The way Kay and Marcia chatted like old friends in a corner booth at a Cincinnati restaurant recently, an observer might assume they had known each other for decades. During lunch, they exchanged cards and gifts, and shared family photos, stories, hugs, and kisses on the cheek.
But just prior to settling into their booth, the two had met in person for the first time ever. Hugs and happy tears – and exclamations of surprise about how each looks in person (and that they are both the same height) – accompanied this joyous moment that was organized by Council on Aging (COA) and was more than two years in the making.
Kay and Marcia’s friendship had blossomed solely via telephone since spring of 2020, when they were brought together by a COA initiative where volunteers made wellness calls to older adults early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
COA began the initiative as it heard from more and more older adults who were isolated, afraid and in need due to the pandemic and related shutdowns. Volunteers were assigned a list of people to call weekly to make sure they were safe and healthy.
“My biggest concern during the pandemic was to make sure I could get to the hospital,” Kay said. She receives regular cancer treatments at a local hospital and does not drive, so when shutdowns started, she began to make phone calls to see what help was available to get to the hospital if it was unsafe for her family or friends to take her. She believes a local senior center she called during this time may have connected her to COA, where she was added to the list of older adults who would receive wellness calls.
Marcia had moved to Cincinnati from North Carolina not long before the pandemic, and as a retired social services executive, was looking for opportunities for community service and to meet people in her new hometown. She and her husband were volunteering with a home-delivered meals provider when she was invited to make calls with the COA initiative.
Marcia’s call list included Kay. Over time, names on Marcia’s call list dropped off for one reason or another, but she and Kay kept up with regular phone calls, bonding over similar viewpoints on faith and politics and a similar sense of humor. Now they talk two to three times a month.
Kay and Marcia agree that like them, most older adults want to continue to feel a sense of purpose and to continue to connect with and give back to their communities. During their calls, the two often discuss their passion to find a meaningful way to help support other older adults, perhaps a “buddy” program. Even if an older adult has help nearby, “you kind of don’t want to bug your family if you’re by yourself,” Marcia said.
“I am concerned that people are becoming isolated – and not just from the pandemic,” Kay said.
Their friendship has certainly helped ease the feelings of isolation each were experiencing – Kay from the pandemic and no longer driving, and Marcia from retiring and moving to a new city. Each is grateful for the other.
“This friendship is just genuine,” Marcia said. “It has given me a bit of myself back. Doing this is a blessing for me.”
Likewise, Kay said, “It goes both ways. It’s reminded me of who I am and why I’m here.”
The women are grateful to COA for bringing them together, both initially by phone, and eventually in person, for their lunch date. “For Council on Aging to help make this happen for us, means a lot,” Marcia said.
“This has been wonderful. We’ve had a good time, and I certainly appreciate Council on Aging,” Kay added.