FLASTBUSH, Brooklyn – To help beat social isolation in older adults, the Department for the Aging has a program called “Friendly Visitors” where volunteers meet seniors at least once a week in the person’s home. But once the pandemic shut everything down, the in-person visits came to a halt.
On Monday, Laverne Waters, a volunteer, was finally able to see Paula Austin in person again in her Flatbush home after previously visiting her twice a week.
“Ms. Laverne, she was so comforting,” Austin said. “I was going through a sadness at first and then after she started coming and spent hours with me.”
The program partners volunteers with older adults and elderly people to keep them company.
Austin has four children and one of them passed away last year. Her remaining children live out of state, so social isolation set in and Austin said it was a lonely and depressing time.
“That’s such a scary feeling when you live alone and you become overwhelmed and there’s not a real person there to comfort you,” Waters said.
Austin was also diagnosed with breast cancer and by sharing words of encouragement and being there physically for her, Waters has done for more Austin’s well-being than she could’ve ever imagined, but once in-person visits had to stop because of the pandemic, it was hard on both of them.
“I called Ms. Austin and she said, ‘You know Ms. Laverne, if you were calling to tell me that you couldn’t come and see me anymore, that would be heartbreaking, but to know we could still talk on the phone, I’ll take that for now.’”
December will make it three years since they’ve started these visits.
“When she wants to leave I want to pull her back to sit down,” Austin laughed. “She says, ‘I come only an hour,’ and then we end up spending two and three hours together.”
Waters also helps Austin with her paperwork.
“I’m glad I could help you with this, your unpaid secretary, but it’s okay,” Waters joked.
But most of the time, it’s about good conversation.
“She says, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’” Austin said. “I say just sit down and lets talk.”
Waters says as a volunteer, she gets something out of it too. Going to Austin’s home gets her mind off of her own life and when she leaves, she has a fresh perspective and that Austin has no idea the capacity in which she gives in return.