Red Cross 'Calls' on Volunteers to Care

Westchester Red Cross puts volunteers in touch with senior citizens in their "Red Cross Call to Care" program.

A friendly phone call to those whose families aren't near, can mean the world and even more during the holidays.

Volunteers for the Westchester County chapter of the , based in White Plains, reach out to senior citizens in need of a friend, under the Red Cross Call to Care program.

The program pairs elderly residents living, on their own, with volunteers who take the time to chat and check up on them. John Ravitz, CEO of the Westchester County chapter of the, said the Red Cross Call to Care program becomes crucial during the holidays.

"The beautiful thing about the Call Care program is a weekly touch and a contact for those folks who are home that have no family near by," said Ravitz.

"Having that kind of stability during the holidays is important, because people who are alone during the holidays know that there is a voice at the other end of the phone that will reach out to them. During this time of the year, the holiday season, we can really see how much this helps."

With close to 78 million Americans reaching the age of retirement in the next few years—according to the most recent statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau—this initiative will help the graying population in Westchester stay connected while living a safe independent life.

There are about 125 senior citizens participating in this program, which began 10 years ago. For many, this is a way to combat the loneliness and dangers that comes with living alone in old age. Volunteers will contact seniors once, sometimes two times a week to talk about everyday occurrences—health issues and the joys and pains of growing older.

"[Volunteers] want to see what they can do for seniors who are living at home and don't have family near," said Ravitz.

Ravitz explained that volunteers call to check-in and make sure their seniors have everything they need to get through the week. If a problem arises, the volunteer will call the senior's next of kin.

"It's a form of developing a line of communication and community," said Ravitz. "For people at home that don't have a line of care on a regular basis, the callees really rely on getting those calls."

Marilyn Sofia is in her 80s and started receiving calls because she was feeling, "a little isolated." She does not have much family in the area and most of her friends have passed on. A volunteer reaches out to her weekday mornings around 8 a.m. The woman who calls her has "been wonderful and she gives her input…we talk about whether I'm weak or sick.

"Being my age most of the talk is about doctors, "Sofia explained. "It worked out very nicely for me." 

Sofia said she likes the "Feeling that there is a contact there everyday."

"If anything should happen to me they have my contact number, and then the fact I have someone to talk to because most of my friends are gone now," said Sofia. "That's what I would think is the best, a feeling of a certain security."

There are about 25 volunteers for the program, ranging from teenagers to seniors themselves. Each volunteer is paired up with 5 to 10 people to reach out to.

Marilyn Bookchin of Pelham is in her 70s and to calls other seniors to say 'Hello' and check in on them on a weekly basis. Bookchin contacts Sofia along with six others.

Bookchin—a retired social worker—saw this as a way to stay active in her a field, while also helping people. Bookchin says she does not like to give advice, but rather lend an ear for some friendly conversation.

"We talk about real problems," said Bookchin. "I'm a friend to these people. I work with people and help them manage."

Bookchin says she has been talking to one elderly man for eight years, who calls her his best friend.

"I'm touched that he feels that," Bookchin said add. "Wherever it's appropriate I'm there for them. If they're complaining about physical illness I tell them to call their doctors, and if they go to visit the doctor and they're confused I say 'What does the doctor say?' I've been with people as they've transferred from independent living to nursing homes."

As more people in Westchester reach the age of retirement this kind of service is going to be vital to sustaining a healthy elderly community. "We could always use more volunteers," Ravitz said.

Those interested in volunteering can visit www.westchestercounty.redcross.org.


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