Friendly Calls program expands in Alberta

By: Shelly Makrugin, senior communications advisor. Photos courtesy: Luisa Castro.
“Right away people are telling you, ‘I'm so thankful that you called. I was not expecting any other calls this week.’ They are happy to hear from us.”
That is the way Luisa Castro, the provincial coordinator of the Virtual Operations Team describes the reaction of participants in the Friendly Calls program. The Canadian Red Cross launched the program in Alberta in June 2020, offering phone call support and community referrals.

Headshot of woman with curly brown hair wearing a maskIn 18 months, the program has grown to include dozens of volunteers who make hundreds of phone calls a week to participants who benefit from the personal connection Friendly Calls provides.
“Our number one priority is to help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness in adults aged 55 and over,” Luisa, pictured right, explains. “Number two, I think, is very important – we promote resiliency and well-being in participants by providing companionship and emotional support, as well as providing coping techniques and helping them to reconnect with their communities.”
Initially, the Friendly Calls program in Alberta was open to clients 65 years of age and older through the Red Cross’ Health Equipment Loan Program, but it has now expanded to include anyone 55 and over with a referral from a health care provider.
The emotional support provided by Friendly Calls is important to participants who report living in isolation, especially during pandemic times. Some have told Luisa and program volunteers that they haven’t seen anyone for three weeks, or haven’t spoken with their children in six months, or that their neighbours stopped visiting because of COVID-19.
Luisa notes, “People are telling us how grateful they are. Some people say that ‘you're the first person that called me in two months. You’re the first person who asked me how I'm doing. You’re the first person who says, do you need anything?’ They’re so thankful that we are calling them.”

 Two women in masks standing in an office
Virtual Operations Team volunteers Siliva Castro (L) and Breanna Palmer (R). 

Equally important is referring participants to community groups and organizations that they can connect with to receive helpful resources and to share mutual interests, have conversations, or meet virtually for coffee for long-term support.
“When a volunteer tells me, ‘I thought I was going to be helping someone, but I am learning so much.’ It's so rewarding,” Luisa says. “Because having a conversation is not about one person talking and the other person listening. You must engage; you must be able to really get into the conversation. And when you do that, both parties are learning and gaining something and it’s a benefit for both.”

Luisa loves when volunteers tell her they had a “wonderful conversation.” Making a connection helps reduce loneliness and strengthens resilience in our community.

“It is about two people that don't know each other. They have different ages and different experiences, but they come together and develop this relationship. It's beautiful.”

The Friendly Calls program is available in various provinces and territories in Canada. This service is free to any adult who feels they could benefit from more social interaction. Visit Red Cross in Your Community to learn more about receiving Friendly Calls.

If you’d like to volunteer as a Friendly Caller, find more details here.

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