Friendly VOICES, a New Volunteer Program, Helps Limit Social Isolation Among Older New Yorkers during COVID-19

New Friendly VOICES program matches volunteers with older adults to connect on a weekly basis over the phone or video calls and help relieve social isolation.

It has been more than seven months since the Covid-19 pandemic began and our everyday lives were turned upside down. While some have grown accustomed to working remotely and staying home, the pandemic has led to many older New Yorkers losing contact with loved ones and becoming socially isolated.

Social isolation has always been an issue for older adults, but COVID-19 has exacerbated it. For older adults, social isolation can be especially harmful, taking a toll on their wellbeing and leading to health problems like depression and heart disease.

Throughout this pandemic, the City Department for the Aging (DFTA) has been working to limit social isolation through virtual programming, wellness checks and the Friendly Visiting program, a successful initiative that has matched more than 2,000 volunteers with homebound older adults for weekly visits that are now being done virtually via phone and video calls.

In June, we ran a Social Isolation PSA campaign and more than 400 New Yorkers signed up to volunteer for Friendly Visiting. This told us that New Yorkers want to step-up, volunteer, and help our older adults. Well, we heard the City loud and clear, and we are happy to announce the launch of Friendly VOICES (Virtual Opportunities Improving Connections with Elders).

Like Friendly Visiting, this new initiative will train and match volunteers with older adults and is designed to limit social isolation and build ongoing engagement. Friendly VOICES is different as the program is available to all older adults who are socially isolated. 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. Becoming a Friendly VOICES volunteer is an easy way to brighten your day. We recommend that anyone wlling to volunteer or join the program reach out to us.

I also want to remind older adults to get the Flu Vaccine. Doctors say getting a flu vaccine this year has never been more important. The flu vaccine does not prevent COVID-19. But by preventing the flu and having a healthy immune system, a person will have an easier time fighting off a COVID-19 infection. The City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has a locator map to help you find the nearest vaccine location. There are also outdoor flu vaccination pop-up events throughout the city this season.

There are also two other vaccinations that can keep older adults healthy: the pneumonia vaccine and the shingles vaccine. The CDC recommends all adults 65 years or older get a pneumonia vaccine yearly; some older adults with specific conditions may require a second shot at another time. Shingles, which is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, produces a painful rash and blisters that can lead to serious complications. Adults age 50 and older need to get 2 doses of the vaccine, the second dose two to six months after the first.

This pandemic has lasted longer than any of us expected. But we will get through this, by staying emotionally, mentally and physically healthy, and by staying connected.

If you would like to volunteer for Friendly VOICES, call Aging Connect at 212-Aging-NYC (212-244-6469), or fill out an online volunteer interest form. Older Adults who wish to join the program can also call Aging Connect or fill out an online participant form.

NYC Department for the Aging Commissioner Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez


More from Around New York