This article originally appeared in the March 2021 edition of Senior Scope. Article by Seth Thomas.
You don’t need a computer, nor do you need to know how to set up a Zoom meeting, to connect with others during the pandemic. There are numerous local agencies offering older adults an outlet to have their voices and their concerns heard.
UMass Dartmouth has long operated a peer-to-peer mentorship program called Community Companions, where college students are matched with local agencies and the people they serve. The students, who have completed background checks and privacy training, provide an ear for community members.
Prior to the pandemic, students would meet with people from the community in-person, oftentimes over a board game or another activity. The program has since shifted to a weekly phone call.
“The students allow participants to talk about what’s going on in their life,” said Dr. Andrew Revell, an associate professor of psychology at UMass Dartmouth and the director of the Community Companions program. “And that’s what the program was designed to do: connect people and provide support to individuals.”
While the students receive college credit for participating in the program, Revell said the connections they form with the public benefit the students the most.
“It’s a way for a student to feel a special bond with someone who has life experience and wisdom to share that they may not otherwise get in their own lives,” said Revell. “I think it’s a wonderful experience for the students because they’re able to see beyond their own world, and that’s what the college experience is about – to understand how we’re all integrated on this planet.”
To sign-up for the Community Companion program, contact Christine Sullivan at Coastline at 508-742-9132. For more information, visit UMass Dartmouth’s website at umassd.edu.
There are numerous programs in the community offering a similar service, many of which existed prior to the pandemic. In the era of social distancing, these services have become a way to mitigate the loneliness of pandemic life.
If speaking with a college student is not the right fit for you, below are several other programs in the South Coast that provide a similar service.
Chat with a Trooper: Connect with a Massachusetts State Trooper during a weekly call. You can hear their stories and share yours. Troopers who speak English, Spanish and Portuguese are able to speak with you. To sign up, call James Fuccione at Mass Healthy Aging Collaborative at 617-717-9493.
KARE Calls: The Samaritans of Fall River/ New Bedford operate a program called KARE Calls, where older adults can receive a weekly call from a trained Samaritan’s volunteer. To sign-up, call 508-679 9777 ext. 10 or email Darcy Lee at email@example.com. For more information, visit their website at:
Friendly Caller Programs: Many of the South Coast’s councils on aging have been offering friendly caller programs during the pandemic, where COA staff will call to check-in on you. Contact your local COA to learn how you connect with their services.
The R.U.O.K. Program: Less of a friendly call, and more of a wellness check. The Bristol County Sheriff’s Department will make a call to an individual’s home at approximately the same time each day. If no one answers, the Sheriff’s Department will call back shortly. If no one answers the second time, their First Responder will be called immediately to check on their status. To enroll in the program, call 508- 994-8932 or 888-809-8932.
Help and Hope Southcoast offers resources to address mental health issues during the pandemic. Visit them on Facebook or online at: helphopesouthcoast.com.
To learn more about mental health services for older adults in the South Coast, call Coastline at 508-999-6400 or the New Bedford Council on Aging at 508-991-6250.