“We have all known the long loneliness, and we found that the answer is community.”
During a recent shift at the Affirmations Welcome Desk, a visitor who was new to the area inquired about our programs for older adults. They spoke of loneliness and feeling isolated. I knew of SAGE – in name and excellent reputation only – so I pulled up the website and we looked at it together. There we discovered news of an innovative new opportunity: The Friendly Caller Program.
SAGE Metro Detroit is a local affiliate of the national Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, a nonprofit organization which is dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults. They offer supportive services and consumer resources for LGBTQ older adults and their caregivers, advocate for public policy changes that address the needs of LGBTQ older people, and provide training for aging providers and LGBTQ organizations.
Because of my interest in providing referrals for the program, as well as participating as a Friendly Caller myself, I contacted Keisha Watkins-Dukhie, coordinator of the new program. She was very interested in spreading the word and recruiting volunteers. What follows is her answers to my questions:
What is SAGE’s Friendly Caller Program?
SAGE’s FCP is a program focused on increasing social connectedness and support for LGBT older adults. Our program matches older LGBT adults with volunteer callers who engage in conversation and check in on them by phone at least three times a week.
Why is the program needed? Why LGBTQ-specific?
The program is needed because many older adults experience social isolation and reduced social networks as they age, which can lead to higher rates of physical and mental health problems. LGBT older adults experience particularly high rates of social isolation and loss of connection, due to a history of discrimination and fear of negative repercussions among service providers, care providers and co-workers. LGBT older adults are also less likely to have family support after years of discrimination in forming families or experiences of family rejection. LGBT older adults who are more active may still seek calls from FCP volunteers, given uncertainty in safe spaces and the need for overall support.
What does it mean to be a volunteer? What kind of people are you looking for to volunteer (both in terms of personal characteristics and expectations of training and time commitment)?
A volunteer is someone who is committed to ensuring the respect and dignity of older adults within the LGBT community. Volunteers should be friendly, empathetic, caring and most of all great listeners. The program requires a minimum of three calls per week with some flexibility of when you can make calls based on your availability. A person who travels frequently for work or leisure can still honor their call commitment remotely. The commitment requires more of an intention and dependability than an amount of time. Volunteers must be able to attend a half-day training and orientation. [Anyone over the age of 18 is invited to participate as a volunteer.]
If interested, how does someone get involved or for more information?
Interested individuals can call or email the Friendly Caller Program Coordinator Keisha Watkins-Dukhie at the following: 248-567-2363 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit our SAGE Metro Detroit website for more information about the Friendly Caller Program and how to contact the FCP coordinator.
What should an older adult who wants to receive calls know or do to be part of the program?
An older adult should contact the FCP Coordinator via phone or email to express their interest so that we can begin the process of getting them started with the program.
Does SAGE have other volunteer opportunities?
SAGE has many volunteer opportunities. In addition to our Friendly Caller Program, volunteers can join one of several SAGE committees (Programming, Training, Marketing, Fund Development, Finance, Advocacy), serve on our Board, attend our Board meetings or public events. We also have opportunities to volunteer or participate in our annual LGBT Older Adult Summit in June every year.
Board meetings are open to the public. They meet on the third Wednesday of the month from 9:30 to 11 a.m. From January to June, meetings are held at Affirmations in Ferndale. From July to December, meetings ae held at the Hannan Center in Detroit. They are currently considering holding general membership meetings as well.
Anything else you would like to add?
We encourage everyone to share information about the Friendly Caller Program with friends and loved ones who could benefit from the social connection of regular phone calls. We have several excited volunteers waiting to foster new friendships and provide support for LGBT older adults.
The Friendly Caller Program is supported by a grant from the HOPE Foundation.
Other ways to get involved: In addition, older adults are invited to enjoy the LGBT Elders monthly discussion group and potlucks on the third Thursdays of the month from 5 to 7 p.m. at Hannan. SAGE also sponsors their senior Koffee Klatch, a discussion and networking group for people 45 and older that meets every Wednesday from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at Affirmations. (See the Affirmations website for more information