Information: (714) 895-2878.


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