Phone Friends: TeleCheck Volunteers

We salute three longtime volunteers with TeleCheck, a free telephone check-in service for people older than 55 who are living in their own homes.

November 29, 2021 | | Local Heroes

This is the first time our heroes will be identified only by their first names. Meet June, Shirley and Heather.

All three are longtime volunteers with TeleCheck, a free telephone check-in service for people older than 55 who are living in their own homes. Every month, June, Shirley, Heather, and more than 45 other volunteers make about 6,500 phone calls to touch base with program members in Dufferin and Caledon. The volunteers may deliver reminders about taking medication, eating meals and keeping appointments, check to ensure that no health crisis is taking place and, most important in some cases, provide a social connection.

Phone Friends: TeleCheck Volunteers. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Phone Friends: TeleCheck Volunteers. Photo by Pete Paterson.

The calls are made from 8:30 a.m. to noon and 3:30 to 7 p.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year. Some members receive daily calls for years; others may get calls for only a week while their caregiver is on vacation.

The reason for anonymity is simple: confidentiality. All volunteers adhere to strict rules with respect to privacy, and part of that policy involves going by only their first names.

Jennifer McCallum, manager of the Headwaters Health Care Centre-affiliated program, says that in addition to their training, volunteers spend about 10 hours with an experienced mentor before working on their own. A digital profile is developed for each member. If volunteers identify issues during a call or if the call isn’t answered, they notify Jennifer, who may take steps to intervene. The steps may include providing referrals for community services, calling emergency contacts or requesting a police wellness check.

Pre-pandemic, all volunteers worked from the organization’s Orangeville office. Now, most calls are made from the volunteers’ homes, and Jennifer says they hope to continue with a hybrid model once the Covid crisis settles down.

June, who once worked in the service industry, has been doing shifts at TeleCheck for 14 years. She says her motivation for volunteering came after her husband unexpectedly died. What am I going to do? she asked herself. Shortly after becoming involved in TeleCheck, she found that “the people I was calling were supporting me to an extent.”

Former teacher Shirley says, “I love doing it. I get to talk to the most funny, intelligent people. I’ve learned a lot about aging with grace.”

Retired nurse Heather echoes Shirley’s sentiment, but adds, “I also like to consider it work. Here I am in my 80s and I can still be working.”

The program involves a diverse group of volunteers, from retirees to individuals interested in social work and young people filling volunteer time requirements. The gift of the gab comes in handy, and as June says, the work is not for everyone. “I remember one volunteer was a bad talker. She was only here a few hours and disappeared. We thought she went to the washroom, but she just left and never came back.”

The value of the program is reflected in the sorts of comments volunteers receive from members. It’s not uncommon for a member to say, “You’re the only people I talk to” or “I know I have to take my pills so I can stay at home.”

All agree the calls can also be a lot of fun – and sometimes hilarious. And members frequently express appreciation. “There are a lot of ‘I love you’s,’” says Jennifer.

About the Author More by Jeff Rollings

Jeff Rollings is a freelance writer living in Caledon.

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