New program matches volunteers with older adults to connect on a weekly basis over the phone or video calls and help relieve social isolation.
NEW YORK (October 27, 2020) – The Department for the Aging (DFTA) is launching a new volunteer initiative to help limit social isolation among older New Yorkers during COVID-19. Named Friendly VOICES, the new initiative will train and match volunteers with older adults to connect on a weekly basis over the phone or through video calls. Friendly VOICES is designed to provide friendship, social engagement, and help relieve the social isolation many older New Yorkers are experiencing.
Friendly VOICES (Virtual Opportunities Improving Connections with Elders) is based on DFTA’s and ThriveNYC’s(now the Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health) Friendly Visiting program model, a successful program that has helped match more than 2,000 volunteers with homebound older adults who have health challenges. Friendly VOICES is different as the program is available to all older adults who are socially isolated, regardless of existing health conditions. In addition, Friendly VOICES offers older New Yorkers the option to have a peer-to-peer match and be connected with another older adult, or join a small virtual group.
Older adults have been the age group hardest hit by COVID-19. With older New Yorkers being asked to stay inside and shelter in place due to COVID-19, they are at increased risk of having very little contact with others and becoming socially isolated. Studies have shown that social isolation can lead to health problems including depression and heart disease.
“This crisis has caused older New Yorkers to be more socially isolated than ever before. Our goal is to keep them connected and socially engaged, and Friendly VOICES can help achieve that by being available to all older New Yorkers,” said DFTA Commissioner Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez. “New Yorkers of all ages have shown great resiliency and support for one another during this crisis. We have also heard from many that they would like to do more. Friendly VOICES provides New Yorkers the opportunity to step-up, volunteer and help our elders during these tough times.”
"For older New Yorkers, social isolation presents a serious risk to mental health and overall well-being, and a phone call or video chat can make all the difference," said Susan Herman, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health. "Thanks to the many volunteers who offered their time, the Friendly Visiting Program has had tremendous success reducing loneliness and isolation among older adults. I'm thrilled that DFTA is launching a new program to reach even more New Yorkers in this especially isolating time."
This summer, DFTA ran a social isolation awareness campaign, which included a radio PSA by Broadway star Lin Manuel Miranda that asked New Yorkers to connect with older adults and volunteer for Friendly Visiting. The campaign received an outpour of support, with more than 400 New Yorkers signing up to volunteer.
Through Friendly VOICES, DFTA will identify older adults, recruit and screen volunteers, and provide training and ongoing support to volunteers and older New Yorkers to ensure engagements are rewarding.
New Yorkers who would like to volunteer can call DFTA’s resource line, Aging Connect, at 212-Aging-NYC (212-244-6469), or visit the DFTA website and complete an online volunteer form. Older New Yorkers who would like to be part of Friendly VOICES can also call Aging Connect or fill out an online participant form.
To learn more about Friendly VOICES or Friendly Visiting, visit nyc.gov/aging.