Moving into a new condo was a trying experience for Kathy Gust, who felt alone as COVID-19 put the world at a standstill.
“There was nothing but COVID when I moved there and it was very, very lonely,” Gust said. “I’m all by myself, I lost my husband in July.”
So she decided to join the Volunteer Lethbridge Keep In Touch program, which pairs seniors — the participants — with volunteers who communicate weekly by phone.
“You feel so much better,” Gust said.
For more than a year, Gust has been chatting with Sharleen Peterson. And while it’s helped Gust throughout the pandemic, it’s also had a lasting impact on Peterson.
“The one thing I realized — even though we’d never met and didn’t know if we had anything in common — you don’t need anything in common to develop a friendship,” Peterson said.
“Before you know it, you are, you’re just really, really treasured friends.”
Keep In Touch began as a COVID-19 response program roughly 18 months ago. Seniors program coordinator Connie-Marie Riedlhuber says there was plenty of interest right away.
“Seniors have been in isolation a lot longer than we have,” Riedlhuber said. “They haven’t started venturing out yet and now with the strain of COVID, they’re really, really housebound.”
Now, what started in Lethbridge is expanding across the province, as five more groups — Barons-Eureka-Warner FCSS, Grande Prairie FCSS, Neighbourhood Link Parkland Spruce Grove, Strathmore FCSS and Westlock FCSS — are adopting the program.
“We had kind of identified a need to have a program such as the Keep In Touch program, kind of a friendly caller check-in for seniors in our rural areas,” said Cindy Lauwen, Barons-Eureka-Warner FCSS volunteer services coordinator.
The group hopes to give other seniors a chance to create a connection like Gust has with Peterson.
“You can talk to somebody… you could get along with and she talked my language, like we knew each other forever,” Gust said.
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