Local nonprofit starts ‘phone pal’ system to visit with isolated seniors, needing volunteers

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One metro nonprofit wants to make sure local seniors have companionship during this crisis, and they’ve found a way to do it while following social distancing guidelines.

For the past 50 years, the Shepherd’s Center has worked to minimize social isolation for seniors. The organization provides meals, volunteer, learning and social opportunities, but the pandemic has limited some of those services.

“We’re struggling to find ways to be creative while meeting the needs of our senior and keeping our staff, volunteers and clients safe,” said Janet Baker, executive director of the organization. “Everyone is so isolated right now, and stress is so high for everyone.”

The organization recently started a “phone pal” system to keep seniors engaged.

People like Dollie Brown spend 15-20 minutes, a couple days a week, visiting with seniors over the phone.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have relatives, no one to come in and do for them or even communicate with them,” Brown said. “[This] gives them a chance to interact with someone. It keeps the anxiety down.”

“To have a person call and listen and talk and answer questions and just be a companion over the phone is very meaningful,” Baker added.

However, the organization is in need of more volunteers to help reach the more than 300 seniors it serves every day.

“This would give them an opportunity to do a little bit of an outreach, a well check, but also make sure they’re doing OK,” Baker said.

Background checks are required but leaders at the Shepherd’s Center are ultimately looking for people who will commit to saying more than just hello over phone.

“The last thing we want to do is have someone call and they never hear from them again,” Baker said. “So we’re going to be more careful and selective about making those relationships happen over the phone.”

For Brown, who volunteered for the organization for the last 21 years, the experience has been rewarding, and it gives her a sense of purpose during a time of uncertainty.

“We need to connect with others, especially those that aren’t able to get out,” she said. “It’s as simple as picking up the phone.”

If you’re interested in volunteering for the “phone pal” system, call the Shepherd’s Center at 816-444-1121 or email the organization at info@sccentral.org.

Since this story aired on FOX4, the organization said they had so many volunteers sign up for their senior “phone pal” system, that they now need more seniors for the volunteers to call.

So, if you know of  senior citizens who would like to have some call them a couple times a week – 15-20 minute conversation – they should contact the Shepherd’s Center. They can call 816-444-1121 x 109 and ask to speak to Danielle. They can also email her at danielle@sccentral.org.

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