Senior Phone Pal program unites older residents, phone friends

Senior citizens receiving Meals on Wheels in Liberty are finding extra comfort as many are paired with a phone friend who calls to check on them as part of a new phone pal program.

LIBERTY — Liberty community services staff surveyed Meals on Wheels recipients about what needs they have during the COVID-19 pandemic. One need was combatting isolation.

Community Services team member Christopher Wayne started making calls, checking on the seniors.

“Most are high risk with preexisting conditions so it was about their safety,” he said. “A lot of the seniors were telling me that they are lonely and it breaks my heart. They need someone to chat with.”

Through screening, Wayne made an effort to pair volunteers and seniors who have similar interests for a Senior Phone Pal program.

“The idea is to give them something to build on together,” he explained. “You don’t want a cold call, that’s awkward. The idea, pure and simple, is to combat loneliness.”

Wayne, who studied public health, believes community outreach and connecting people is critical.

Two people he connected are Becky Gillenwater and Carolyn Libley. Gillenwater is in Norman, Oklahoma, while Libley is in Liberty. Through a family connection, Gillenwater got in contact with Wayne and offered to be part of the phone program.

“We hit it off,” Libley said. “Both of us like cats, read the Bible, … we have a few things in common.”

Gillenwater said she tries to connect with Libley twice a week.

“She has become part of our family,” Gillenwater said. “We have shared grieving for our fathers, plus those things Carolyn mentioned.”

Libley has health issues and doesn’t venture outside much.

“It seems like I’ve known Becky forever,” she said. “I really look forward to her calls. It’s nice to hear from someone.”

Gillenwater said she also hasn’t ventured out much due to COVID-19.

“It’s important to get connected,” she said. “It helps me stay focused, too. I check on her as much as I can.”

Wayne said the program is making a difference. He now notices how much Libley opens up when he calls as well.

“We chat more and she has come out of her shell,” he said.

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at kellie.houx@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6630.

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