Friendly Phone Call Program Connects Saline Seniors With Students
When Saline Area Senior Center was closed due to COVID, Megan Kenyon, Program Coordinator, began to offer virtual programming to fill the gap. Knowing that people were needing more social interaction, Kenyon came up with a unique way for seniors and local students to connect over weekly telephone check-ins and conversations.
“Seniors, in particular, had a rough time with the pandemic,” Kenyon said. “ All over the world, many have suffered from little to no contact with people. This lack of socialization not only hurt their mental health, but their physical health as well. Socialization is key to staying healthy.”
After surveying nearly one hundred SASC members who lived alone, Kenyon found many were interested in a weekly phone session with a student friend. Kenyon then reached out to Saline High School’s High Five Club, the National Honor Society, and Key Club to see if any students would be interested in participating.
“We started the Friendly Phone Call Program back in March of 2021when we weren’t sure when SASC would reopen the doors, “Kenyon said. “We were operating virtually, but there are those folks who are unsure of using the internet and would prefer a phone call. We thought making it intergenerational would be a win-win for both the seniors and the students.”
The program currently has twenty-five area seniors who are partnered with ten Saline students.
“Those students who are volunteering for this really do enjoy it and find a lot of meaning.”
Kenyon said that the goal of the program is to build intergenerational bonds where seniors and students can learn from each other.
Making Conversation, Making Friends
Reggie Duerst heard about the program when she was finishing her senior year at Saline High School.
“Originally, I saw it as a good opportunity to get involved with weekly service and to get connected with others in the community. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve made some friendships along the way!” Duerst said.
Duerst, who is now a freshman at University of Michigan, continues to talk with her two friends weekly.
“We typically do small check-ins and update each other about what’s going on in our lives that day or week. And depending on who I’m speaking with, I’ll get to hear some stories, too.”
Duerst was able to meet one of her friends, Judy Slater, in person when the center opened its doors.
“Reggie is a more patient and long-suffering listener than I have encountered in a long time,” Judy Slater said. “Reggie probed for details of my life and thoughts. We would give and take thoughts, reflections, attitudes. Our conversations lasted a half hour or more, and we never ran out of topics.”
“I think she might know more about me than my own family!” Slater said.
The Perfect Pair
When Lily Hsu began the program, she was a little hesitant. Hsu was worried that a student would not understand her over the telephone because of her accent.
Caroline Pangilian, a Saline High School student, was the perfect candidate to pair with Hsu. Pangilian’s grandparents are from the Philippines, which made conversation with Hsu much easier.
Pangilian and Hsu were able to meet in person recently.
“It was so nice to meet her for the first time!” Pangilian said of her partner. “This phone call program is very special, and I like how we can make intergenerational connections in our community.”
Hsu has also benefited from the experience.
“It’s just so important for us seniors and students,” she said.
Room For More
Kenyon has received positive responses from the program.
“Many of the seniors have called or stopped in the office and tell me they just love chatting with their students. One senior said her student, Jason Chen, is such a nice young man, very driven, and a joy to talk to,” Kenyon said.
“We are always looking for more students and seniors to pair up!” she added. “These pairs can meet at SASC in person as well.”
For more information on the Friendly Phone Call Program, contact Megan Kenyon at 734-429-9274 or visit the website: www.salineseniors.org.