Phone-a-Friend

an intergenerational initiative to
build well-being and reduce loneliness

 

Phone-a-Friend is a telephone companionship program that demolishes loneliness and fortifies well-being for socially isolated seniors. Its win-win design delivers tremendous benefits to student volunteer interns too.

Phone-a-Friend volunteer interns are not counselors. They do not solve problems or give advice. Nor is this a traditional support line. Instead, they are good companions who take an interest in each senior’s life and abilities, not disabilities. Their purpose is to discover what they have in common, enjoy each other’s company, and have a life-affirming conversation that’s good for the soul. Such meaningful connections every week are the most powerful antidote to loneliness.

“Talk not of wasted affection; affection never was wasted.”
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

Commitment

  • Two hours per week for one school year.
  • Calls are made weekly to two seniors. Each call lasts as long as both of you want it to, usually 5–60 minutes.
  • Weekly reflection on your calls plus small group discussion, via online platform, continues to build your skill and insight throughout the year. Like learning any language, it takes about a year to become proficient.
  • Applicants are selected (max 12 per training) by interview.
  • If selected, you attend a 12-hour experiential training program in January prior to being matched with your seniors.
  • All volunteer training seminars are conducted in-person in Santa Barbara (Friday evening 6:00–9:00pm, and all day Saturday 9:00am–6:00pm).
  • Next trainings: January 7–8 and January 14–15, 2022

A Public-Private Collaboration

Comments from Participants

Students

I thoroughly enjoyed every conversation I had with my seniors, and although this program was designed for them, I honestly feel I got a lot more out of it than expected. Understanding their situations and listening to their stories of growing up, raising a family, and transitioning from having adult children and grandchildren to then living in a nursing home was all endearing. During my call today with Mary, we connected over cooking and shared our favorite recipes. “I would love a picture of one of your recipes” she told me. “It sounds so good I’d like to try it myself.”
—Ben Ayyagari

My friendship with Larry has been growing really well. We’ve been having wonderfully fruitful talks, just great conversations. Today, I just got off the phone with him—after 2 hours!
—Ahmed Ayesh

I want to be friends with Sarah beyond when I graduate from UCSB and move back home, and she told me she felt the same. This opportunity has given me a long-term friendship.
—Garima Sehgal

Being able to provide support and company to the elderly who are in need brings a smile to my face because I know I can make a difference in their lives.
—Britney Nguyen

One of the favorite moments was getting to hear the residents’ stories about how they managed to survive in this world… the tips of wisdom that they offer and being able to provide them some comfort at times.
—Kenneth Sanchez

It felt like I was just making another friend. Checking in with them and learning how to listen better and just truly focus on what the other person was saying, which I think will help my other relationships, both personally and professionally, a lot as well.
—Megan Ringo

I really enjoyed this program. It is the perfect way to get involved in your community during the pandemic.
—Amy Banks

It’s an amazing self-growth tool to step away from your own life and give someone 15+ mins of your undivided attention. It teaches you to listen and be patient. It might be the one thing in someone else’s day that brings them joy. You would be surprised at the connections and relationships two strangers can make over the phone.
—Sydney Barker

The relationships were built over time with both of my senior residents and with each week it got easier to talk with them. At one point I felt like we were catching up just as if we were old friends.
—Vivian Mei

Seniors

The program has been very helpful to me since I lost my counseling services…it feels like a lifeline in a way and it gives me some more peace knowing I am going to have some contact coming.
—Resident 121

I get different insights from you and I get to share things with you…it’s a very positive program…I’ve really welcomed our phone calls and what I’ve learned from you.
—Resident 156

This program has helped me a lot. I don’t receive many calls from people…I was thinking the day before the call, oh, tomorrow I’m going to receive the call. So, I was excited, like a little kid. So, yeah, it helped me a lot.
—Resident 131

I really enjoyed speaking to you…you are a good listener…you have brought a lot of joy and happiness into my life, just by talking to you.
—Resident 105

 

How we measure results

Our goal is to begin repairing a badly torn social fabric. We aim for a measurable reduction in the risk of loneliness using a measure called the Social Quotient, the world’s first holistic measure of social connection among older adults. It was developed by the Klaatch data analytics team in New York, who independently track the results and analyze the data for AiC.

The Social Quotient quantifies how social connectedness—and its opposite, loneliness—changes over time. It is an aggregate score comprised of three factors gleaned from validated questions asked in the context of a normal telephone conversation which is recorded and then analyzed to determine not only what the participant said, but what they meant. This occurs at the beginning, middle and close of each phase of the program.

 

 

Phone-a-Friend Phase 1 Report

The Phase 1 16-week pilot produced a 13% improvement in social connectedness among the senior residents at five Housing Authority properties.

This is a remarkable accomplishment for a brand-new program, with very limited options to promote it, and participants from two very different generations who had never met one another before. Not to mention an outstanding collaborative effort between three very different agencies who were working together for the first time.

On a scale of 1-10 seniors were asked how likely they would be to recommend Phone-a-Friend to a friend or neighbor? 10 out of 12 selected 10! The program’s Net Promoter Score was 9.6