For nearly 40 years, the Friendly Visitor Program has helped homebound seniors stay active and engaged.
Now, the decades old organization is looking for a little help of its own.
“We are very much in need of volunteers, especially now,” said Pam Silliman, Friendly Visitor coordinator. “With the pandemic, everything immediately went to no-contact, and we have had to revamp the program to accommodate those changes.”
Friendly Visitors operates under the umbrella of the far-reaching Senior Support Program of the Tri-Valley. It’s an independent, nonprofit organization, serving those 60 and over throughout Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton and Sunol. Funded in part by the Alameda Area on Aging, with additional support from the participating cities it serves, the premise of the Friendly Visitor Program is to reach out to cloistered seniors in need of a kind voice.
Friendly Visitors are asked to commit to visiting their clients for one hour a week, though many offer additional time. Activities can include shopping and running errands with their clients, reading aloud or just simply visiting. But since the coronavirus shutdown in March, protocols for the program have changed dramatically, and for elderly individuals accustomed to the in-person meetings, it has been difficult.
“I have one volunteer that would take her senior to the movies every week, which was so lovely, but with the pandemic, that has all had to stop,” said Silliman. “So now what we are looking for are volunteers willing to spend a couple of hours a week on the phone with clients, checking in and giving them whatever help and reassurance they can during these difficult times.”
Cleo is a 102-year-old Tri-Valley resident who has been with the organization for 12 years. Spry and full of good humor and enthusiasm, Cleo said the changes in the program since COVID-19 have been challenging, yet she remains upbeat, positive and grateful for her Friendly Visitor.
“The biggest thing of all that the senior support people have done is they have helped me feel independent in my own home,” said Cleo. “To feel that independence is a wonderful, wonderful thing.”
Although Cleo has not been off her property since the pandemic began, she does have daughters nearby who check on her, but having the additional support of the program chases away some of the depression and fear.
“My mind is ok, my hearing is good. and I’m very blessed,” she said. “When the pandemic started, and I was asked if I needed food or anything, it felt awfully good to know someone was checking on you. They have added so much to my life.”
Until pandemic protocols are lifted, Silliman said the program will continue with telephone check-ins, handwritten letters sent via the post office, as the majority of their clients are without internet or computers, and good, old-fashioned, neighborly support. With additional case workers on hand to spot clients who might be struggling with isolation or depression, Silliman believes the Friendly Visitor program is meeting the needs of their over 100 clients; but additional help is always welcome.
“For our homebound seniors, the point is to get them socialization,” said Silliman. “The majority do not drive anymore, and they don't have internet or computers so really, truly, the phone calls and cards and letters are their way of knowing what’s going on and that someone out there cares. Seniors already struggle with a lot of depression and loneliness, and there is so much anxiety out there right now. Friendly Visitors is helping to bridge the gap for families who can’t visit as much right now as they used to because of restrictions. The more help we get with that, the better.”