Phone-A-Friend program touches lives during pandemic

During this pandemic, everyone has been a little less in touch with their loved ones. This can be especially hard on older adults finding themselves with fewer visitors. A group of volunteers from Congregation Keneseth Israel wanted to find a way to do some good during these tough times, and they found a solution in Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley’s Phone-A-Friend program.

“The program has existed for a few years, but it’s really taken off during this quarantine period,” explained Chelsea Karp, volunteer coordinator for JFS. “We’re really grateful to the KI group for reaching out and getting involved.”

The concept is simple but powerful – a volunteer is matched up with an older adult whom they call each week to have a “friendly visit” over the phone. Many volunteers choose to call on Fridays to check in with their phone friend and wish them a “Shabbat shalom.”

Margie Hertz, a member of the Brit Olam Steering Committee at KI, said that she and her fellow synagogue members felt overwhelmed by the problem of COVID-19.

“I know social distance and isolation can be very stressful, and I thought about how we can reach out to others in need, particularly older Jewish residents,” said Hertz, speaking from personal experience. “My dad lived in Country Meadows. If he had not been able to see any visitors, it would’ve been extremely stressful to him. So, I said ‘Let’s see if we can reach out and make weekly phone calls to our residents and tie it into a Shabbat theme.’”

That’s exactly what they did, connecting with Karp who in turn connected with chaplains and staff at local residences such as Country Meadows, Atria and Moravian Hall Square. Through that network, they were able to find people who were interested in the program and match them up with a volunteer.

Hertz had a wonderful response from her congregation, with members now calling a dozen older adults every Friday. 

“We try to ask them about their interests and see if we can find any commonalities,” she said. “We all have common things and life experiences we can talk about.”

Other volunteers have contacted Hertz to let her know how much they are enjoying it.

“I’m speaking with a lovely woman, and I think she really appreciates the calls. I’m really glad we’ve gotten to know each other. I hope at some point we’ll get to visit each other,” said Rachel Cubellis, another volunteer who has learned a lot about her new phone friend.

Hertz said that is a sentiment that she echoes in her own relationships formed through this program.

“The commonality that is shared across every conversation is that we end our conversation by saying we hope we can have lunch together someday soon,” remarked Hertz. “We always end on a hopeful note.”

Hertz would recommend this volunteer opportunity to anyone. 

“It’s such a good feeling to be able to touch other’s lives, even if it’s only through a phone call, it can be just as meaningful,” she said.

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Phone-A-Friend program, contact Chelsea Karp at ckarp@jfslv.org or 610-821-8722.