Just Checking — When a PHone Call Really Matters

Will anybody call me today?

This wisp of self-doubt came from an elderly woman in response to a query about what questions she might have about life, the universe and everything.  A parish nurse who had been to visit the homebound member of her congregation shared the poignant story.  The simple question has stayed with me as I have been on t he periphery of a program called Tele-Care sponsored by Neighbors, Inc. where I have been a volunteer in recent times.

Many of us are perpetually at the ready, knowing the phone will ring any minute.  With any luck it is a friend or family member wanting to share a bit of cheer.  Or then again, it may be a salesperson, a pollster, a wrong number or, for families with teenagers….. The point in, we get lots o f calls spoken or texted on our landline, cell phone, inevitably on a Dick Tracy-style wristwatch or an implanted device.  It’s hard to hear the lonely voice of this isolated woman hoping for – and needing – a friendly phone call.

Human service providers use the term “telephone reassurance program” to categorize organizations that have structured ways to facilitate what is, in fact, a simple exchange in which a volunteer makes a scheduled call to an individual who is unable to get out of his or her home.  The caller is a phone friend, just checking to be sure the homebound person has eaten properly, taken prescribed meds on time, has enough food in the house to withstand the next blizzard, remembers to keep the doctor appointment or the visit to the hairdresser – and to spread a bit of good cheer along the way.

Of course family members, friends and neighbors make “telephone reassurance” calls all the time – it’s just that some folks, such as the woman who spoke with the parish nurse, fall through the conversation cracks.  At the same time, one source of a regular check-in, the Meals on Wheels program, has been restructured; for many, the daily drop-in by the MOW driver is yet another loss.

Spotting an opportunity, a number of corporations are promoting pricey “telephone reassurance” products and services to vulnerable adults and their concerned families.  For generous volunteers, a lonely senior or disabled person is a neighbor who needs a helping hand.  For others, that same homebound person is a source of easy income – robo-calls are cheap.

Volunteer programs such as Neighbors’ Tele-Care are no cost to the recipient for whom a daily phone call is both a day brightener and a safety net.  Generous – and chatty – volunteers enjoy t he program as much as the individuals who get the call.  Some say they appreciate the structure that a scheduled call adds to their day.  In many cases, friendships blossom and bear fruit.

Neighbors’ Tele-Care is one of countless low-cost/high impact programs hosted by nonprofits and faith communities.  It happens to be the one with which I have experience.

My thought is to share the concept, not any specific program.  Connecting a lonely person with a program such as Tele-Care would make a thoughtful holiday gift – one that truly deserves the tagline “the gift that keeps on giving.”

Neighbors’ Tele-Care program is open to all who live in the seven-county metro area.  For more information, check the Neighbors website or call Tele-Care at 651 306-1408 or info@neighborsmn.org.

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