POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Dutchess County Office for the Aging (OFA) has begun a pilot “Friendly Calls” program to promote senior socialization. As part of the program, trained volunteers call lonely seniors weekly, speaking for 20-30 minutes and combatting isolation.

An adaptation of the New York State Office for the Aging’s service by the same name, the Dutchess County program has already trained two dozen volunteers to connect with local, pre-screened older adults who have identified an interest in fostering connections with others. Nearly 40 local seniors who already receive services, case management, or home-delivered meals from the OFA, have registered to be a part of the program.

The program runs in eight-week periods, and following an initial introductory conversation, volunteers will spend 20-30 minutes each week talking with the older adults with whom they are matched, based on mutual interest. If both participants express interest, they can extend their calls past the initial eight weeks.

“The safety and well-being of Dutchess County’s older adults is a top priority, and we know feeling isolated can have adverse effects on a senior’s physical health, including a higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and dementia,” said County Executive William F.X. O’Neil. “Our Office for the Aging has begun its Friendly Calls program to increase socialization for older adults who need it and decrease those adverse effects related to loneliness. We look forward to expanding this program, based on its anticipated success, and enhancing as many Dutchess County seniors’ lives as possible.”

“Friendly Calls” volunteers report to an OFA Program Manager, designated to oversee the operation of the program. To qualify, prospective volunteers must be at least 18 years old, an active listener, and interested in meeting a new friend.

Training includes teaching volunteers conversation starters, meaningful and appropriate topics, active listening, problem-solving guidance, and how to respect boundaries, among other topics. Volunteers can speak with as many or as few older adults as they feel comfortable handling. The OFA’s next volunteer orientation takes place on February 9; to register, call (845) 486-2555.