Calling All Neighbors!

Call it the COVID Paradox: At a time when people most need each other — for solace, for hugs, for simple companionship in a crisis — we’re commanded to stay far apart. Being close can kill. New phrases like “self-isolation” and “social distancing” sound as grim as they actually are.

In mid-March, Navida Greifenberger started a “Westport Coronavirus Info” Facebook group. It was a way to share ideas, and create community.

As important as it was, it did not take long for Greifenberger to realize that more was needed. Beyond group sharing, she wondered, how could she help individuals?

She created a simple Facebook form, linking those who wanted to make phone calls with those who wished to receive them. One of the first volunteers was 3rd Selectman Melissa Kane. She quickly realized this was a great project for the town’s Department of Human Services. Director Elaine Daignault agreed.

No matter how you connect …

Together the department, Greifenberger and Kari Bley established structure (including background checks and orientation) for volunteers.

Anyone 18 and older is welcome, from every neighborhood and with all kinds of interests.

Once a background check is completed, Human Services matches callers with recipients. Matches may include common interests, but some volunteers and recipients indicate that they want to be matched with someone older or younger.

No particular skill is needed. The only prerequisite is completing the form, and establishing a compatible call schedule.

The goal  of the program — called “Hello, Neighbor” — is for each pair to have at least one conversation a week. Anything beyond that is up to them.

… both the caller and recipient will benefit from regular phone conversations.

“We’re excited to have put together a program that doesn’t differentiate between volunteers and beneficiaries,” says Kane. “Everyone wins when a connection is made. Our community becomes richer as a result of making new friends, mentors and confidantes.”

“Social media is a wonderful and important tool for people to communicate,” Greifenberger adds. “But it doesn’t compare to the comfort of hearing a voice at the end of the phone.”

Daignault believes that participants will get “far more out of a regular conversation with a neighbor than they anticipate. It’s not so much about the content of the conversation, but the impact of ‘showing up’ for one another.

“Many people miss their routine. It’s nice to have something like this to look forward to. One-to-one calls provide an unusual opportunity for people to be truly present, without distractions.

“This is key for anyone who may feel isolated. Mental health is tied to our interactions with others. In the current environment, avoiding person-to-person interaction, many people feel invisible and alone. We hope this program helps everyone feel important and heard.”

If you want to be heard — as a volunteer or recipient — click here. Questions? Email helloneighbor@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-5037.

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