Seniors Receiving Reassuring Calls From Students

July 5, 2020 Updated: July 5, 2020

Canadore College is finding new ways to reach out to seniors.

The Village CARES (Compassion Calls Assistance Respect Exchange and Supports) is a program designed to connect Canadore students with seniors during social isolation.

Originally, the program was going to have seniors come to campus to interact with students, but that changed with COVID−19, says manager Micheline McWhirter.

“It quickly became obvious that this wasn’t going to be just a few weeks, it was going to be longer term,” McWhirter recalls. “Our project team came up with the idea of how we could leverage our students to support seniors in our community right now in the middle of what will be the greatest time of social isolation ever.

“[The program] is the first of its type that we know of geared to student placements.”

After completing training for validation therapy, in addition to phone and privacy etiquette, students can read to the seniors, listen to music together or talk about how they are feeling, McWhirter says. Seniors who sign up or are referred to the program can receive one or several calls a week.

McWhirter says the main focus is how the senior wants to spend his or her time. And, she says, the program is now more accessible to not only local seniors but those in rural areas who cannot get to Canadore.

For those suffering from social isolation, the health risks are high, says McWhirter, who compares it to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“It’s very detrimental to health and it’s also detrimental to quality of life,” she says. “So we know that if we can reduce isolation, reduce the social effects of social isolation from setting in, that people have less emergency room visits. Their progression of illness, all those things, are slowed down. So, for us, it’s to ensure that we are preventative.”

In addition to students being able to complete their placement requirement, McWhirter says the program also helps with their own social isolation, as well as provide training on how to interact with the elderly population.

CARES is funded by the federal government’s New Horizons for Seniors Program. Since launching in April, students have logged more than 400 hours of community support.

McWhirter says CARES was originally a trial for eight weeks, but it now will continue during the five-year funding of $2 million and Canadore is working to create a long−term program centered around having this placement being a part of the curriculum requirements.

“Whether there’s COVID−19 restrictions in place or not, a percentage of our students will be able to do placement within the CARES program and support this community and all of Nipissing, Parry Sound and really anybody referred from our region will be able to receive these reassurance calls.”

About 60 seniors are involved in the ongoing program with 18 students at a time doing their placements. McWhirter says the long-term goal is to expand the numbers and reach.

“We what we really hope is that we create a web of reassurance calls that every single senior in our community benefits from getting that call from someone in the community to check on them to see if their needs have changed, to see if they need anything regardless of COVID or not,” she says.

Social service worker student Dakota Heon, who will be graduating as a result of finishing his placement through CARES, says he’s happy to be a part of the initiative.

“Not only have we been able to continue with our placements, but we have been able to utilize our newly acquired skills, knowledge and resources in a new context,” Heon was quoted in a statement from the college. “More specifically, we have been able to address the social isolation brought upon by the pandemic. These calls have proven to be beneficial to clients who have shared their appreciation directly with us.

“From a student perspective, I could not have asked for a better placement opportunity in such a challenging time.”

Mackenzie Casalino is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. Her main coverage area is the Highway 11 corridor communities of Burk’s Falls, Sundrdge, South River, Trout Creek, and Powassan. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

By Mackenzie Casalino