Image courtesy of Little Brothers—Friends of the Elderly
Little Brothers — Friends of the Elderly helps seniors alleviate loneliness through meaningful relationships.
People who have younger siblings are definitely the lucky ones. I say this, of course, as a younger sibling, but either way, I think—for the most part—we can all agree that having siblings is a good thing. As children, it’s always nice having someone around to play with. And as you grow older, hopefully you grow closer, strengthening a lifelong bond into adulthood (let’s face it, we all dream of having a relationship akin to Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin’s in Grace & Frankie when we’re older). But for seniors who don’t have a built-in best friend, it can get lonely.
Which is where Little Brothers — Friends of the Elderly (LBFE) comes in.
LBFE, which was established in 1959, with its Minnesota chapter founded in Minneapolis in 1972, is a volunteer-based organization with the sole mission of alleviating elder loneliness and isolation through meaningful, face-to-face relationships between older adults and the organization’s volunteers. At all of LBFE’s locations, the staff strive to meet the emotional and physical needs of all elderly friends. The organization relies on people of good will to join in their efforts to help older adults. All of their services are free to the elderly and are designed to relieve the isolation and loneliness that can produce emotional pain and mental and physical deterioration.
In addition to its Minnesota chapter based in Minneapolis, LBFE operates in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, San Francisco, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
“Traditionally, our services have included in-person meetings between a volunteer and an elder, as well as opportunities to join together as a community through social events, including exclusive LGBTQ+ opportunities like our Let’s Do Lunch Cafe,” says Mike Weiner, communications director for LBFE. “But the COVID-19 pandemic challenged LBFE to develop new, virtual and phone-based programs to connect elders and volunteers.”
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, LBFE has started “Elder Friends Phone Companions” for older adults living alone or in isolation during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“‘Elder Friends Phone Companions’ is an online database and matching system that quickly connects socially isolated elders with background-checked phone volunteers and facilitates ongoing friendships over the telephone,” Weiner says. “The program is free for elders and open to anyone in the state of Minnesota who is feeling particularly lonely and isolated during this pandemic.”
Whether you’ve been using LBFE’s services for a while or you’re just learning of this program now, Weiner says it’s easy to get involved with the organization.
“Registration is extremely simple and quick for those who want to receive calls from a friendly volunteer,” he says. “It is completely free for any elder in Minnesota, and the online sign-up process requires minimal information to get the process going. When a match occurs, only essential contact information is exchanged for both the elder and the volunteer.”
Though the “Elder Friends Phone Companions” program is a great solution for older adults experiencing loneliness and social isolation during COVID-19, Weiner points out it isn’t for everyone. Whether you don’t like talking on the phone, don’t have access to a phone, or just simply can’t utilize the program as a volunteer, he says there are other options for you.
“Not everyone likes to chat on the phone. We certainly understand that! Making a donation is a great way to have an immediate impact on the lives of lonely and isolated elders. Every dollar goes to support the ‘Elder Friends Phone Companions’ program and helps us reach more elders isolated within nursing homes, assisted living communities, public housing complexes, and single-family homes,” he says.
If you are interested in volunteering with LBFE, Weiner says there are very few requirements to get started. “Anyone who is 18 years or older with a giving heart and an understanding ear is welcomed as a volunteer,” Weiner says. “Since we take the well-being and security of our elders seriously, volunteers must also complete a background check, which is part of the online registration process.”