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Newmarket CHATS volunteer’s calls provide lifeline to lonely, isolated seniors

Helpers: Vanda Pendlebury is dedicated to making the weekly calls that provide safety, security and enhance well-being

Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call.

For seniors living alone, isolated, or simply seeking reassurance, just a single phone call a week can provide safety, security and enhance well-being.

Newmarket’s Vanda Pendlebury has been a telephone reassurance volunteer with CHATS, Community & Home Assistance to Seniors, for over six years. During that time, she’s provided support to seven local seniors, and continues to work with two of her original clients to this day.

What began as a productive way to fill some extra time has grown into an important, uplifting and personally fulfilling tradition for Pendlebury.

“I enjoy talking to elderly people, so I thought it sounded like a good fit,” said Vanda Pendlebury. “I liked being able to help from home.”

Every Monday without fail, Pendlebury calls the seniors in her care, one-by-one. An avid traveller, she’s made her weekly calls from around the world.

Once the senior’s security check is finished and their wellness confirmed, the conversation lapses into general talk about their day, the going-ons of their family, and any other topics that come to mind. Conversations typically last up to 30 minutes, with Pendlebury mindfully doing most of the listening.

“Both my parents are elderly, and they’re lonely. They don’t go out,” said Pendlebury. “One of my ladies never goes out. The only time she talks to people is when people come in to help her, and they don’t usually have a lot of time.”

Despite the rich friendships she’s fostered through the years, Pendlebury has never met her clients in person.

“You kind of would like to,” said Pendlebury. “But you can’t get involved like that. You have to stay neutral.”

CHATS’s Telephone Reassurance and Virtual Visiting program is available for free to residents of York Region and South Simcoe who are aged 55 and over. Volunteers and seniors are matched based on location, hobbies, and preferences.

Seniors in the program are phoned or video called once a week, at minimum.

“Volunteers like Vanda who are committed to their role means that we’re able to make a larger difference in the lives of the older adults we serve,” said Jessy Brown, volunteer coordinator at CHATS.

Volunteers are the backbone of CHATS, providing services such as transportation, grocery shopping, social visits, and deliveries for the Meals on Wheels program. Over the course of the pandemic, CHATS recruited and trained more than 20 visiting volunteers.

More than 450 volunteers work with CHATS each year, serving 8,500 York Region and South Simcoe seniors and caregivers.

The organization is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

“Our volunteers have been absolutely essential in our effort to keep seniors engaged and connected throughout the pandemic,” said Brown.

Those interesting in volunteering with CHATS can visit the website for available positions.

“Personally, volunteering makes me feel good,” said Pendlebury. “It’s nice to talk to the seniors. Sometimes they even cheer me up. You talk away, and you both forget whatever troubles you’ve got.”