The program, which Simpson said is a “blessing” for everyone involved, recruits volunteers to call homebound seniors in Hall County and check on their welfare. She said some seniors don’t have anyone to visit or check on them.
“Everybody needs to feel valued and be safe,” said Simpson, director of the telephone reassurance program. “At least checked on to make sure everything’s OK.”
Simpson creates a calendar each month, listing each volunteer and the day to make calls. Many use their cellphones to make calls from wherever is most convenient, but others use the phone at the Senior Life Center. Right now, there are seven participants and 17 volunteers. All of the volunteers are seniors themselves and have connected with the people they call month after month.
Simpson said one volunteer became good friends with one participant and now takes her to doctor’s appointments. Another moved from Gainesville to Mississippi but still wanted to be a part of the program, so she does her volunteer work more than 350 miles away. Yet another does it from Pennsylvania.
“These are dedicated volunteers that have been with me a long long time,” Simpson said.
When volunteers make calls, they’re not looking for anything specific. Their goal is to make sure the resident answers and doesn’t have any urgent medical or physical needs.
If there is no answer after a few tries, the volunteer tries an emergency contact for the participant. If that person can’t be reached, the next step would be to call law enforcement for a welfare check at the home.
“I don’t know any of these people I talk to,” said Shirley Stephens, a volunteer from Alto. “I feel like I know them personally because of the things they share with me about their condition or their family. And you become attached to them and you feel like you know them even though you’ve never met them.”
Stephens said it’s an easygoing job, but it’s difficult when she learns a participant has moved on to a nursing home or his or her health has declined. Sometimes, volunteers are left without any answers why they’re not calling a participant any longer, which Stephens said is “the most difficult part.”
She began volunteering with the telephone reassurance program through Meals on Wheels, a nutrition program for seniors, which is how most seniors become participants. By going to homes and delivering meals, Meals on Wheels volunteers are able to check on seniors’ conditions.
“They’re actually in the home and they know that a person doesn’t have anybody,” Simpson said. “They just get to know them ... and tell us they think someone needs to be on telephone reassurance so we can call and check on them. So that’s kind of how we build our list.”
Simpson said the participant list has included as many as 12 seniors, which she admitted may not seem like a lot for such a large county. She thinks it’s because the Senior Life Center hasn’t promoted the program very much. Even if there aren’t dozens on the list, the ones who are have been able to create a life they’re happy with.
“A lot have been on here for a while, and everybody wants to age in place, which is in their home, which is why we have these programs,” Simpson said.
Many of the volunteers have been volunteering for a while, too. Stephens has been at it for about 2 1/2 years and still loves the job.
“I think it gives them comfort knowing that somebody is going to call to check on them to make sure they’re OK,” Stephens said. “And I think that gives the family peace of mind that somebody is going to check on them and if we can’t get in touch with them we’re going to call somebody.”
The Center is looking to expand the program, both in volunteers and participants. Right now, most volunteers make calls twice a month. As the program grows and serves more seniors, more volunteers are needed, even if a waiting list is the result.
“I just see this as a service that we have to offer that is much needed,” Simpson said. “These folks, homebound, disabled or what have you, they need somebody to check on them. They just need it.”