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A call to help the elderly combat isolation

After each phone call, Jeffrey Glitt writes a reflection as part of his volunteer experience with the Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County Friendly Phone Line. Details of each conversation go into a spreadsheet that’s accessible to all program volunteers.

In collaboration with the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resource Center, the program started mid-March to help those 65 and older combat feelings of isolation due to the COVID-19 shutdowns. Recording the reflections paints a realistic picture for everyone at Age-Friendly Columbus and  Franklin County, an initiative of The Ohio State University’s College of Social Work.

“Going back and reading what each person dealt with and how they helped someone allows us to see the good the phone line has done and the support we seem to be giving,” said Glitt, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2015, and is currently a third-year graduate student in the college .

Glitt is one of dozens of Social Work students, staff and faculty volunteers who work the Friendly Phone Line, which has taken over 1,200 phone calls for nearly 90 hours of conversation.

The line is meant for friendly conversation to combat loneliness or feelings of isolation, rather than provide counseling or health recommendations. Volunteers, however, complete training and bring a background in clinical social work. They also receive regular supervision and are provided a robust resources, according to Marisa Sheldon BSSW ’10, MSW ’11, assistant director of Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County.

“We have a strong group of volunteers and the calls they have been getting are extremely wide ranging. Some people are anxious, some are lonely and some just want to chat,” she said. “The feedback we get is pretty amazing, so we’re really proud of the work that’s happening and excited to see it continue.”

Sheldon oversees the Friendly Phone Line and works with students who intern with Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County. Social Work students, undergrad and grad, are required to complete field placement to meet graduation requirements. With most of that work halted with coronavirus restrictions, the College of Social Work field education office allowed students to volunteer on the Friendly Phone Line to maintain those hours.

“Social work is such a unique profession in that we really are meeting our clients where they’re at, and this is a perfect example of that,” Sheldon said.

Glitt, an intern at the Columbus Free Clinic when it went on hiatus, shifted to work on the Age-Friendly Phone Line. While many of the calls he has received are to sign up for Age-Friendly and Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resource’s Necessity Bags -- food and other household items are delivered weekly to 200 older adults -- others have been from people feeling lonely.

“Senior centers and nursing homes cut off visitations so a lot of families stopped bringing their grandchildren around grandparents. It really affected their socialization,” Glitt said.

Glitt said the phone line and interning at the Columbus Free Clinic have exposed him to new communities in Columbus through outreach. They are experiences that have helped him focus on his own career goals, helping LGBTQ youth by creating behavioral health, mental health and substance use resources in Columbus.

“The 65-and-older community faces hardships that don’t necessarily cross your mind on a daily basis if you’re my age or younger,” Glitt said. “The College of Social Work and Age-Friendly do a fantastic job of bringing the struggles of this community to light. Seeing that and learning about it have been really eye-opening.”

Published: June 25, 2020

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