New program gives you a chance to comfort lonely seniors in isolation

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A recently created telephone program, Caring Connections, is working to break the chains of loneliness for elders in Jacksonville and beyond. Caring Connections is run by ElderSource.

The program has been in effect since fall, but a newly awarded $83,000 grant is giving the effort a huge boost.

“We applied for the grant and launched the program before COVID, and now it’s become more important than ever,” ElderSource CEO Linda Levin said.

Floridians over the age of 60 have been living in extreme isolation since March under recommendations by the CDC amid the coronavirus pandemic. Older adults are considered to be highly vulnerable to complications from coronavirus, and more likely to die as a result.

However, loneliness also poses a significant danger to a person’s well-being, according to Levin.

“Loneliness is a horrible thing it’s it’s devastating emotionally and mentally and actually it takes a very physical toll on a person on their health,” she said.

Governor Ron DeSantis has banned visitors from long-term facilities since March and until September, making the need for human connections more dire than ever for our elderly populations and especially for those living alone.

Caring Connections works just like having a pen pall, except over the phone. Employees of ElderSource match volunteers with seniors and then volunteers make calls to seniors twice a week, just to check-in.

“They make phone calls to them, just to provide a friendly voice and a listening ear to someone who just doesn’t have that person to talk to and needs to talk to somebody,” Levins said.

Eligible seniors include those older than 60 and are living alone. The program was designed for seniors living at home, but residents of long-term care facilities are also eligible.

To volunteer, you can sign up on the ElderSource website. Every volunteer is provided a free background check, orientation, and training.

Seniors and volunteers both fill out questionnaires to help match interests. Levins said the feedback she’s received from the 20 seniors already participating in the program has been overwhelmingly positive.

“They are crying on the phone because they have someone that they can cry with or they’re laughing because they have someone to laugh with, and just knowing that someone cares enough to call is a comfort. They’re able to build this beautiful relationship with the volunteer,” she said.

If you know a senior who might be interested, they can call the ElderSource helpline to sign-up at 904-391-6699.

The $83,000 was awarded by Community Cares Corps. ElderSource was selected as one of 23 recipients selected out of a pool of nearly 100 applications from across the country.

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