By Samantha Johnson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 22, 2023.
The Red Cross Friendly Calls program began in July of 2020 because of isolation and loneliness created by the pandemic.
“The Canadian Red Cross believes in the power of human connection, it is our No. 1 priority, connecting people and connecting communities,” explained supervisor of the Alberta program Luisa Castro.
Nurturing connections reduces stress, decrease anxiety and increases overall well-being. The program has been immensely successful since it began; in the 2022-23 fiscal year, it provided 54,000 friendly calls across Canada.
It is a free-to-access phone-based program available to adults who experience isolation, loneliness or anyone who feels they could benefit from greater social connection. It’s more than connecting volunteers with participants, it’s also about connecting callers to local community resources.
“These phone calls create an opportunity to form social connections and to check on the participants well-being,” said Castro.
The second objective of the program is to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness in adults.
“We want to promote resilience and well-being in participants by providing companionship, emotional support, coping techniques and connection to community resources as required,” added Castro. “It is important to have someone to connect with, particularly at this time of year. With a friendly call, people feel better and know that someone cares.”
The program runs all year long, seven days a week and phone calls are made when it is convenient for the participants and volunteers. When a new participant comes onboard, Castro has a conversation with them to find out more about them and their interests, if they have any hobbies and the time and day they would like to receive a phone call.
“We do research before connecting them with a volunteer, ensuring we are finding the right person along with someone with knowledge of community resources,” explained Castro. “That is a big one for us, making a connection with someone just to talk is wonderful and we provide that comfort, but we also feel like if someone is in need of contact, they probably also need some resources.”
Each volunteer is supplied with a resource manual containing resources available province wide. The program is available nationwide for anyone to sign up as either a volunteer or participant.
Castro expects the need to increase in 2024 and the program is actively seeking to recruit new volunteers.
“It’s not about what we need, it’s about what they can give us. We usually ask for 3.5 hours per week,” said Castro. Calls can last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour and a half, with most around an hour.
“People are looking forward to the next phone call, they are laughing now and telling us thank you for listening and it’s good to know someone cares, and when we hear that we know this is working,” said Castro who added it is not a crisis line. Volunteers are trained and are prepared for difficult cases and to know when 911 or a crisis line needs to be called.
To learn more about the program or sign up to become a volunteer or participant, visit https://www.redcross.ca/how-we-help/community-health-services-in-canada/friendly-calls-program or call 1-833-979-9779 toll-free from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.