Lethbridge program fighting senior loneliness expands throughout province

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.

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“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.

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“Before you know it, you are, you’re just really, really treasured friends.”

Read more: ‘Keep In Touch’ program helping seniors in Lethbridge deal with isolation

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.”

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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.

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“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.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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