Friendly Callers give Mattapoisett volunteers a safe experience

Apr 11, 2020

MATTAPOISETT — For a senior citizen during the coronavirus pandemic, simply going outside is a risk. Some seniors are not online, making it harder for them to get the news and information they need to stay safe. 

To address these concerns, the Mattapoisett Council on Aging created a way to reach people in times of social distancing through its Friendly Callers program

The program recruits volunteers to call senior citizens who may need assistance, information, or just a friendly conversation.

Elizabeth Leatham, Mattapoisett COA’s outreach coordinator, started the program after she suspended the organization’s Friendly Visitors program because it posed a health risk for everyone involved.

In less than a month, the program blossomed into a 30-person team that regularly makes calls.

“We have a lot of people who rely on their telephone and people visiting, and that’s the purpose of the program — to calm people down,” said Leatham.

She was inspired to start the effort when residents called her asking for ways to help. When she realized that she had to suspend the visiting program, she began to compile names and phone numbers of seniors in the Council on Aging database. She initially put out a call for volunteers via an email bulletin to help sort through their database. 

One of the people that responded was Mattapoisett resident Phoebe Girard. She said that she wanted to start volunteering because she enjoys one-on-one phone conversations. 

She has noticed many seniors feel uncertain about what would normally be a small action such as opening their door or accepting a delivery.

She said that although volunteers may not have all the answers to their questions, “at least we can offer some reassurance.” 

Now retired, Girard has experience volunteering and managing volunteers for nonprofits, so she finds the program to be worthwhile and satisfying.

Leatham said the new program also solves problems she encountered with the Friendly Visitors program. Even before coronavirus, some people were apprehensive about letting a stranger into their homes, but if someone decides not to answer their phone and hears a friendly voice on their voicemail, they may be more inclined to pick up or call back. 

Since the program’s start on March 23, Leatham and her team have made about 1,000 calls between first contacts and weekly follow-up conversations. 

To make it easier for volunteers, Leatham compiled a script along with tips and an informal guideline to steer the conversation. While the conversations help residents feel less lonely, the script also makes sure that callers ask if residents need assistance.

“It connects the community and I’m quite happy to be a part of it,” said Leatham. “But it's the residents who are doing it.”

To volunteer for the Friendly Callers program, call Elizabeth Leatham at 508-758-4110 or email